In this swirly twirly food landscape where we are inundated with imagery, messaging, and powerful marketing campaigns around food, the number of decisions we have regarding what to eat has exponentially increased. The mere stress induced temptation of sugary treats, salty snacks, and alluring comfort foods makes understanding cravings a crucial aspect of a powerful wellness journey. Let's uncover the root causes of your cravings to strike cell-to-soul alignment.
Hunger vs. Cravings
Before decoding cravings, pause to consider the difference between true hunger and fleeting cravings. What is the difference?
Hunger is characterized as “a sensation that motivates the consumption of food” and is regarded as a craving, albeit a physiological one. Basically, when you're hungry, your body signals to every part of your body through chemical messengers that it needs fuel to survive.
The brain's hypothalamus regulates the flow of various hormones, each with a distinct purpose, to either stimulate or inhibit our hunger before, during, and after we eat. Among the true hunger hormones are:
ghrelin: Produced in the stomach, this hormone increases appetite by stimulating the hypothalamic hunger nerve cells. Ghrelin levels rise as the stomach empties.
leptin: produced by fat cells, leptin suppresses hunger and promotes feelings of fullness.
insulin: produced by the pancreas, insulin can communicate with the brain to suppress hunger by informing it that there is sufficient energy for the body to rest.
glucagon-Like Peptide 1 [GLP-1]: produced in the small intestine, this hormone is released in response to food in the gut, along with peptide YY, oxyntomodulin, and uroguanylin, which helps us feel full. More on this hormone as it relates to semaglutides can be found HERE.
A natural biological reaction tailored to a particular need, whether it's physical [such as hunger] or psychological/emotional, is a craving. Psychological and emotional cravings typically strike quickly and strongly, resembling an overwhelming, nearly insatiable need for a specific food [usually one that's high in fat, sugar, or salt]. Because of what?
The Science Behind Cravings
Cravings are not whimsical tastebud tantalizations; they often signal underlying imbalances in your body. These imbalances can be physical, emotional, or even psychological. Instead of simply ignoring or succumbing to your cravings, let's explore them together.
One common reason for cravings is a lack of essential nutrients. For instance, a craving for chocolate might be your body's way of telling you that you need magnesium. Craving salty snacks could indicate a deficiency in minerals like sodium or potassium. When you view cravings from this angle, it is not hard to have deep compassion for the creative ways your body nudges you to fulfill nutrient needs required to thrive. One targeted way to evaluate nutrient deficiencies is to run a micronutrient panel. [You can inquire about this HERE.] However, a simple pre-requisite would be to simply consume more micronutrient dense foods daily and notice what happens with sugar cravings. Micronutrient dense foods I recommend on the daily in my 1:1 sessions include: sea vegetables, dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds and bone broths.
Blood Sugar Dys-regulation
Blood sugar plays a pivotal role in our cravings. Consuming refined carbohydrates and isolated sugar itself can catalyze rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels. These fluctuations trigger cravings for quick energy fixes to reclaim homeostasis. Again, more intelligent design! A tactful approach to balancing blood sugar involves consuming protein before any carbohydrate on the plate. P before C! By consuming protein first, you are also feeding your beautiful body a macronutrient that only stabilizes blood sugar but is also very satiating- blunting cravings for refined carbs stemming from the root of blood sugar dys-regulation. P before C also optimizes your capacity to consume nutrient-dense foods with more rational forethought in order to maintain stable energy levels and grounded hunger / satiety cues.
Emotional and Stress-Related Cravings
Stress and emotions often drive our desire for comfort foods. As a functional medicine dietitian, working on the emotional aspects of a food relationship is paramount to everything I do. Developing ways to ground the body and reclaim rest are some of the most powerful techniques to "consume" what your body actually needs far outside of food. "Nutrient-rich" pleasure pauses are often far more impactful than the traditional comfort food will ever be.
Dancing with Cravings
Rather than resorting to myopic restriction or withdrawal patterns, consider remaining fluid to strike alignment with what your body needs most in the moment using the following strategies:
Mindful eating is a powerful tool to stay in touch with hunger v. cravings. By paying attention to your body's signals and savoring each bite, you can become more attuned to your true nutritional needs.
Put a Monogram on your Meals
Bespoke nutrition architecture ensures you nourish your body with the targeted nutrients that fulfill needs, balance blood sugar, and elevate your overall well-being. This isn't a one-size-fits-all approach; it's tailored to your unique needs. Click HERE to inquire about 1:1 care.
In order to gracefully navigate stress-induced cravings, become your very own lifestyle architect. In other words, put pen to draft paper and design your day. Notice where you live by default. Auditing your rhythms and routines will enable you to identify areas where stress has its hands on the wheel. Making sleep and pleasure two focal points will eradicate cravings birthed by "mama busy."
Ultimately, understanding and addressing cravings is a fundamental aspect of living well. Rather than fighting your cravings or ignoring them, consider tuning into what your body is whispering to tell you. By exploring the root causes and implementing whole-body care, you can strike an even more gorgeous relationship with food and fulfillment.
Resources to explore on your journey:
1:1 care - click HERE to inquire
The Table - a community of women on a mission to reclaim alignment in their bodies