Food cravings are something that most of us experience at some point in our lives.
Many of us attribute these cravings to poor self-control. This is when guilt, anger and disappointment with ourselves creep up.
Having said that, I want to offer you a reframe (a different way of looking at the same situation) about cravings.
Cravings are not about you being weak or lacking discipline; they are just your body’s way of telling you that it needs something from us.
The human body is very complex with an intricate system of balances and signals that help it function properly. Food cravings are just another way for the body to signal what it needs from us. And we have the chance to give it what it needs.
My sudden cravings for pasta and fiery-hot food
What’s up with that?!
I chose to write about cravings as I’ve experienced them in an extreme form just a month ago. You may remember that I wrote a newsletter email about my struggle with chronic candida ever since I moved to California.
It has since become clear that there are two likely causes: elevated levels of a heavy metal called thallium found in the cruciferous vegetables in California (like kale, cabbage, collard greens) and a nasty parasite I failed to clear with the strongest of herbs.
For the first time in 10 years, I gave in to a 10-day antibiotic treatment. And a strong one too.
Gosh, how that messed me up! I stepped into the world of extreme fatigue, complete apathy and dark mood. I had to push myself to respond to the most critical emails just to manage my business but anything beyond that was simply impossible. I watched more movies on Netflix in those 10 days than I did in two years.
That antibiotic was, of course, no joke (I was forewarned) and it’s probably the parasitic die-off combined with the changes in the microbiome (the gut bacteria) that caused some unusual food cravings.
For the first time in I don’t know how many years, a craving for rich Bolognese pasta hit me hard. Resisting it was out of the question.
Then, I developed a craving for some fiery curry which would take me on 40-min one-way ride to my favorite South Indian thali (they are a much spicier and lighter fair than North Indian food). I would ask them to add more chili to the already “extra hot” option. The waiter was worried that I would hurt myself.
One of the things I’ve learned about times like this is: do not to resist the cravings. Instead, just listen to my body.
What does it need?
Why does it need it?
What can I do to support it?
Hot and fiery food is well known to be anti-parasitic and highly stimulating for the digestive system. If that’s what my body was calling for, my job was to just support it. The next day it was a Vietnamese pho, the super-spicy option (and I would still add the sesame chili oil). And so it continued for 4 days of food fire and then it stopped.
They are there for a reason.
And what a reminder it was that a compromised microbiome (and especially the lack of good bacteria) can create these cravings as well.
A quick side note: I am currently undergoing a natural chelation protocol for the heavy metals and in spite of not having started the candida protocol yet (that’s coming next after the heavy metal protocol), I’m glad to report that 80% of my candida symptoms have already subsided. I’m so excited and what a reminder it is how parasites and heavy metals can mess up our immune system (which has the innate ability to fight candida). I will write another post about that when it’s all done, so stay tuned!
So, I’ve compiled a list of cravings for you today which will help understand what each could mean and what can you do to support your body.
And remember: no judgment, just listening.
Common Causes of Cravings
- Water – very often when we feel hungry, we are just thirsty. Being dehydrated can cause you to feel hunger. If you are craving something, you could drink a large glass of water first. Often, this will curb the feeling of hunger and save you from eating unnecessary food your body doesn’t need.
- Seasonal – people often crave food that coincides with the current season. Temperature may play a role here: do you often find yourself craving warming foods in the winter (soups, meat, oil) and cooling foods (fruit, raw food, ice cream) in the summer? That is no coincidence. Fall is a time people crave “grounding” foods (squash, onions, nuts) and Spring is the time for detoxification (fruits and vegetables).
- Life deficiencies – having a physical, emotional and spiritual practice in our lives is just as important as the food we eat. It consists of having satisfaction in these areas of your life: career, relationship, financial, fitness, sleep, recreation, etc. If you are unhappy in any of these areas or feel stressed out, you may start to crave certain foods to keep you fulfilled emotionally (see about craving dairy below).
- Yin/yang imbalance – all foods are considered to have either expansive qualities (yin) or contractive qualities (yang). Everything in life has a balance and our bodies are no different. Often, when we eat foods that are one extreme of yin (e.g. sweet food), we will crave foods at the other extreme of yang (salty food) to balance us out.
- Mineral deficiencies – the body will crave certain foods that contain the minerals it lacks. Below you will find specific mineral deficiencies and their cravings and what foods you can eat instead to have a healthier alternative.
- Hormonal imbalance– cravings occur during certain times for women such as menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause. This is due to certain fluctuations in the hormones like drop in estrogen and progesterone. Imbalance in neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and GABA can also be big contributors.
Let’s dive deeper into the 7 common cravings
Craving #1: salt and salty food
- Adrenal fatigue: since the adrenals are also responsible for keeping our blood pressure up, when they are overworked, our body calls for support (here: salt) to bring up the blood pressure so the adrenals are released from this task.
- Mineral deficiencies – start the day with ¼ teaspoon of sea salt like the pink Himalayan salt in a glass of water or lemon water. Don’t be afraid of salt, sea salt won’t give you hypertension.
Craving #2: chocolate
Potential reason: magnesium deficiency.
Solution: add to your diet: legumes, raw nuts and seeds, 85% cocoa dark chocolate, leafy greens and whole grains. Take good quality magnesium supplements (not in oxide form) in glycinate or citrate form. Topically, apply magnesium oil at the bottom of your feet before bed.
Craving #3: sugar and processed food like pasta, bread
- candida yeast overgrowth in the gut, skin or respiratory system
- low estrogen and progesterone before our period
- Start an anti-candida diet and add plenty of top-notch probiotics.
- Learn to regulate your estrogen and progesterone levels throughout the cycle so the dips don’t effect you as much. You can learn how to rebalance these hormones naturally in the free “How to Use Food to Rebalance Your Hormones” workshop.
Craving #4: caffeine (coffee and tea)
- Adrenal fatigue; you need coffee to get you started and get you going through the day as your adrenals are too pooped.
- Lack of quality sleep; you need caffeine to compensate for the lack of energy from insufficient sleep.
- Stress and habit.
- Adrenal fatigue; adopt an adrenal recovery protocol of de-stressing, diet change and herbal/hormonal support. I teach that at the complete Cooking for Balance program.
- Stress and habit; switch to herbal teas or green tea (lower caffeine), especially matcha tea. Try the roasted chicory root “coffee” (recipe here) if it’s the taste you are after.
Craving #5: dairy
- Stress, loneliness, a need for an emotional connection.
- Calcium / magnesium deficiency.
Solutions: If tolerated, add unpasteurized, raw dairy (amino acids in milk act like opiates to relax us). If you don’t tolerate dairy, add nut or coconut-based products and creamy food like guacamole, hummus, etc.
If it’s an emotional issue, go deeper– are you feeling lonely, unloved? What do you need to change in your life to fill in this gap?
Craving #6: more food in spite of being full
Potential reasons: insulin resistance or food intolerances
Solutions: learn to regulate your sugar levels (I teach that in the Cooking for Balance program) with diet and supplements. Address food intolerances by doing the Elimination Diet (by cutting the big 5 and small 5) or deeper protocols like low FODMAPs, paleo etc. My partner, Brad, has been on a low FODMAP diet for 6 months now – it has changed his life and he no longer goes on out-of-control binges after a full meal!
Craving #7: meat
Potential reason: amino acid, iron and/or B12 deficiency
Solution: consider eating meat. If you are a vegetarian and you crave or dream about meat, re-think your choices as a temporary solution to fix your health. Some people need meat to function well. The best way to start is with a bone broths or collagen powder added to drinks, smoothies or soups. If you really can’t, look into iron and B12 supplementation.
Which cravings to give in to?
It’s important to differentiate between the foods we really need to get us well and cravings that will drag us down. Here is a simple rule:
Cravings not to give in to are sugar, processed dairy, and starches (unless you’ve been on a grains-free diet and you feel like your body calls for grains in a “healthy” way) and processed food.
Cravings to give in to are fats (good quality fats only), meat, oils, fresh/raw/cooked vegetables, whole foods, salty foods containing sea salt, and good quality dairy (if tolerated).
What about you?
Have I covered all the cravings? Probably not. What are you craving? Feel free to comment below on what are you craving and what you think is causing it.
I hope this article gives you some clarity what is going on in your own body. And equally important, let’s turn our frustration with cravings to a listening exercise.
What does my body need from me?
What can I do to support it?