Crush Your Food Cravings With This Definitive Guide
What are you craving? Chocolate for your sweet tooth? The crunch and salt of a bag of chips? The carby comfort of a bowl of pasta? Have you ever wondered why you have those cravings in the first place, or if your cravings could be a hidden message from your body about what you really need?
If you are trying to lose weight or make healthier food choices, not to mention balance your mood and take back control from your food addictions, calming cravings is critical. Here’s why they happen, and what to do about them.
Don’t rely on Dr. Google
The internet is filled with some pretty awesome content, but there is so much conflicting information out there that it can be overwhelming, and the truth is that “Dr. Google” is a fickle “physician.” One popular picture floating around social media is a chart showing unhealthy food cravings and what they mean in terms of supposed nutrient deficiencies, but there is actually no substantial research to back up these claims.
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Does that mean they aren’t true? Not necessarily. Scientists are always discovering new information about the complexities of the human body, and just because something isn’t proven yet (by science) doesn’t mean it’s invalid. However, you can’t believe everything you read either, and when it comes to your health, it’s better not to blindly follow every new fad diet or nutritional concept that’s put out there.
Besides, if you think about it, you will realize that if cravings were merely direct signs of nutritional deficiencies, we would all be craving wild-caught salmon and kale salad. Something tells me that if you’re craving a candy bar, a bowl of broccoli just isn’t going to cut it.
So let’s dig a little deeper into why you crave the foods you crave.
Why you get intense food cravings
Studies have found (1) that the part of your brain that handles stress and the part of your brain that manages the hunger hormone leptin are both activated during times of cravings, suggesting a relationship between the two.
2. Too many refined foods
Eating lots of processed foods, with their empty calories and refined carbohydrates, puts the human body (1) on a blood sugar (and leptin) roller coaster, meaning when you high blood sugar drops again, you turn into a ravenous beast who wants its next sugar fix.
3. Scent memory
Fascinating research (2) has looked at the link between the smell of food, nostalgia, and our cravings, finding that scent is tied psychologically to memory. Foods such as warm apple pie, pastries, and cotton candy can subconsciously remind us of happy memories from our past and ignite serious cravings for comfort food, which may be charming in theory, but can be harmful for your health.
4. Poor sleep
Not getting enough quality sleep can wreck your health in a hundred ways, one of which is that (according to studies) a bad night of sleep increases cravings. (3)
5. Designer foods
The food industry relies on the deep science of cravings to keep you coming back for more. Multiple studies have looked at the meticulous designing of food products to make them as addictive and irresistible as possible. Just one more reason to stick with real food.
Here's your guide to crushing cravings
While craving sugar is probably not a sign that you are low in chromium (as Dr. Google likes to suggest), the foods you eat really do have a powerful ability to nourish your brain, balance your blood sugar, and lower your stress levels.
This is more about what you do regularly than what you do in the moment. Make sure you are getting a variety of the following brain boosters, blood sugar balancers, and stress reducers out there. Here’s how to do it with food:
1. B Vitamins
These water-soluble nutrients are essential for brain health and better stress management. B vitamins are specifically needed for methylation, a process that governs detoxification and protects your DNA. Also avoid B vitamin zappers like chronic stress, processed sugar, alcohol, and medications like NSAIDs and birth control pills.
What to eat: Grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, leafy greens, avocados, and egg yolks.
2. Healthy fats
Your brain is about 60 percent fat, and diets low in healthy fats have been linked to poor brain function. Getting an adequate amount of healthy fats is one of the best ways to curb hunger and cravings.
What to eat: Omegas EPA and DHA are highest in wild-caught fish. pasture raised egg yolk is also a rich source of these healthy brain fats.
Low zinc levels make being stressed out even worse because you need this vital nutrient for healthy neurotransmitter function.
What to eat: Shellfish such as oysters are the zinc superstars. Nuts and seeds are decent options as well.
4. Clean protein
A lack of quality protein throughout the day can cause dips and spikes in your blood sugar, creating a craving storm that will practically stuff salty or sugary foods into your mouth for you.
What to eat: If you are prone to getting low blood sugar, start with getting 15-25 grams of clean, organic protein such as wild-caught fish, pasture-raised chicken, grass-fed beef, and/or organic nuts and seeds with every meal. If you get “hangry” before the next meal, you didn’t eat enough protein for your body’s needs.
Being low in iron will leave you feeling exhausted and craving any sort of energy you can get your hands on – and the quicker the better.
What to eat: The best and most bioavailable source of iron is grass-fed beef. To maximize iron absorption, eat it with a source of vitamin C like leafy greens.
Magnesium deficiency is quite common. The original chill pill, magnesium is a great remedy for stress and anxiety.
What to eat: Spinach, Swiss chard, dark chocolate (watch out for too much sugar) and pumpkin seeds.
7. Reduce stress
Science is pointing to the impact stress (and boredom) has on your brain and hormones and its ability to affect your level of “hangryness.” Stress management is essential to curbing the cravings.
What to do: Yoga, tai chi, and mindfulness meditation are on my list of ways to zen out your life. Also, because being tired increases cravings, make sure you are getting at least eight quality hours of sleep at night to be the vibrant balanced soul that you were born to be.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.
- Grosshans M, Vollmert C, Vollstädt-Klein S, et al. Association of Leptin With Food Cue–Induced Activation in Human Reward Pathways. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2012;69(5):529–537. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.1586
- Chelsea A. Reid, Jeffrey D. Green, Tim Wildschut, Constantine Sedikides Scent-evoked nostalgia Memory Volume 23, 2015 - Issue 2 doi:10.1080/09658211.2013.876048
- Hanlon EC, Tasali E, Leproult R, et al. Sleep Restriction Enhances the Daily Rhythm of Circulating Levels of Endocannabinoid 2-Arachidonoylglycerol. Sleep. 2016;39(3):653‐664. Published 2016 Mar 1. doi:10.5665/sleep.5546
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.