Fact: When we feel hungry, we eat. Also fact: We eat when we aren’t necessarily hungry but have certain cravings for foods, like salty potato chips or sugary sweets such as chocolate, cakes, and candy; and sometimes these temptations can be hard to resist. However, these cravings are often an indicator that our bodies are missing something.
Below, family physician, Dr. Ali Ghahary, shares some of the most common reasons as to why we might experience food cravings, and what you can do to crush them and ultimately replace certain unhealthy foods with ones that are better for you.
LACK OF WATER: Also known as dehydration, this can often manifest itself as hunger. Common reasons as to why one might become dehydrated include sweating, diarrhea, vomiting, frequent urination, burns, as well as diabetes. Symptoms of dehydration often include increased thirst, darker urine as well as decreased urine production, dry mouth, fatigue, headache, muscle weakness, and, as mentioned, hunger. Therefore, if you do become dehydrated, instead of reaching for something to eat you should first increase your fluid intake with a glass of H2O. Not only will water rehydrate you and help you curb cravings, but it has many other health benefits too.
HORMONES: During a woman’s menstrual cycle, it’s not uncommon to develop cravings – especially for things like chocolate or salty foods. This is because during your period, your body is going through physiological changes and your hormones become temporarily out of whack. While cravings related to hormones are out of your control, you can still opt for healthier food options. Alternatively, some women may notice a decrease in their appetite during their period, though this can sometimes be blamed on other symptoms related to menstruation such as nausea, bloating, fatigue, constipation and/or diarrhea.
EMOTIONS: Hormones can certainly send your emotions spiralling, but we can also feel emotional for a multitude of other reasons. This can come from being in an unhappy relationship, feeling uninspired, lacking spirituality, feeling lonely, disappointed, or even stressed. All of these can lead to what’s known as “emotional eating.” When your emotions are at an all-time high, stop and ask yourself why instead of using food as a crutch. If you’re having trouble with mental health, such as feeling anxious, depressed, or suicidal, never feel ashamed to reach out for help.
NUTRITIONAL DEFICIENCIES: When the body is deficient in certain nutrients, it sometimes tries to make up for that lack of nutrients by making us crave other unhealthy foods, such as sugar and caffeine – or, if you’re not getting enough minerals, salty foods. In order to fully function, the body needs a variety of macro and micronutrients.
To find out whether or not things like nutritional deficiencies, hormones, and other health factors are contributing to your cravings, it’s a good idea to book an appointment with your family physician. There are also other things you can do to keep those cravings at bay. Firstly, you need to be mindful of the foods you eat. Mindful eating can help you distinguish the difference between cravings and actual hunger, and teaches you awareness about your eating habits. It’s also not a good idea to let yourself get to the point where you are starving, or skip out on meals, as this will only increase your hunger and cravings. Always make sure you eat three healthy, well-balanced meals each day and have healthy snacks on hand. Eating more protein at breakfast time can also significantly reduce your cravings. Another great way to curb them is through meal prep. Spontaneity is one of the biggest reasons why people indulge in foods they shouldn’t, so by planning meals ahead of time you’re able to make healthier choices and will be less likely to experience cravings. When you do find yourself craving a certain food, try to distance yourself from it by finding a distraction. A distraction can be anything from going for a walk, talking a shower, or reading a book; anything that takes your mind off of the foods you know you shouldn’t be eating.