CRAVINGS OR HUNGER, HOW CAN YOU TELL THE DIFFERENCE?
What do your cravings say about you?
Are they really cravings or hunger?
How can you tell the difference?
Do you ever just get that strong desire for something to eat but not quite sure what you fancy?
Do you regularly crave the same food, perhaps at the same time of day? Is the hunger real or do you know your craving is in the cupboard? Is it used as a distraction to delay studying or the work you thought you would catch up with tonight?
The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of craving: “A craving is psychological and is a powerful desire for a specific food.”
Cravings are not natural phenomena, but rather learned behaviours like overeating and greed.
If you are truly hungry you require food to fill the gap and until the age of around four, we have not acquired the habit of overeating.
There are many complex reasons for cravings and some more obvious ones including:
lack of sleep,
lack of protein and
pre menstrual tension.
How can you identify the difference between a craving and hunger? If you suddenly get a craving for the chocolate cake in the cupboard ask yourself if an apple would be a satisfying alternative? If the answer is no, it is just a craving. While this may not seem a fair comparison to make the fact is that when we are hungry we require food and are not fussy about the type.
Lack of hydration is often mistaken for hunger too, so try and have a glass of water and see what you feel like afterwards.
How can you help yourself?
reduce sugar intake as, sugar craves sugar,
stop buying foods that you crave so they are not readily available,
eat healthier meals with more satisfying protein and healthy fats,
buy healthy snacks,
make sure your plate is 50% non-starchy vegetables at meals,
move from your current position,
go outside or walk around the office, or wherever you happen to be
don't let yourself get too hungry,
keep a diary and monitor any triggers,
make yourself healthy snacking options,
treat yourself to a sauna, facial whatever relaxes you, read a good book, take a bath or listen to calming music.
Are your cravings for specific foods? If this is the case and you have been experiencing them over a period of time you may be depleted in specific electrolytes or minerals.
Chocolate cravings are often signs of a magnesium deficiency, and whilst one or two squares of dark over 70% cacao are healthy, an abundance of dairy milk chocolate is not. Magnesium can also be found in dark green leafy vegetables and nuts. It can also be a sign of depression as chocolate boosts serotonin & dopamine the feel-good neurotransmitters.
If you crave sugar regularly it may be because your blood sugar is on the roller coaster ride, peaking and plummeting. As sugar is consumed, blood glucose rises and more insulin is produced. Insulin causes glucose to move from the blood into cells, where it is either used for respiration or stored in the liver, muscle and fat cells. This lowers the blood glucose concentration back to normal. Excess insulin in the blood can induce hypoglycaemia leading to a feeling of faintness, shaky, and sweaty with a desire for sugar. Insufficient sleep may also cause cravings for sugary sweets.
Chromium is a good supplement to assist in satisfying those desires for sugar. Whilst chromium is found in many foods, it is only in very small quantities. There is no RDA limit for chromium but the minimum recommendation is 30mcg in the US and if supplementation is required the suggested level is between 50 - 200mcg. However, if a diverse diet is enjoyed adequate levels should be reached without the need for supplementation. Chromium is found in :
vegetables such as broccoli, potatoes, and green beans,
beef and poultry
fruits, including apples and bananas,
milk and dairy products
A strong yearning for a bowl of comfort food such as macaroni cheese, jacket potatoes, or a bowl of cheese mash can be a sign of stress or emotional pain. However, it can also indicate lack of sleep and or poor sleep quality. Those with cognitive and or memory problems also incline towards comfort food. Studies show that those with ADHD crave cheese more than others.
If your cravings are specifically for cheese than you may not be enjoying enough healthy fats in your diet. The same may be true of a penchant for chips and potato crips. Remember, healthy fats are no longer the enemy, incorporate more nuts, avocados, oily fish, & seafood into your diet.
A craving for meat especially for women would be an indicator of iron deficiency plus a possible lack of B12. Females who omit meat from their diets are most at risk of having low B12 levels.
A desire for salty foods, often indicates a hangover, or dehydration. A very long glass of water, will help to get rid of the craving and will obviously benefit both hangover and hydration levels.
Cravings for soda may indicate a calcium deficiency as the phosphoric acid in in carbonated drinks can leach calcium and magnesium from bones creating a vicious cycle of depletion and craving.
Strong desires for tea and coffee may be a dependence on caffeine to keep energy levels up. It may also indicate a deficiency in phosphorus, salt, sulphur and or iron. Unfortunately, tea and coffee contains natural compounds called tannins that can prevent your body from absorbing iron.
A longing for fatty foods may also link to a deficiency in omega 3, and 6 fatty acids in the diet. These can be boosted by eating oily fish, nuts, flax or chia seeds and seafoods.
Basically, cravings are generally mind over matter, although in certain circumstances you may want to listen to your body. Only you will know the answer. Remember hunger is a biological need of your body whereas a craving may be either physical or psychological. Cravings tend to be satisfied by a feeling or sensation that is gained from eating certain foods,” says Allison Childress, nutritionist at Texas Tech University. “Through brain imaging studies we know that certain foods (sugar) can elicit a euphoric feeling.”
Three regions of the brain -- the hippocampus, insula, and caudate - appear to be activated during food-craving episodes, according to new research from the Monell Chemical Senses Center. Their brain tests suggest that memory areas of the brain (which are responsible for associating a specific food with a reward) are actually more important to food cravings than the brain's reward centre. These areas of the brain involved in food cravings are identical to those involved in drug addiction. The hippocampus is important for memory and helps reinforce the reward seeking behaviour which makes us desire specific foods.The caudate helps us to form habits, including food-related ones and the insula contributes to the emotional connection between food and cravings.
Carbohydrates boost our levels of the hormone serotonin, which has a calming effect. And recent research suggests that the combination of fat and sugar may also have the same effect.
Of the top foods people crave, almost every food contains more calories from fat than from carbohydrates.
Chocolate chip cookie Fat 50% Carbs 46%
Macaroni and cheese Fat 46% Carbs 37%
Milk chocolate Fat 51% Carbs 46%
Fast-food french fries Fat 44% Carbs 50%
Potato crisps Fat 56% Carbs 40%
Chemicals or food additives are often added to processed foods by manufacturers in order to cause food cravings. How many times have you ever eaten one biscuit?
When you’re truly hungry, you need food to satisfy that hunger. It’s a natural calling, and any type of food will satisfy that physiological requirement. Then you'll no longer have to eat because the goal has been accomplished — your natural hunger has been satisfied. That’s why an animal or a three year-old child instinctively stops eating when satiated.
So next time you experience a craving, have a think and decide if your body may be lacking in nutrients or will the apple satisfy instead. But, however you respond don’t beat yourself up, food is a pleasure not something to feel guilty about.