Cravings are a normal part of our lives, but we often find ourselves fighting it as a natural instinct. Before you go and judge yourself, consider these 10 things on what your cravings might mean.
If you are a human, you’ve likely experienced cravings before. Maybe you even feel like you are someone who experiences them to a greater degree than what may be considered normal. Our current nutrition culture imposes a feeling of judgment when cravings come up, particularly if they are for “unhealthy” foods. Alternately, you would likely feel pride or relief about craving something “healthy” like a salad or oatmeal.
Judging our cravings, however, gets us nowhere.
The process of making peace with food, embracing eating through your natural instincts, and giving up the diet mentality absolutely requires curiosity. A critical, judgmental mind holds you back, whereas curiosity is probably your biggest asset. If you can lean into WHY, you can uncover so much about yourself, about food, and about what you need.
As you lead with curiosity, you’re likely to find your cravings have wisdom.
It’s so true. They can teach you a lot actually, if you’ll let them. Here’s a list of possibilities of what your cravings might mean:
1. It just sounds good to eat.
Really don’t need to overthink that too much.
2. Inadequate nutrition.
A very common cause of cravings is inadequate fuel and nutrition, particularly if those cravings (or resulting behaviors) feel compulsive. Often we blame this on willpower, self-control or lack of discipline when really it’s because you’ve felt unsatisfied and undernourished. If you’ve skipped meals, gone too long without eating or been restricting foods or food groups (which has left meals or snacks unbalanced or too small), it can easily lead to cravings later.
3. Food insecurity.
We typically associate food insecurity with kids who don’t have access to food. While that’s true, it could also be self-inflicted through dieting or restrictive mindsets. When you feel like food isn’t going to be there tomorrow, it will absolutely affect your thoughts and behaviors today. Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat will decrease the power food has over you. Being in control by having food rules is an illusion; they are actually controlling you.
4. Emotional hunger.
Humans are complex beings with many different kinds of hunger. Eating outside of physical hunger is totally normal and happens to us all. However, consistently using food as the only way to meet your needs is likely leaving you confused and lacking confidence in your ability to take care of yourself. While we need food, we also need rest, connection, movement, love and variety. We need to feel relevant and that we are making contributions in positive ways. We want to feel like we belong and are a part of something meaningful and valuable. If you feel like something is lacking, it’s easier to distract or numb with food instead of leaning into what it is or how you’re feeling. In this case, working to become more emotionally aware would be worthwhile to you.
5. You’re craving variety.
Have you been eating the same thing over and over and over? Our bodies want and need a wide variety of foods to function optimally. It’s physically and psychologically unsatisfying to eat the same foods day in and day out. Building more flexibility into your meals and snacks will likely help you feel less preoccupied with food.
6. You’re not at your natural weight.
If you are trying to maintain a weight that is below your natural healthy weight, you will experience strong cravings for food. It’s a really smart biological adaptation that supports survival. The idea that we can look however we want if we just work hard enough is a really irresponsible cultural narrative which can easily lead to extreme, dangerous and unhealthy behaviors. The truth is that we all have a genetically determined set-point, or a weight at which we function optimally. If you are restricting food and/or overexercising to maintain a weight lower than ideal for you, food will feel really compelling and preoccupying and you will likely have frequent, intense cravings.
7. You aren’t respecting your body’s intuitive signals of hunger and fullness.
When you get hungry, do you honor it? When you get full, do you respect that? We all have days where we end up overly hungry or overly full. It becomes an issue when you consistently ignore what your body is communicating to you, which leads to lack of self-trust. What you might be interpreting as cravings may just be your body communicating its needs. Interoceptive awareness, or the signaling and perception of internal bodily sensations, is a skill often lacking in those with disordered eating.
8. Judgment about “good” vs. “bad” food.
In our current nutrition culture, it’s easy to equate healthy eating with restrictive eating. However, healthy eating is actually very flexible and inclusive of a wide variety of foods. By labeling foods good and bad, you are encouraging an all-or-nothing mentality where you are either being good or bad. This can lead to inconsistent, irregular and inadequate food patterns when in reality our bodies function best with consistent, regular and adequate nutrition. When we are swinging between extremes in eating, your blood sugar and mood swing with it. Your hunger and fullness signals are polarized, leading to more intense cravings than you may be comfortable with.
9. Some cravings – like salty foods for example – may indicate a medical issue.
If you find these cravings to be very intense and very frequent, it may be necessary to seek medical advice.
10. Lastly, be sure you aren’t thinking of hunger like it’s a character flaw.
We are human. We get hungry and when we get hungry we want to eat and feel satisfied. It’s an innate need which diet culture would have us feel ashamed of. How often do we eat around the craving and then have it anyway?
Don’t waste too much of your time overthinking your cravings. Most of the time, it’s best to simply honor it.
Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: ZACH MILES
Emily Fonnesbeck, RD, CD, CLT is a private practice Registered Dietitian based in Saint George, Utah. Instead of creating unnecessary restrictions, Emily focuses on helping individuals become confident and in charge of their own well-being through Intuitive Eating and Mindful Living. She is a strong believer and advocate for helping people become capable individuals who are confident in taking care of themselves. Make a visit and read more from Emily.