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What do my food cravings mean?

Who doesn’t experience food cravings? Whether it be from a food aroma that strikes up a memory like mom’s chocolate chip cookies, or just simply because you are weaning off of junk food for a healthier lifestyle, cravings get the best of us. If you’re facing this challenge, you’re not alone.

When it comes to food cravings, this poses a challenge: is your body asking for something it needs, or is it remembering something it’s addicted to? Should you ignore your cravings or indulge them? The answer isn’t always clear. But as a guideline, here are some tips for deciphering what your body is asking for.

Sugar – cookies, candy, ice cream, soda, etc. may mean you are withdrawing from processed sugar (which, indeed, is almost drug-like) and miss the feeling of a “sugar high.” It also may mean that you might be legitimately craving carbs because you’ve under-eaten and need some glucose in your bloodstream, pronto. In either case, try filling up on plenty of fresh, whole fruit (not dried).

Comfort food – These are things you used to eat after having a bad day, or something special a family member made for you when you were little. Think Mac n’ cheese, PB & J sandwiches, mashed potatoes. Most often this means you’re probably having a psychologically-rooted craving. You may be associating a feeling of comfort, familiarity, and overall safety with a particular food item from your past. These are not good cravings to succumb to.

Salt – popcorn, chips, soup, or sauces may mean your body is adrenally fatigued. Although human sodium needs are somewhat low, the adrenals balance human fluid and salt levels. Try eating celery, seaweed, raw cultured vegetables, swiss chard, or spinach when these cravings strike.

High fat foods – cheese, butter, peanut butter, fast food, or heavy desserts. Your body is probably desperate for calories. Nine times out of ten, when you crave extremely calorie-rich foods, it’s because you haven’t been getting enough fuel for a while (days, weeks, or even months) and your body is pretty upset about it. The key to battling this craving isn’t necessarily to eat more fatty foods, but to eat more, period.

Protein – chicken, fish or eggs. This means you probably aren’t getting enough protein. Most Americans actually over consume protein, but there are still some who just do not eat enough such as vegetarians, vegans, or extreme dieters. In any situation, work with a nutritionist to ensure you’re getting enough protein for your activity level, whether it be from plant or animal sources.

Dairy, bread, pasta, crackers or other grain products. Both dairy and gluten-containing grains contain opioid peptides—amino acid sequences that affect the brain in the same way opiates do. These target your endorphin receptors and make you feel very happy. These opioids are also amazingly addictive and are largely responsible for cravings. At the same time, they also cause blood sugar spikes, are hard to digest, and tend to be one of the major causes of so many people’s inflammation. Keep your servings minimal of these foods, or opt for dairy-free/gluten-free choices.

Above all else, eat enough. When your body is chronically under-fueled, it’ll start screaming for all sorts of strange things. For many people, the best way to defeat cravings is to simply eat a greater quantity of real, colorful foods.

Kimberly Stoeger, MS, is the clinical nutritionist and owner of Nutritional Healing, LLC. Her passion lies in supporting people’s health through evidence-based medicine (risks versus benefits of medications) and healing therapies through nutrition. Kimberly has her masters of science in human nutrition degree, and experience working with clients regarding weight and fatigue issues, food sensitivities, autoimmune conditions, and general health concerns such as high blood pressure, high glucose levels, high cholesterol/triglycerides, migraines, thyroid conditions, and gut dysfunction. To learn more, call 920-358-5764 or email frontdesk@nutritionalhealingllc.com.

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