Did you know that a food craving can be a sign that you might have a nutrient deficiency?
Yes ladies, that chocolate craving around your period can really be a sign of a magnesium deficiency. Or the desire to chew ice can indicate an iron deficiency.
The body is a very intuitive machine and the feedback loop between your body and the brain is strong. If the brain perceives a deficiency, it is not uncommon to see a food craving that might be high in that nutrient.
Chocolate is one the richest sources of food based magnesium and it is not uncommon for clients to notice a significant drop in their chocolate cravings when they increase their intake of magnesium (either through magnesium rich foods or a supplement).
There is no doubt that food cravings can come from other factors as well, such as cultural factors, stressful environments and hormonal fluctuations. But if you suspect you’re not getting cultural or social pressures to eat specific foods, that you are managing your stress well, and your hormones are balanced, maybe it’s time to start feeding your craving with real foods.
Cultural and social pressures to eat
Do any of the bribes below sound familiar?
“If you eat all of your dinner, you’ll get dessert.”
“If you get straight “A’s” we’ll go out for ice cream.”
“If I exercise for an extra 20 minutes, I can have that glass of wine.”
We’ve all heard them - or something similar - and even used them with our children and ourselves!
They seem innocent or well-intended but the reality is they create a feedback loop that leaves food as the reward. So regardless of if we are actually WANTING something, we feel compelled to have it because we “deserve it.”
If you have seen any of the work done by Gretchen Rubin, James Clear or Brendan Burchard on creating better habits, then you know that the reward is a VERY important part of creating a new habit, or good behavior.
So, yes, a reward can help you create new habits. However, rewards do not have to be food! When is the last time you allowed yourself to relax for an extra 30 minutes? Or take that yoga class that you’ve been meaning to take? Or go to bed earlier?
There are so many ways to shower ourselves with rewards that don’t involve food!
If you can find ways to replace your food based reward with a non-food based reward, you might just notice your food cravings go away after a while.
Why we crave foods when we’re stressed
Our body is controlled by hormones, little chemical messengers that communicate between tissues. One of those hormones is cortisol.
Among it’s plethora of roles, cortisol releases stored sugar from the liver so you can fight or flee.
When this sugar is released, it is not uncommon for people to experience sugar cravings. This is because the brain wants to refill those sugar storage cells so if you have to fight or flee again soon, you will be ready!
If you are noticing mostly sugar cravings, you might want to do an honest assessment of your stress levels. Remember that stress doesn’t just come from fighting with your spouse, or your mean boss at work, or financial trouble.
It can also come from dehydration, or lack of restorative sleep and even from eating foods your body is sensitive to.
Why we crave foods when our hormones are fluctuating
Two of the most common monthly hormone fluctuations for women are between estrogen and progesterone. In the early phases of a woman's monthly cycle, estrogen surges.
Estrogen is an appetite suppressant.
Once ovulation occurs and we enter the second phase of our monthly cycle, estrogen drops and progesterone surges.
Progesterone is an appetite stimulant.
This is an evolutionary response because if you get pregnant, your body wants to make sure you are eating enough calories to sustain your pregnancy. So it is not uncommon to notice stronger food cravings, especially for sugar and/or salt, during the second phase of your cycle.
If you are not trying to get pregnant, this can be a struggle. For some women, just knowing that this will happen during the later phases of their monthly cycle can help them fight the stronger urge to eat more food.
If just knowing this is what is happening doesn’t help you, try increasing your protein and fiber intake during the 3rd and 4th weeks of your cycle. Protein and fiber are slower to digest and can help you feel satiated for longer.
Why we crave foods when our digestive system isn’t functioning well
The entire point of eating food is to obtain the nutrients it contains.
In order to absorb those nutrients for our body to use, we have to first be able to digest them down into an absorbable form.
Our muscles aren’t made from chicken, they’re made from the individual amino acids that chicken contains. When we eat chicken, we digest it down into the individual amino acids that make it, then we can absorb them. If your digestion isn’t functioning well, it is not uncommon to partially absorb foods, and therefore miss out on some of the nutrients those foods contain.
When that happens, you might start seeing food cravings. In this case, you need to work on optimizing your digestion.
Start by making sure you are chewing your food well. The physical act of chewing starts the mechanical breakdown of our foods into the individual nutrients that make it up. If you already know you are taking your time and chewing your food well, but still experiencing digestive problems (gas, bloating, heartburn, undigested food in your stool and diarrhea are all signs of poor digestion), it might be worth trying to add a digestive enzyme complex to your meals to see if it helps.
One of my favorite digestive enzymes is Pure Encapsulation Digestive Enzymes Ultra, which contains a mixture of vegetarian enzymes developed to promote optimal nutrient bio-availability and absorption.
Food cravings due to nutrient deficiencies
If all of the above scenarios don’t seem to apply to you, or you are just interested in learning more about which nutrient deficiencies lead to which food cravings then you, my friend, are in luck!
I’m sharing with you a list of the most common food cravings and what nutrients you might really be deficient in that you can download here: FREE FOOD CRAVINGS CHART.
The point here, is that you work towards increasing your intake of nutrient dense foods that contain these nutrients rather than succumbing to unhealthy cravings!
Post it on your fridge at home, or anywhere that you will see it, and work to increase those foods that provide specific nutrients for a few weeks.
Who knows, you might just see your food cravings go away!
If you’re interested in learning more about how to heal your digestion and squash your cravings, you can schedule a free discovery call by clicking HERE.
Tiana Rockwell is a certified nutritional therapist, avid endurance athlete and dark chocolate lover. She believes that by eating REAL food, we can balance our body and reach optimal health and wellness!