Food Cravings: What, Why, and When to Indulge?

Food Cravings: What Why and When to Indulge

We have all been there, sitting at our desks or behind our steering wheels, and all we can think about is that crunchy, salty snack or creamy, sweet treat. Sometimes we crave foods we can’t easily get our hands on; for instance, when we vacation outside of the south and we can’t get a Dr. Pepper – or diet DP for that matter. Sometimes, we crave foods because we lack a specific nutrient and our bodies are signaling us to get some on the double. Another type of craving might be more of an addiction problem, wanting something we know is unhealthy for us, but we give in consistently.

Most of us have tried a diet or two. Cravings during times of restriction are quite common, but it’s all in how we handle them. Most registered dietitians would agree that giving in to a craving by having a small bite of whatever it is and savoring it, will do much more for us than eating everything else in an attempt to avoid the craving. Anytime we restrict foods, it is natural to crave that food for a little while until we retrain our brains to recognize it is something we can do without.

So, what do we do when these cravings hit? Give in immediately and hope next time we are stronger willed? Probably not. Something that seems to work is to ask the following questions. Am I really hungry or am I just bored? Am I thirsty? What is the consequence of giving in? For people who have an intolerance to lactose or sucrose, this consequence may be gas, bloating, and diarrhea; so that better be the world’s greatest tasting ice cream or cookie. For others, the consequence may be that the weight takes a little longer to come off.

If we are truly hungry and what we are craving won’t satisfy, have a small amount of that food with some healthy options. For example, if I’m craving chocolate, instead of eating other foods that aren’t chocolate hoping I will be too full to still want the chocolate, I could have a small balanced snack with a square of dark chocolate. Being thirsty is an issue for many. Making sure we are hydrated usually keeps cravings at bay. And finally, if the consequence of eating a burger and fries when I’ve been eating clean all week is that I have to work a little longer to meet my goal, then I am all in. Life’s too short to feel deprived.

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