By: Sarah Loheide
Have you ever noticed that when we discuss meals, we ask someone what they feel like having? And often times, a valid answer is sorry, I don't feel like pizza, or Chinese, or salad. Our society bases food consumption on what feels right, yet all too often we have no idea why certain foods appeal to us when others seem repulsive. Our answer, of course, is that sometimes we just crave certain foods. Cravings are those pesky complications that turn the intended carrots into potato chips, and berries into cookies. Not good. They can stem from high emotions, nutrient deficiencies, hormones, or dehydration, making them something everyone has probably experienced. Unfortunately, those experiences are usually negative, causing a day's healthy eating to be lost. The easiest way to conquer these cravings is to find healthy and accessible substitutes rather than ignoring the feeling and having it bother you for the rest of the day. After all, a healthy lifestyle is all about being happy and comfortable with yourself.
An especially unexpected craving is food in general. I list it first because it is the craving I struggle with the most often. If I'm sitting at home on a Sunday afternoon (no really, that's what I'm doing), I find myself reaching for food (homemade granola, for example) without even noticing I'm doing it. Am I hungry? No. I'm bored. The best substitution for this isn't a food, but an activity. I'll try and go for a walk or work on homework, and remind my body that it's not food it needs, just something to do.
The craving that first comes to most people's mind is sweets. Seriously, who hasn't had an ice cream craving in their life? It turns out that craving sweets without an emotional stressor could be your body's way of saying you need nutrients like chromium, which helps the body metabolize foods and manage insulin levels, phosphorus, which helps with the maintenance of bones and teeth, and tryptophan, an amino acid that helps with melatonin and serotonin production (and is one of the ten amino acids I have to know for a biology test on Monday, no joke). To satisfy these needs, you should eat foods such as fresh fruits like grapes, broccoli and kale, and meats like turkey or chicken.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are the salty cravings for foods like potato chips and Cheetos. The most common reason for salt cravings is the direct correlation to sodium, which is an essential nutrient for the body. If you exercised heavily or even stayed in the heat for a long time, your body will respond with a craving for salt. The mineral chloride works closely with sodium in maintaining body fluid distribution in the body and a lack of it can also cause salt cravings. Rather than consuming high sodium (and high fat) foods like chips, there are healthy alternatives such as beets, celery, carrots, and cottage cheese.
A key point to remember when trying to tackle the craving dilemma is that cravings do not always come from nutrition. A major part of cravings is psychology. Depending on the situation you're in, you might get the craving for a food that, had you been in a different environment, you wouldn't have wanted. If you're out with friends, you might end up craving pizza. If you just had a break-up, you'll want ice cream. I'm not saying that every time you're in these situations you need to force yourself to avoid something that appeals to you, but sometimes it's important to remind yourself to think and maybe make a healthier decision.
If you can listen to your body and assess cravings before immediately acting on them, you will be able to resist the temptations of unhealthy foods and still leave your body feeling satisfied. You shouldn't expect yourself to go without your favorite foods forever, but if you can find replacements for them your healthy diet will be more easily maintained.