We all have cravings for different reasons because we are all unique. Deconstructing these cravings and understanding what is causing them will allow you to take more control and hack your health.
Craving salty, fatty and sweet foods likely mean your body is craving additional macro or micronutrients in your diet. You can learn more about what your cravings mean in my blog post, 'What you cravings actually mean and what you should eat instead'.
To prevent nutrient deficiencies and cravings, it's important to understand that the condition of our bodies - or our overall health - is something that changes every day. At an acute level, we know this. If we are exposed to a bug or virus as the season changes, we will experience some degree of sickness within our system. But long-term our health can subtly - or greatly - change based on our daily habits. This also means that doing the same thing every single day isn’t necessarily the best approach to your health.
When it comes to cravings and micro and macro nutrient deficiencies there are many daily changes we can make to prevent them from occurring in the first place, or ensure they don't continue to happen.
What we need and when we need it, are vital aspects of personalised health. Because we are ever changing, so are our nutritional demands. With this, we need to constantly tweak our habits to support our nutritional needs and health. We need to be our own health gurus. Try asking yourself these questions:
- Do you need 7 hours sleep or do you need 9?
- Do you thrive on intense short bursts of exercise, or do experience the best health benefits from gentle yoga and walking?
- Do you function best on a whole foods diet with lots of plant based carbohydrates like kumara or quinoa? Or do you feel great eating predominantly protein and healthy fats?
I’m a huge fan of testing and measurables. With measurables, we can really get to the underlying cause of your concerns and find ways to support you back to health.
I recommend keeping a daily log and writing down your answers to the questions in this blog post. You'll want to pay special attention to how your body feels one to two hours after you've eaten or done an activity.
Creating a physical record of what you're doing will help you identify trends over time that you can then monitor and fix.
Getting the basics sorted
So how do we know what it is we need on a daily basis? Firstly you need to get the basics sorted.
1. Eat a nutrient dense, whole foods diet
This will help support your health while reducing inflammation and illness.
This means eating an abundance of fresh seasonal vegetables, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, meat, soaked gluten free whole grains and legumes while avoiding gluten, refined grains, refined sugars and highly processed vegetable oils.
2. Get 8 hours of quality sleep per night
This allows your nervous system time to rest and repair.
3. Try to get in 30 minutes of movement every day that you enjoy.
It's important that this is movement you enjoy. This doesn’t have to be vigorous. It could simply be walking, gardening or yoga. The best type of exercise is the one you actually do!
Hacking your health through your cravings
Once you have begun to consistently practice these habits, you can hone in on the feedback your body is giving you. One of the best ways to get biofeedback about your health is to observe your cravings.
Our bodies are constantly talking to us. They send us cues, signals – sometimes very loud signs like, "I want chocolate!", to let us know that we are out of balance or need something more in our day-to-day lives.
Often we can’t hear – or choose to ignore, what our bodies are trying to tell us because our external pressures or outward noise is too loud.
We rush around trying to fit in another workout or go to another event, drinking another coffee so that we can keep going non-stop – until a health crisis or intense cravings stop us in our tracks. The fact is, those pesky cravings are your body trying to tell you, you need something.
If you are experiencing intense cravings for particular foods it can give you clues as to what is going on for your body. You need to go back to your basic pillars of health and start asking some questions about what you’ve been doing and if it has been working.
Do you experience chocolate cravings on days where your sleep has been disrupted or shorter?
Are you feeling hungry within two hours of eating a meal?
Are your cravings for sweet, salty or fried foods?
Do you experience a craving when you haven’t consumed enough water?
Does going for a 30-minute walk remove the craving?
What should you do about persistent cravings?
Quite often experiencing cravings is a sign you are not eating the right proportion of protein, fats and carbs. The amount you need to consume of each will vary based on your unique macronutrient profile.
When you eat the right ratio of protein, fats and carbs you will increase your energy, mood and satisfaction. Eating right for you can also help improve metabolic health and chronic inflammation. Ultimately eating the right nutrition for you will help you feel at your best.
All of us are genetically suited to eating somewhere on a continuum between protein and fats and carbohydrates.
“Protein types” are people that thrive on a diet at the protein/fats end of the scale. “Carb types” are those that thrive off plant-based proteins which are higher in complex carbohydrates. Another group of people will be “mixed types” who need an equal amount of carbs, fats and proteins at every meal.
With stable blood sugar levels, you shouldn’t have urgent or insatiable cravings for salty or sugary foods.
I once had a client who was eating a well constructed low-carb diet believing it the best approach to managing blood sugar levels and sugar cravings.
However, we found she was actually a “mixed type” meaning she functioned best on a mix of protein, fats and carbs. Despite never eating sugary foods or a lot of fruit, she always had sugar cravings at 3pm. Once we introduced some slow releasing carbs like kumara, pumpkin, quinoa and brown rice these cravings gradually disappeared.
To help give you some guidance as you figure out what foods you need for stable blood sugar levels we have a handy guide with 6 signs your diet is right for you. You can also check out the next article in this series where I look specifically at what cravings for sweet, salty or fried foods can mean and what you can do about it.
Learning how to adjust your habits to the feedback your body is giving you is a vital skill. Keeping a daily log will help you to stay mindful and give you the measurables you need to ask yourself what your body is actually saying. It may be that you simply need to slow down, rest and let the cravings pass.
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