Infrequent cravings and feeding them – even if the foods are not reasonably portioned or healthy – won’t destroy a healthy diet. However, frequent cravings and responsive eating can pose issues. In extreme cases, emotional eating and cravings contribute to depressive moods, increased anxiety and stress, undesired weight gain and disordered eating habits.
Instead of beating yourself up or stressing over food cravings, view them as tools for positive change. By doing this, not only will you turn your cravings into something helpful, you will also have less intense and fewer bouts over time.
Food cravings don’t appear out of the blue. When you get a craving, ask yourself why. Remember the acronym HALT which stands for “Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.” These feelings can send comparable signals to your body and brain, which can show as cravings.
Are you truthfully hungry? You should probably eat if more than a few hours have passed. Has anything happened that caused frustration or anger? Do you need some support or company? Trying to deal with these feelings by eating is common, but it’s more of a Band-Aid than a proper solution.
Look for non-food ways to deal with these emotions. Are you tired? Your cravings could be demands for fuel if your brain and body need energy. Take a nap and determine how that affects your food cravings.
Once you know why you’re craving a certain food, the intensity may reduce – particularly if you address the underlying problem head-on.
Keep a Journal
This means tracking your cravings. Write them down in a journal when they arise, and make sure you include the time and date, the foods you crave, whether or not you plan to indulge them, and the intensity of the food cravings.
Then look deeper. Do you have any ideas as to why you are craving these foods? This would be a great time to try out HALT. In time, you will see patterns in your journal. Such self-awareness is powerful.
Examine overall intake
If you are eating insufficient amounts of food in general, your body will request more energy. The more fuel your body requires, the more dense energy sources you will crave (cheeseburgers, chocolate, cheesecake, etc).
Food cravings can also mean nutrient deficiencies. If you are eating too little carbohydrates – your body’s main fuel source – you will very likely crave dense carbohydrates. If you have heavy periods or follow a strict vegetarian diet, you are at risk for iron deficiency. A sign of low iron levels is you craving meat.
Look for healthy ways to boost levels of nutrients in your body if you are lacking.