Let’s face it — getting off the food craving struggle bus can be REAL.
I’ve yet to meet a client, friend or family member that didn’t have some sort of fave food indulgence, including myself. For example, growing up I had a major sweet tooth, fueled by a routine of dessert post-meals. To this day I still crave something sweet after dinner (TG for dark chocolate).
Now that I’m rounding out my second trimester of pregnancy, I’ve experienced a whirlwind of cravings, the majority being CARBS. Pretty sure I could eat pizza every night and be excited about it, shortly followed by fettuccine pasta and Turkey BLTA sandwiches.
Although sometimes these cravings can be less than ideal (especially if they’re getting in the way of your health goals) it’s important to examine them as they can tell you a lot about what’s going on physically (i.e. nutrients you may be missing) and emotionally (aka a feeling you’re craving that a food may temporarily provide).
To be clear here, there is NOTHING wrong with cravings and I encourage you to lean into them instead of fight or ignore them. But if you’re looking for more optimal ways to engage in them in order to better serve your body, goals and life — then you’ve come to the right place.
Food can be broken down into three macronutrients — protein, fat and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are our bodies most preferred form of fuel, as we can utilize them quickly and efficiently (our bodies like to be efficient and do the least amount of work possible).
Thus many times when we’re craving something carbohydrate-rich, our body is actually signaling to us that it’s low on energy and needs some efficient fuel to boost it stat. While carbs will certainly do the trick, our bodies run through this fuel very quickly, which can leave us feeling even more depleted and experiencing even stronger craving for more carbs soon after.
Many carbohydrate-rich foods such as bread and pasta are also rich in nutrients like nitrogen and folate, so your body may be signaling it’s missing out on these as well.
Because indulging in carbs can lead to your blood sugar levels peaking and dropping too often, try balancing them out with some protein (fish, meat, nuts, eggs and dairy are particularly rich in nitrogen) and healthy fats (nuts + seeds and avocado are rich in folate).
Fat and protein are much slower-burning fuel sources, so by adding them to your carb craving you’ll provide a longer-lasting source of energy, balance blood sugar, increase satiation and elongate the time you can go between needing another snack or meal.
I’m obsessed with Simple Mills Almond Flour Pizza Dough which I use to make a paleo pizza at least once a week, Capello’s Grain-Free Fettucine Noodles which I use with nutpods creamer to make a Creamy Cashew Alfredo Pasta, and Siete’s Almond Flour Tortillas for tacos.
Sweet potatoes are rich in fiber and healthy carbohydrates, so they can be an awesome substitute in dishes (try using them as a base for toast, noodles for a pasta or stuffing them with chicken, beans, guac and salsa as a burrito substitute).
When looking for carb or bread products, look for whole and gluten-free grains rich in fiber that are lower on the glycemic index, such as quinoa, millet, buckwheat, amaranth, brown or black rice, whole grain oats and fermented sourdough (not gluten-free but the fermenting helps with digestion).
An overactive sweet tooth may be a signal that you’re magnesium deficient, according to research. Indulging in sugar also releases a cascade of feel-good endorphins that light up the reward and pleasure center in your brain, which can cause you to depend on a sweet treat any time you’re feeling stressed/sad/anxious and want instantaneous relief or comfort.
A diet rich in foods such as nuts, seeds, fruits, legumes, spinach and whole grains will ensure you don’t become magnesium deficient. I also recommend taking 350-400 mg of magnesium per night, or regularly indulging in epsom salt baths (rich in magnesium you absorb directly through your skin).
Along with taking magnesium, I encourage you to make a list of non-food related activities that help you relieve stress and feel better (calling or meeting a friend, yoga, exercise, reading a good book, doing a face mask, meditating, etc.). The next time you get buried at work and find yourself craving a pint of ice cream, try one of these techniques instead.
Trust, I GET IT. Sometimes nothing else but the sweet itself will suffice. If there’s something very specific you want, try to mindfully indulge in it (i.e. no distractions like your phone or computer) and savor every bite.
My fave feel-good sweet treats include Hu Kitchen Cashew Butter Dark Chocolate, Honey Mama’s Chocolate Fudge Bars, Eating Evolved Caramel Sea Salt Cups (are you sensing a theme here?), Frankie & Jo’s Plant-Based Ice-Cream (they deliver nationwide!), my signature Paleo Fudgey Brownies, or chocolate avocado mousse with coconut whipped cream.
If you can’t stop dreaming of fries, Chinese takeout or other salty snacks like chips and pretzels, you could be slightly dehydrated, or deficient in trace minerals (found in natural salt) and calcium. Studies have shown a marginal deficiency in either mineral could stimulate the desire for salt, and others have shown women on low-calcium diets crave salty food more.
Indulging in your salt craving will only temporarily increase calcium levels in the blood, tricking your body into thinking it’s taking in calcium when it’s not. Instead, try reaching for calcium-rich foods like dark leafy greens, yogurt, kefir, almonds, tofu, sesame seeds, and sardines. Incorporating more pumpkin, sunflower and flax seeds can also help boost your intake of trace minerals found in natural salt. And don’t forget to drink that water!
When I want salty I typically go straight for my Seasoned Sweet Potato Fries with Vegan Queso Cheese Dip, but I also love anything asian-inspired, such as this Avocado Green Curry with Chicken, Fresh Rolls with Peanut Sauce, or Spicy Lamb Meatballs with Curry “Noodles.”
For quick fixes/snacks I really enjoy Brad’s Kale Chips, a little “antipasto” plate with smoked salmon, kalamata olives and marcona almonds, or celery/apple slices dipped in some almond butter and sea salt.
A strong hankering for a piece of steak, juicy burger or bacon (my personal fave :)) may mean you’re iron-deficient. Studies show that in pregnant women (oh hey) and others with iron deficiencies, food cravings serve to prevent or alleviate the nutritional deficit, so you can thank your bod for looking out for you.
This is actually one craving where it helps to indulge, especially if that craving is red meat, the best source of iron. When looking for quality meat, look for organic and grass-fed, which means the meat will be free of harmful antibiotics and hormones and rich in nutrients and heart-healthy omega-3’s.
If you can’t bring yourself to eat red meat, try fish, poultry, tofu, legumes, nuts (especially cashews and almonds), seeds, oats, dried fruit and veggies (mushrooms and potatoes). Keep in mind it’s harder for the body to absorb iron from plant-based sources. To help, pair iron-rich foods with foods rich in vitamin C (citrus, bell peppers, etc.) which will help your body absorb the iron.
My meat cravings usually always result in a burger of some sort, especially if it involves lamb and harissa aioli. To further upgrade try occasionally swapping your bun for a butter lettuce wrap.
That being said, I don’t eat red meat that often, and tend to prefer fish (like this grilled salmon + miso avocado salad) or chicken (hello chipotle-style burrito bowl). For a completely plant-based option, these coconut cashew energy balls are rich in iron, as are these tempeh tacos with peanut sauce & mango avocado salsa.
The craving for fatty, fried foods usually stems from your body’s need to consume just that: fat.
But before you go HAAM on the cheese fondue and fried chicken, remember not all fats are created equal. Most likely your body and brain are craving high quality fats rich in Omega-3’s & 6’s they can use for sustainable, slow-burning energy and optimal brain function. In fact, your brain is made up of 60 percent fat, so these fatty acids are among the most crucial molecules that determine your brain’s ability to perform.
Try supplementing your cravings with healthier fats. Avocado, nuts and seeds (and butters) and a spoonful of coconut oil or grass-fed butter/ghee can give your body the fat it needs, without exposing yourself to inflammatory partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats (found in most fried foods).
My fave ways to sneak in a dose of healthy fats include sliced cucumber and jicama dipped in guacamole, smoothie bowls swirled with creamy nut butter, bulletproof coffee with grass-fed ghee or MCT oil, and a cashew-based vegan queso cheese dip smothered on just about anything.
If nothing but a fried texture will do, try baking your own fries or roasting starchy veggies until they become crispy. If you’re looking for a cheesy taste/substitute I love Miyoko’s Cashew Mozzarella, Kite Hill’s Almond Ricotta Cheese, or using nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor in dishes like my Butternut Squash Mac N’ NO Cheese.
Tuning into your cravings and understanding why they happen is a key component to upgrading them.
Remember along with a physiological or nutrient-based craving (i.e. you’re actually really hungry or your body is craving certain foods because of the deficiencies mentioned above) more often than not our cravings stem from habits (i.e. me craving something sweet after dinner because I ate that way growing up) or emotional needs (i.e. every time you feel stressed out you reach for the candy jar for instant gratification and quick relief).
When you pause before indulging to check in with yourself and question what you’re REALLY craving (be it a feeling or a nutrient), it will help you become extremely mindful about eating. When you snack mindlessly, you almost never feel satisfied and continue to have the same cravings, but when you become very intentional about what you’re eating you tend to eat much less and appreciate what you’re eating so much more.
Lastly, it’s important to remember while there are ALWAYS ways to upgrade your cravings, it’s okay if sometimes you just don’t want to (greasy, cheesy, glutenous piece of pizza and all). The important thing is to indulge in your craving mindfully, because YOU genuinely want it, and then be able to move on, without judging yourself or linking the decision to your own self-worth.
I’m honored to support you on your journey to optimal hormone health + happiness. Thanks for being here babe.