There’s been a lot of hubbub lately about “listening to your body” in regards to dealing with cravings and, to some degree, giving in to them. The body is an intelligent, well-oiled machine that knows what it needs and when it needs it, right? So if I’m craving something, that must mean that my diet is lacking, correct? It’s interesting that this type of logic is used to explain cravings for things such as meat, eggs and cows’ milk, but not when what’s being craved is vodka, coffee or donuts.
While it’s true that the body is pretty intelligent and it usually knows before you do when something’s amiss, it’s not always very clever about communicating to you exactly what it needs. Do potato chip cravings really mean that there’s a salt deficiency at play? Does an intense hankering for chocolate mean your sugar levels are low? No, not really. There’s usually something else going on, and sometimes you need to play Nancy Drew to determine what it is.
Stop what you’re doing. Don’t run to the corner store to buy the object of your desire. Chances are you’ll just mindlessly stuff it in your face while watching tv or web surfing anyway. Slow down, take a few deep breaths, drink a glass of water and relax.
Ask questions. Ask yourself what it is you really want. Do you want that chocolate brownie or are your nerves frazzled and you just want your boss to leave you alone? Do you need ice cream, or would you rather just have some sweetness in your life in the form of some good lovin’? There’s a good chance that what you want isn’t food at all.
Look a your diet. The body wants to be balanced, so cravings can come from eating too much, or too little, of one thing. Did you go on a bender last night? Booze has such an expansive effect on the body that it will cause cravings for foods to ground it, such as meat, eggs and potatoes. Have you been binging on salty snacks? Sugar has the exact opposite effect as salt, so you might find yourself with a hankering for a cupcake soon after you polish off bag of popcorn.
Find something healthier. Sometimes you just want a big bowl of sugary frooty cereal because watching Saturday morning cartoons with your big sister while eating buckets of highly processed breakfast food was the favorite part of your week when you were 7, and now she lives 5 states away and you miss spending time with her. Or maybe your grandma made the best chocolate chip cookies in the world, and the smell of freshly baked treats wafting through the air outside the local bakery reminds you of spending time in the kitchen with her on holidays. Instead of giving in to the urge to gorge yourself on crappy snacks, look for (or better yet, make your own) healthier versions of the comfort food you crave.
Get tested. Cravings can mean that there are nutritional deficiencies, but it’s best to find out what’s going on under the hood before you start tinkering with the parts. A yen for salty foods could mean there’s a mineral deficiency at play. A strong desire for chocolate could be caused by a shortage of magnesium. Get your blood tested to see if there really is something lacking, and then treat the problem with nutrient-dense whole plant foods such as kale or collard greens.
The Bottom Line. When the body rings you up to chat, should you accept the call or let it go to voicemail? Definitely listen to the message, but remember that just like everyone else, it doesn’t always say what it means.