1. June 2022

Cravings – Boredom, Stress or Warning Signals?

Just had lunch but you still feel like snacking? You're constantly thinking about food and what to eat next but don't know why? We'll explain what the causes of food cravings can be and how you can best deal with them!

Cravings – Boredom, Stress or Warning Signals?

You’ve just had breakfast or lunch, and only 30 minutes later you’re overwhelmed with a craving for chocolates, chips or other snacks? Are you stressed and constantly snacking, or maybe it's a relaxing Sunday but all you can think about is food? Where do these sudden cravings for intensely sweet or salty foods come from? Is there anything you can do to prevent them?

Contents of this article:

  • Food Cravings — What are They Exactly?
  • The Most Common Causes for Food Cravings
  • Craving...? What is Your Body Telling You?
  • This is How You Stop Uncontrolled Cravings
  • 5 Quick Tips 

Food Cravings – What are they exactly?

Cravings do not necessarily mean hunger. Cravings are a sudden demand for a very specific, and usually unhealthy, type of food. Caloric chips or fries, cookies or chocolate for example. In contrast, hunger describes a very complex and life-depending process. Hunger announces itself through stomach growls or headaches. These are symptoms that usually don’t occur with cravings. Nevertheless, cravings can still have a deeper meaning, and can in some cases be a warning signal that your body is issuing to highlight a problem. Nutrient deficiencies, hormonal changes (hello menstruation!) or other physical ailments can express themselves through cravings.

The Most Common Causes for Food Cravings

1. (Emotional) Stress

Stress, sadness or boredom is a common cause for food cravings. Certain situations can cause a lot of emotional upheaval and therefore consume a lot of energy. If a lot of energy is consumed by the body to deal with a situation, then these depleted energy resources need to be restocked in the form of food. Salty, fatty or sweet foods are suitable because they have high amounts of carbohydrates which can be converted into glucose (i.e. energy) which is great brain fuel. In addition, these foods also produce serotonin. So shortly after eating these foods, your brain releases serotonin. The drawback: if we frequently use these foods to cope with stressful situations, then the brain will remember this and demand the same ‘happy experience’ in the next upsetting situation.

2. Sleep Deprivation 

Short night? But strangely you’re not tired but instead constantly craving food? Makes sense. Not sleeping enough can cause an imbalance in your hormone levels. Have you heard of Leptin or Ghrelin? While you’re asleep, the hormone Leptin is released which suppresses your appetite. As soon as you awake, the hormone Ghrelin (also known as the craving-hormone) takes control of your appetite and feelings of satiety. If our sleep schedule is disrupted, more Ghrelin is released and less Leptin. This signals to your brain that you’re hungry. Furthermore, a tired body needs more energy than usual for optimal functioning, and where to we get quick energy supplies? You guessed it: from fatty, salty or sweet foods. Read about how to get the best sleep in our sleep guide. 

3. Poor Eating Habits 

Dessert after lunch? One (or two) cookies to calm the nerves? Anyone who follows the same food routine, day in and day out, conditions their brain to crave those foods regularly. This can lead to a dependency, even addiction, to a sugar rush after a meal or in stressful situation. It’s important to be aware of these things, because what the brain wants it usually gets! Many studies have demonstrated that our brain reacts very similarly to addictive food as it does to addictive drugs.

People who have the tendency to eat poorly (lots of processed foods, carbohydrates and refined sugar) are likelier to suffer from food cravings more frequently. Its unsurprising that your blood sugar levels behave like a rollercoaster: rapid increases and steep plummets. This results in consequential feelings of fatigue, which we solve by giving in to our cravings for sugary foods. Its essential to break this vicious rewards cycle and return to a diet that is high in more nutritious foods.

4. Physical Ailments

Anyone who regularly suffers from intense craving attacks, should get checked by a doctor to rule out any serious issues. Recurring cravings could be an indicator of metabolic issues or hormonal imbalances. This includes diabetes, hyperthyroidism, liver disease or obesity.

5. Mental Illnesses
Food cravings are a fairly common phenomenon among individuals who suffer from mental diseases like anorexia, bulimia or binge-purge anorexia. All three diseases typically involve intense cravings. This is due to the fact that eating disorders cause dangerous nutrient deficiencies and hormone imbalances.

Craving...? What is your body telling you?

Did you know that a craving for salty foods can often be an indicator that you’re dehydrated? Your body is sending you a signal to drink more water, because salt commonly causes thirst. Pretty smart, right? A craving for chocolate, bananas or meat can also signal a nutrient deficiency. The following table gives you an overview of what the cause of specific cravings could be:

Craving…

Possible Deficiency

Smart Alternative

Chocolate

Magnesium

Oats, Cashews, Figs, Seeds

Peanutbutter

Vitamin B

Sunflower seeds, Sesame, Bananas

Bananas

Potassium

Chips & other salty snacks

Sodium, Chloride, Silicon

Olives, Cashews, Seeds

Fries & other fatty snacks

Calcium, Omega-3-fatty acids

Lentils, Leafy greens, Fatty fish

Nuts

Omega-3 Fatty acids, Protein, Vitamin B

-

Cheese

Calcium, Phosphorus

Broccoli, Figs (dried), Almonds

Red Meat

Iron, Zinc, Vitamin B12*

Spinach, Peas, Sunflower seeds, Quinoa

 *only found in animal products or via supplements.

Including lots of fruit and vegetables on your plate, and swapping refined carbohydrates for wholegrain and complex carbohydrates, is an excellent way to manage your cravings. A balanced diet ensures that your body is being supplied with all the necessary macro and micro nutrients that it needs for optimal functioning. This helps avoid any deficiencies and can curb cravings. Read more about a balanced diet in this article to discover useful tips and guidelines.

This is How You Stop Uncontrolled Cravings

You’re probably asking yourself what you can do to prevent cravings before you start snacking? Firstly, you should be aware of when the cravings kick in. Is it due to hormone changes (e.g. PMS or menstruation?) Do they occur in stressful or emotional situations? Be sure to take note of how you’re feeling when cravings take over so that in 2-3 months you have a mini ‘database’ that can help shed light on the issue. If cravings happen from time to time or after extreme physical or emotional events, then there probably isn’t any cause for concern. Pay attention to the nutrition of your meals and make sure that breakfast, lunch and dinner include a variety of food groups. Try to only include un processed foods, without added sugar or salt and free of chemical additives. Small tip: the shorter the ingredient list, the better. 

The same applies to our Every. products! Here the ingredient lists aren’t short, but they’re definitely all natural and only include things that are good for you. Everything from our breakfast bowls, to our ginger shots to our bowls, only including high quality ingredients entirely free of additives or preservatives. Suitable for anyone who wants to adjust their diet and integrate healthy foods into their daily life. Check out our all of our products here

Last but not least, make time to get enough sleep. Your body needs periods of rest and relaxation. Find a way to manage stress and boredom, because these are often moments where uncontrolled snacking or incessant thoughts about food take place. Try taking a long walk, do some yoga, meditate or call a friend to distract yourself.

What else can be done? Here are some quick tips: 

  1. Mindful Eating: regardless of breakfast, lunch or dinner, take time for your meals. If you eat quickly without being present, then you’re likely to eat more than you need to. Your body needs some time to develop a feeling of satiety so try not to rush.
  2. Wholesome Snacks: no more afternoon snacks? Don’t worry, of course you don’t have to give this up entirely. Just pay attention to the quality of your snacks. Empty calories in the form of chocolate, sodas or processed foods won’t do you any good. Opt for things like fruit, vegetables or nuts, these are good for your body and your brain!
  3. Drink Water: often we think we’re hungry, but actually we’re thirsty. Your brain signals that you’re craving salty foods, but really it's telling you to drink something. The German Ministry for Nutrition, recommends that adults should drink at least 1,5 litres of water a day, depending on your level of physical activity it could also be more.
  4. More Protein: protein-rich foods are very satiating and help quell your appetite. Studies have shown that people who eat a protein-rich breakfast, are less likely to have cravings later in the day.

In conclusion, cravings can have many causes but typically signal that there is a deficiency of some kind. A healthy, conscious diet ensures that the body is supplied with all the necessary nutrients which in turn reduces the likelihood for cravings. In addition to diet, your lifestyle also plays an important role. Enough sleep and healthy stress management does your body a lot of good. If you have a healthy diet and lifestyle and are still suffering from inexplicable cravings, you should probably go see a doctor for better clarity. 

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