Cravings are largely considered something to avoid. We’ve been taught that if you’re craving a particular food, you probably shouldn’t eat it. But it turns out that a craving can simply be your body letting you know that you’re running low on something. Once you’re able to identify why you’re craving that food, it can be a very easy fix.
Jennifer Sygo is a registered dietitian and performance nutritionist for both Athletics Canada and the Toronto Raptors who says that cravings can come from a few different place. “Cravings certainly can come from habit, because if you have a routine of eating a doughnut in the afternoon then you will likely keep craving that same doughnut. Cravings can also come from external cues, there’s a reason cinnamon buns smell so good from far away. But cravings can also come from your body asking for something it doesn’t have.”
In Sygo’s experience, runners crave chocolate, salty foods like chip and fries and carbohydrate-based foods. “If you’re craving sugar or carbohydrates it usually means your blood sugar is low. If you’ve been sweating a lot, then salt is a very common craving to have because you’re low on electrolytes. If your body wants chocolate, it’s possible you’re low on magnesium.”
Sygo says it’s very important for runners who are craving something to allow themselves to have that food, “People who are active, runners in particular, may feel badly that they’re craving carbs for example. But this craving usually just means that their body is looking for something they’re low on.”
Beyond being low on one particular food, Sygo says that denial can also breed very strong cravings. “Avoiding denial is crucial. For example, if you’re craving carbohydrates and you eat a sandwich, you need to avoid feeling guilty after eating that sandwich. Acknowledge that you’re feeling depleted and craving carbs. An extra serving of potatoes at dinner is alright. Fighting the cravings only makes them worse.”
However, there is a type of craving that can be curbed, and that’s the habit-based craving. This is the kind of craving that’s derived from routine as opposed to need. “When you’ve built an association with something it’s a hard habit to break. If you’re looking to break this habit, the first thing you have to do is change the circumstances around that food or time of day. If you’re used to going down at 3 p.m. everyday with friends and eating a doughnut, the last thing you should do is walk down with friends and try to not eat a doughnut. Take yourself out of the situation instead. Go for a walk, have a snack you brought from home or get a healthier snack from a different store.”