Ever experience a “consuming desire” or “yearning” for a particular food or snack? Maybe even when you absolutely “know” you are not hungry? But still, you just can’t get the thought of your favorite treat out of your mind until you indulge… If so, you have experienced what researchers call a “food craving”. Cravings for “wrong foods” (chocolate, salty snacks, crunchy treats, sweets, sodas, high fat items, pasta, etc.) are one of the most challenging and disturbing symptoms of my patients seeking weight loss. And until food cravings are controlled, meaningful long-term weight loss remains only an illusion.
Chocolate is the single most common craving, experienced by 40% of women and 15% of men. For others it is chips, cookies, candy, ice cream, burgers, fries, cakes, pasta, or cereal. As you might imagine, behind closed doors, I’ve heard it all. As patients describe their problem foods, typically giving a raving review, their faces often “light up” as they contemplate their favorite snack, which for them is a source of true ecstasy… but at a painful price!
Food cravings, and the weight gain consequences, are incredibly common. In fact, 97% of women and 68% of men report having food cravings. Understanding the causes, consequences and management strategies for cravings are an important aspect of weight control and a daily part of my patient care. If you are among those struggling with cravings, you can gain control, so be encouraged and have hope! But, you can gain control only if you follow a systematic and comprehensive strategy that includes 3 foundational keys as the starting point. However, if you bypass these keys, you will likely remain forever struggling. Once these basics are covered, you will then have a fighting chance of achieving victory!
Cravings, in my experience, are typically caused by a very legitimate biological need that triggers certain brain hormone signals that we sense as food cravings. However, the chosen “solution” for the craving is typically a non-nutritious “answer” that creates more problems than true solutions for the underlying deficiency. Here are 3 of the most common causes of food cravings (among a list of many) that I frequently discover as I do “detective work” with my patients:
- Fatigue. This is most prominent after 4 pm when daily fatigue sets in.
- Nutrient deficiencies. Typically associated with fatigue or mood changes.
- Prior weight loss. Food thoughts are exacerbated after 10+ lbs of weight loss.
Further, these 3 causes of food cravings often are present in combinations of 2 or more at a time. This is actually more challenging than one might imagine. Let me explain… You see, if there were only one simple cause for the craving, it would be simple to resolve by a process of elimination. For example, if fatigue was the only cause for your food cravings, all you would need to do is to get a good night’s sleep and your cravings would disappear! Rarely is it so simple…
Similarly, if it is a particular nutrient deficiency, such as iron deficiency OR vitamin D deficiency, you would simply need to take that single vitamin or mineral, and all your cravings would disappear. Again, it is most often not a single nutrient deficiency, but multiple deficiencies present simultaneously that cause the challenge for my patients. We must embark on both detective work, to determine which, if any nutrients are deficient, and then design a custom replenishment plan to resolve the deficiency. And obviously we must always eat nutritiously and regularly with appropriate meals and snacks.
Although your situation and causes for your cravings are unique to you, let me recommend 3 simple steps to get you started on your path to gain control OF your cravings, rather than being controlled BY your cravings:
Key #1. Get your sleep! Now I know I sound like your mother…. sorry about that! However, research clearly shows that 7 ½ hours of sleep each night is just about ideal for most people to have minimum appetite and cravings. In fact, getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night increases a woman’s risk of an 11 lb weight gain by 83%! Sleep is a good investment of your time…
Key # 2: Get your Essential Nutrients… daily! Overweight individuals are nutrient deficient as a group, and the more overweight they are, they become even more nutrient deficient! (How sad to be both overweight and malnourished, but research shows this to be the case.) Nutrient deficiencies are detected in the appetite centers of the brain and cravings can then become overpowering! I created my research-based, custom formula Essential Nutrient Package to cover these CRUCIAL nutrient needs that are especially an issue in overweight individuals. Click here to learn more. Essential nutrients are ESSENTIAL to control cravings and for Optimum Health, so they are necessarily one of my professional tools to assist people toward great health.
Key # 3: Supplement strategically! A comprehensive discussion of how to supplement for craving control is beyond the scope of any single article. However, let me mention two of my patient’s most popular supplements for appetite and craving control. Energy Plus and 5-HTP both support craving control, by different mechanisms, and are often helpful (read further about them and learn if they may be appropriate for you by clicking the appropriate link.)
Please do not underestimate the POWER of food cravings. Food cravings are a monster of disaster and will absolutely sabotage the most self-disciplined and determined of dieters if not managed aggressively and appropriately. Begin with these simple steps, but realize many people do need professional assistance, especially if there is more than 10-15 lbs of excess weight. Prescription appetite suppressants may be recommended. Our Center For Nutrition clinics exist to provide the professional expertise necessary to “manage the monster”. If you need help, particularly in the context of excess weight, take advantage of our professional staff, our experience and our free initial consultation to get you started…
For Optimum Health,
Rick Tague, M.D., M.P.H.