Cravings: What Do They Mean, and When Should You Listen?

30 01 2010

 

Want some fries with that low-blood-sugar shake?

 

No raw food diet would be complete without some mind-boggling, head-spinning, drag-you-to-your-knees cooked food cravings. Especially in the beginning weeks and months. I don’t think I’ve met a single raw foodist who didn’t have to battle the Craving Monster at some point or another—so if you’re facing this challenge, you’re not alone.

Your body always tries to work in its own best interest—and for the most part, it does a good job. Wounds heal, hunger signals compel you to fuel up, fatigue ushers you towards sleep. It’s a diligent worker and an excellent communicator. But sometimes your poor body gets confused—such as with autoimmune disorders, when it attacks its own tissues, and addictions that create reliance on unhealthy substances. And as you may already know, certain cooked foods are loaded with chemical additives, refined sugar, opioid peptides (think opium and morphine), and other addictive ingredients that literally make you “need a fix.”

When it comes to food cravings, this poses a challenge: is your body asking for something it needs, or is it remembering something it’s addicted to? Should you ignore your cravings or indulge them?

The answer isn’t always clear. But as a guideline, here are some tips for deciphering what your body is asking for.

  • Are you craving a quick blood-sugar raiser, like cookies, candy, ice cream, or other sweets? Then one of two possibilities is likely. First, you may be withdrawing from processed sugar (which, indeed, is almost drug-like) and miss the feeling of a “sugar high”—a likely possibility if you were a sugar junkie in the past. You might also be legitimately craving carbs because you’ve under-eaten and need some glucose in your bloodstream, pronto. In either case, try filling up on plenty of fresh, whole fruit (not dried) and see what happens.
  • Are you craving a “comfort food” you used to eat after having a bad day, or something special your mom (or grandma or other chef-like family member) used to make when you were little? Then you’re probably having a psychologically-rooted craving. You may be associating a feeling of comfort, familiarity, and overall okay-ness with a particular food item from your past—something you treated not as “fuel” but as a tranquilizer, relaxer, or mood-lifter. These are not good cravings to succumb to. What they do offer is an opportunity to reevaluate  your relationship with food, and find constructive ways to deal with difficult emotions instead of swallowing them down with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.
  • Are you craving something super salty, like popcorn, chips, canned food or soup, broth, foods with soy sauce, or ketchup? Although human sodium needs are somewhat low, the raw food diet tends to be tremendously high in potassium—a mineral that needs about a 3:1 ratio with sodium in order for our bodies to function optimally. If you don’t consume overt salt in your raw diet, or if you really like chowing down on high-potassium fare, your body might be crying out for some extra sodium. Try eating celery, seaweed, raw cultured vegetables, swiss chard, or spinach when these cravings strike. If you—like most people—ate a high-sodium diet prior to raw, salty food cravings could be a form of withdrawal; in this case, the cravings generally disappear within a few days or weeks of abstaining from table salt.
  • Are you craving something dense and rich, like cheese, butter, peanut butter, fast food, or heavy desserts? Your body is probably desperate for calories. Nine times out of ten, when you crave extremely calorie-rich foods, it’s because you haven’t been getting enough fuel for a while (days, weeks, or even months) and your body is pretty peeved about it. This is amazingly common for raw folks. Even when it feels like we eat a lot, our cuisine is so bulky that we aren’t actually getting that much energy from our meals. Your body knows it will get the best caloric bang per bite by driving you towards energy-dense items, so when you under-eat for a while, you’ll feel like making a bee-line to the first jar of peanut butter that crosses your path. The key to battling this craving isn’t necessarily to eat more fatty foods, but to eat more, period. Try entering your daily food intake on a nutrient calculator like FitDay or Cron-O-Meter—you may be surprised at how little you’re actually consuming. Amp up your overall intake, and the heavy food cravings will typically subside. (One caveat: sometimes cheese cravings are also due to dairy withdrawal or low sodium levels.)
  • Are you craving a pure, unseasoned protein source, like chicken, eggs, or fish? You probably aren’t getting enough protein. I know, I know; that sounds like blasphemy coming from a fellow raw foodist. Indeed, human’s don’t need an enormous amount of protein to be healthy, but if you aren’t eating enough food on a raw diet (or if your digestion isn’t up to par), you can bet the farm you aren’t getting enough protein to thrive long-term. If ethical concerns don’t dictate otherwise, you can often squash this craving with a small amount of raw animal products; try tossing a couple of free-range organic eggs into a smoothie, for instance. If you’re a committed vegan, focus on eating adequate calories, including plenty of greens and non-sweet vegetables (both of which are relatively high in protein as a percentage of calories). Green juice can be effective as well. Contrary to popular belief, nuts aren’t that high in protein; almonds are 13 percent protein, pecans are only 5, and hazelnuts are 8. Zucchinis, on the other hand, are 18 percent protein.
  • Are you craving red meat—even if you haven’t eaten it in years? This is a classic iron craving. Load up on dark leafy greens or sea vegetables, and eat them with another food high in vitamin C to enhance absorption (such as a salad with spinach and orange slices).
  • Are you craving dairy, bread, pasta, crackers, or other grain products? Both dairy and gluten-containing grains contain opioid peptides—amino acid sequences that affect the brain in the same way opiates do, targeting your endorphin receptors and making you feel pretty darn good. These opioids are also amazingly addictive and are largely responsible for cravings. In the case of milk, it makes sense—if wise Mother Nature makes this liquid semi-addictive, it ensures that young mammals feel compelled to keep drinking it, which keeps them nice and nourished. Unfortunately, the addictive quality doesn’t go away just because you grow up. Some people have success including raw dairy in their diet, but most of the time, dairy and grain cravings  are due to opioid peptide withdrawals.

Above all else, eat enough. When your body is chronically under-fueled, it’ll start screaming for all sorts of wacky things. For many people, the best way to defeat cravings is to simply eat a greater quantity of raw foods.

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36 responses

31 01 2010
Grace Place

You writing rings true, but whenever I am trying to make a commitment to being raw, I feel like I spend SO much more time eating. Maybe it’s because I am not making smoothies and taking the time to eat eight banana, four mangoes, and a pound of salad and more vegetables. I shouldn’t snack but I do (on fruits/celery typically) and then I’m flossing five time a day to keep my teeth from falling out. Tonight I added raw oysters for protein and fat. Still, I feel like I am starving late at night when I know I have had enough calories. I’m craving a tall glass of olive oil and a piece of toast.

Also, the more I commit to this lifestyle, the more isolated I feel because my friends feel like my diet is extreme and I have to make so many polite declines when eating together. Pardon this little rant. I mostly want to say thanks for your good work Denise.

3 02 2010
neisy

Your concerns and difficulties are completely valid—and you’re definitely not alone in them. The huge volume of raw food you need, especially compared to cooked food, does take a long while to get used to; I promise it gets easier with time, though. The late-night starving feeling is also something I experienced in the beginning and is closely related to under-eating. It sounds like you take great care of your teeth, so at this point I’d say it’s a better route to snack (and get enough calories) than to only eat solid meals and live with constant hunger!

Unfortunately, social isolation is one of the biggest problems on raw diets, and the hardest to remedy. When your friends see you aren’t dropping over dead and notice your raw glow, the comments about extremism typically go away… but it takes time. And patience. It’s not an easy journey, but it truly is a rewarding one.

Rants are completely welcome on this blog :) No worries there. Best of luck.

10 11 2012
Kayla67078

Are u kiddny me you don’t have to do that unless u weigh 200 pounds or more

2 07 2010
Reena

Hi Denise, thank you so much for this post. I find it really helpful. I found your blog from Alissa’s forum, and find your articles very beneficial to me. I have been raw for nearly 4 months now, and was wondering whether to continue to eat raw, or to give in to my cooked food (vegan) cravings,… as they have been particularly strong this week, much stronger than in the past. I’ve had some pretty intense cravings for Thai tofu curries, Indian restaurant food etc. Part of it may be the comfort and fun seeking. Another part of it (just as you say) has to do with the fact that the I spent most of June undereating… I just lost my appetite somehow and was probably only eating a few hundred calories per day. (I was stressed about an issue and focused on that, and stayed out of the kitchen.) But this last week my appetite (as well as interest in cooked foods) has returned with a vengeance. Before breaking raw and giving into cooked foods, I’ll take your suggestion and will make sure to continue to feed myself plenty of raw calories and see if that helps reduce my cravings. I know I will also need to continue to refer to your blog often. Thank you! :-)

12 07 2010
Milen

Hi guys!

Everything written here is more than a precise work (better than the scientists can describe the raw food life style ;) ). Me and my family are raw foodists for about a year and a half in which we have allowed ourselves to eat some cook food when we have craving for it. Why we do so? Well the transition from cooked to raw food MUST always pass slowly but surely. The problems most people have nowadays are that they are trying strictly to achieve the 100% raw food from the beginning and most of them unfortunately fail within a few months.

It is true that the family and society support is about 80% of the success of being on a raw food lifestyle (please note I am not saying RAW FOOD DIET!) however we have seen lots of people that are on they own and have to cook for their family and they are still enjoying being on a raw food. In lots of the cases when a person is changing thanks to the tons of released body energy, the people around start asking questions about the diet, the changes etc. Within the frame of the family even the toughest BBQ fans start trying few raw salads, cheeses etc. and soon they find the lack of meat in their fridge for weeks, later months etc.

The important thing is to have the variety of different foods and not to be afraid of a failure. Play with your food, make it look the way you have never seen it before, have fun with colors, substitute your moms top recipes with ones converted to a raw food meals and soon you will find out that the world out there is very attractive and open minded to all raw foodists. Blogs like this one and the tons of forums out there are always opened and 100% supportive, so if you ever feel sick or unhappy, bring back the joy in to your live. The change can start today and you will feel the results within a week. I PROMISE YOU that as I felt it already nevertheless that I was really having bad and nasty food habits. Not that I am proud of it now, but eating salted pork fat in the summer, meat from time to time, all kinds of fried foods and my moms meals in which she was putting about 2-3 cups of oil, deeply frying, cooking etc. believe me all this is now history! Even my mom became a vegan nowadays and is trying to switch to raw foods whenever the finance allows her to.

So have fun, laugh more, never judge others, keep a little patience for later use and NEVER (I MEAN NEVER!!!) punish yourselves for “being bad” eating some cooked food. As you have read here this could be an old craving or a body SCREAM for some needs. Until you manage to read your body signals, just allow the transition to come slowly in your house and stay there forever!

6 11 2010
Cravings « Exercise.Food.Poo.

[...] Cravings: What They Mean [...]

13 11 2010
tom

I just started eating raw. How long do the cooked food withdrawls last?

1 01 2011
Slim Now Today with Supresalin Weight Loss Gum

Great article! Thank you so much.

http://slimnowtoday.com

7 03 2011
Elle

I want to thank you for the information! I have been going crazy trying to figure out why I have such cravings for granola & string cheese. I am not a raw food person, but have been trying to eat healthier & ease into a healthier lifestyle for my family & I. It seems all I can stomach eating is granola and string cheese for a month now & I couldn’t figure out what was going on, it was driving me crazy! I am under a lot of stress and haven’t been eating much. It is getting to the point now that once I do eat, I will eat 2 pieces of string cheese & 2 granola bars or granola at a time! That is way too much food for me. But seeing this, I am finally at peace knowing my body was probably in desperate need of calories, and now I have a bit of an addiction to these foods. In the words of G.I. Joe, knowing is half the battle, now I can get my body back on track. Thank you again, you have saved me lots of stress (which is a lifesaver at this point in my life)!

22 02 2012
rembrandt

elle iff all your eating is granola and string cheese when you bust down and are hungry its probably genuine craving for calories and nutrients. and if granola and string cheese and granola are all you eat your focus is probably low calorie intake(many would call low calorie extremism) so maybe (note not recomended but a comprimise if you won’t often eat or are trying to cut down on eating) try eating a salad with nuts berries and cold undried fresh pinto beans once or twice a day(or less) youll have energy kill the cravings in a week( amonth if youve got serious calorie withdrawl) and giving your body the nutrients to stay running.
gl
btw perfect article exactly what i needed explain my dairy craving the last few months

28 07 2011
kali

I eat penut butter every afternoon on salty crackers, if I’m out of crackers I eat spoons full, does this sound like I’m lacking calories?

17 12 2011
22 01 2012
kay

why do we as human stress our self out about food keep clean and enjoy everyday cause thats all you have. If you having craving ask yourself what am i lacking the body loves you and want the same back everything takes time baby steps each day. And dont forget its about the soul feed that and nothing can stand in your way. luv and peace God first

14 03 2012
pj

I have been craving milk to the extreme. I am 56, and am going through 4 gallons of milk a week. That is an average of half a gallon a day. My doctor can not figure out why. So I decided to take to the computor to see if I could figure it out. Thanks for your info.

29 03 2012
Brittany

What can I do about the cravings

14 05 2012
raw diet

The speedy red wolf jumped over the lazy dog

7 08 2012
Tai

are you craving salt? Then you are salt deficiency!

20 10 2012
Pee-N-da-Butter!

[...]   -da-   phuck!  Got up @ 3:35am  and all I could think about was peanut butter! Sometimes you just gotta give your body what it [...]

25 10 2012
poraboo

I am so glad that I came across this site. I Havent been having many cravings but cheese. Then i hav the nerve to want it melted in a bowl. I scream because i avoid it at all cost. Thats my only craving though. my real issue is that i cannot find enough raw food recipes to last throughout the day. its gotten so bad my blood sugar dropped. Very scary, especially when you have a child in the house. now i chase that with a banana Im used2going nonstop as most women do. but this diet will slow your roll. any meal ideas or site suggestions? i have been doing this for a little over a month now.

25 10 2012
poraboo

It also explains why im up this late. soooo hungry!

11 11 2012
Konrad Romaniuk (@representanidea)

Thankyou very much for this information site!

So much better than http://www.rawfoodtalk.com – apparently you’re not supposed to mention or discuss any animal based product on their site – not even if you’re talking to fellow vegans about cravings?? What a interestingly atrocious way of educating and promoting the raw food diet and supporting those that are trying to change the way they eat. Last time I visit that website that’s for sure.

Anyway, thanks for this page – VERY helpful, especially for those like myself who have university exams and just finishing eating nutella out of a jar with a tablespoon and wanted to work out what the hell just happened!

21 11 2012
emily

ok so i hate drinking plain milk and one day i all of a sudden got a strage craving for it why did i all of a sudden get this now i cant stand not having milk 24/7 infact im drinking some right now

2 12 2012
walkietani

Hi all, I am not actually a vegan; I have been consuming green smoothies for a month, usually one green smoothie in the morning, sometimes 2 in a day.

These few days, I have a VERY VERY VERY cravings for savory foods, such as potato chips, instant noodles and spicy stuff. is this a craving for salt and does that mean I have not been taking enough sodium (not possible)…

Prior ro green smoothies, I have never been someone who loves too much sweet stuff except for chocolates.

I have the intention to turn raw foodist, but I find it is very expensive (even when I am not talking about eating organic food)

HELP!!!

16 03 2013
Ben CaregiverRenew.org

What you say about dairy and gluten and opioid peptides is very interesting. So how do I encourage opioid peptides production in my body without eating dairy or gluten?

6 04 2013
Farhana

Thanks for the post. I’m actually not on a raw food diet and stumbled across this article whilst trying to figure out why I’m craving butter!

I found your advice extremely helpful and will not be consuming more calories during the day!

12 05 2013
Sharon

I have cravings for chocolate and ice cream and not so much carbs just a little and I don’t sleep, have sleep apnea and have machiine and doesn’t do anything for me. So what does this mean for me?.I am trying to lose weight but my weight been going up. Please help,

22 05 2013
Pam

I am lactose intolerant, and have been since birth. I tend to stay away from milk unless I am eating something extremely doughy such as pancakes or cookies. Then I will have 1/2 a glass full but have to put it in the freezer for 10 minutes to make it very cold before I can stand to drink it. But the last week or so, I have been craving milk. I’ve been making cookies just so that I have something to go with the milk. I have been drinking up to 2 glasses full a night with 3 or 4 cookies. But I wake in middle of the night still craving more and feeling somewhat sick to my stomach until I get up and pour a glass with a cookie or two. I don’t mind the drinking of the milk, I am just worried about the side effects that drinking it causes, and what could be the reason for the sudden mass need for it. I am diabetic, COPD from acute asthma, an insomniac so makes the waking up even more troublesome as the few hours I was getting is now being interrupted, have restless leg syndrome, bilateral naropathy from lower back down, suffer from migraines and up until last month used a Cpap machine to help with the sleep apnea but the company would not renew my financial help to keep the machine, so had to return it. Lack of insurance has caused me to stop many of the medications I was taking. Could this cause the sudden craving of milk?

12 06 2013
snarf

….ED NOS….!?

2 07 2013
pm

I’ve been craving milk…and this is not me…till like 2 months ago…I’ll drink 3 or 4 24oz I never drank so much milk…even when I was a kid…I used to have a bad reaction to milk…now I feel like I have to have it or I start feeling sick :( I don’t understand it and my 8yr old Son has even noticed my intake of milk…it’s kinda scary :/

7 07 2013
Eva

When I’m craving for food (or just snacks), I try to remember to question myself: “Am I hungry, or am I just thirsty?”. Most of the time having myself drinking water will stop the craving. In the rare case it doesn’t, I have something greasy (some rice crackers with butter and garlic powder) or muesli and that will do the job, avoiding snacking junkfood (which I normally don’t buy).

14 07 2013
Menu Planning and Spiced Shrimp Tacos | Fitness, Health and Happiness

[…] For the past few weeks I’ve been craving protein or more specifically seafood. My first thought was if I’m craving protein there must be a deficiency. Similar to what this raw foodist states on her blog: […]

10 09 2013
kenn jayne

I find that a 6 pack and half of pound of cheese cure my cravings on a daily basis. Then again I realize someday I will be dead and will not be able to enjoy cheese and beer. Ummm raw vegetables daily….I would rather watch fat people screw.

15 09 2013
Linda224

This is all great, extremely good information… however, I differ with the idea that craving red meat always simply signals an iron need. It’s my experience that it can more often signal a B12 deficiency — which is a serious issue that can easily and quickly cause some permanent nerve damage and more. Especially in people over 40 or 50 years of age, iron is not remotely the huge daily issue and ongoing need that B12 is. Thanks for your excellent work… and for allowing the opportunity for me to add mine :)

26 03 2014
Paul Fletcher

It would be really good if each food for each craving could be listed ..
certain days I crave popcorn others salt , prefer gluten free. I know there is a broad range listed. but a lot is iffy as may contain gluten.

30 03 2014
todd

what about canned smoked oysters on a raw vegan lifestyle??

19 06 2014
Kathryn

I did raw till 4 for 30 days and now I have only been on raw diet for a week and I really started having a hard time almost right away. The third day and so on… I want to have some cheese all of a sudden or find myself questioning what’s so bad about grilling vegetable kabobs for dinner?… I’m having a harder time then I thought. 😞

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