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.