What are your cravings trying to tell you?

8224-chocolate-chip-cookies-on-a-plate-pvWe all crave certain foods from time to time. But what do these cravings mean and why do we have them?

Cravings are the body’s way of communicating a need. Figure out the need, and you can give yourself a variety of choices for how to fill that need, including choices that won’t derail you from your health goals! Here are some common food cravings, what they might mean, and how you can tackle them.

Craving: Chocolate

Why you’re craving it: Odd as it may sound, chocolate cravings often stem from mineral deficiencies, particularly magnesium, iron and zinc.

Try this instead: Make sure you’re getting enough minerals in your daily diet. Grass-fed beef, pastured lamb and sustainably caught shellfish are good animal sources of iron, magnesium and zinc. Plant sources include dark leafy greens, legumes, Brazil nuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.

If you’ve just gotta have it: When it comes to chocolate, the darker, the better. If your usual drug of choice is a sugary, waxy milk chocolate, it’s time to step up to the good stuff. Gradually wean yourself to the darkest chocolate you can stand (aim for 70% or greater cocoa content). Chocolate that dark not only will feed your chocolate craving, it’ll also help supply the minerals your body is missing without spiking your blood sugar.

My favorites: Green & Black’s Organic 85% Dark Cacao Bar (available pretty much everywhere, including Walmart), Alter Eco Dark Blackout Organic Chocolate bar (also 85% cocoa content, available at health food stores).

Craving: Cake and cookies

Why you’re craving it: A craving for sweet carbohydrates in baked form usually stems from stress. This can be emotional stress from a difficult work, school, relationship or financial situation, or it can be physical stress from illness (or certain medications used to treat it), lack of sleep, injury or overexertion. No matter how you slice it, if you’re craving cake and cookies, you’re hurting on some level and you need comfort.

Try this instead: The first line of defense for comfort food cravings is to try to fill the need for comfort without food. If you come home from work and immediately end up face-down in a box of Ring Dings, it might be time to switch up your routine. Change into some comfortable clothes, put on some soothing body lotion, cuddle up with a blanket (and/or a pet), put on some relaxing music, light a scented candle or diffuse some essential oil, try a little self-massage. Do some yoga stretches (check videos on YouTube) or meditate for as long as you can stand it (one minute is okay — one breath is okay!). Find a long-term stress relief and self care routine that works for you and watch those comfort food cravings melt away!

If you’ve just gotta have it: Sweet fruits and warming spices are the way to go if your body is screaming for baked goods. Try sauteing apple or banana slices in a skillet with some grass-fed butter or coconut oil, then sprinkling with cinnamon, nutmeg and/or powdered ginger. Unsweetened applesauce with cinnamon, warmed on the stove or in the microwave, is another good choice. And if you really really need a cookie, these power cookies from Abel James are packed full of superfood ingredients.

My favorites: I like to mash a banana with some nut butter, then add cinnamon and other warming spices and heat the whole shebang in the microwave or on the stovetop. It sounds weird, but it’s so comforting and delicious!

Craving: Salty, crunchy snacks

Why you’re craving it: Barring a sodium deficiency in your diet, which is rare, a craving for salty, crunchy snacks usually stems from plain old boredom. People who crave chips, pretzel sticks and crackers on a regular basis tend to need a lot of sensory stimulation and novelty, or they tend to have a lot of nervous energy and need to do something with their hands.

Try this instead: Just like with a comfort-food craving for baked goods, a salty/crunchy craving that stems from boredom often can be met by addressing the boredom directly. So try something new that engages your mind, keeps your hands busy, and gives you a different sensory experience. Knitting, crochet and other forms of needlework, crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, sudoku, adult coloring books, solitaire (with actual cards, not on your phone), getting up and moving around when you usually sit, or even sitting in a different chair or spot on the couch all can twitch your brain out of that boredom groove.

If you’ve just gotta have it: Kale chips and other veggie chips are a health-supporting alternative to potato, tortilla and pita chips provided they’re fried or baked in a non-inflammatory oil (like coconut, avocado or olive oil). Roasted nuts are another great choice — make your own by tossing two cups of raw mixed nuts with a couple of tablespoons of healthy oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, then roasting on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 350 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes.

My favorites: This may sound weird coming from a health coach, but I’m a big fan of pork rinds provided the only ingredients are pork and salt – Baken-Ets Traditional is a pretty widely available brand. I also love Seasnax, which are a good source of iodine for those of us not using iodized table salt. And Inka Chips Original plantain chips have taken the place of tortilla chips in my house — they’re great for scooping up homemade guacamole and salsa.

Craving: Beer and bread

Why you’re craving it: Odds are if you’re craving yeasty foods and drinks, you’ve got a little tummy upset going on and your beneficial gut bacteria are trying to boost their numbers through fermentation.

Try this instead: Fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, kimchi and other traditional fermented pickles should settle your tummy without adding too many inches to your waistline. If you tolerate dairy, try a fermented full-fat dairy product like yogurt or kefir.

If you’ve just gotta have it: Fermented vegetables and diary not doing the trick? Try a traditional fermented cider or ginger beer, kombucha, or a drinking vinegar or shrub. If the bread bug has got you down and you’ll absolutely die without a little bite, opt for a sprouted whole-grain fermented sourdough bread. Just watch your portions if you have a blood sugar imbalance or weight-loss goal.

My favorites: Buddha’s Brew Hop’d kombucha and Live Soda kombucha in Sparkling Ginger are in my refrigerator at all times to soothe any tummy issues that come along. I’m also a huge fan of Farmhouse Culture‘s raw fermented sauerkraut and kimchi.

What are your cravings trying to tell you?

Three steps to break through limiting beliefs

9455-a-beautiful-girl-jumping-on-a-beach-pvHow many times a day does the phrase “I can’t … because” cross your mind or your lips? “I can’t stick to a diet because I just don’t have any willpower.” “I can’t run because of my knees.” “I can’t exercise because of my crazy schedule.” “I can’t do anything about my crappy job because I need the money.” Do any of these sound familiar?

Sometimes they come in another form: “I’m terrible at math.” “I hate exercise.” “I’m the worst cook in the world.” “I suck at maintaining friendships.” “I’m trapped in this unfulfilling relationship.” “I’m too old.” “It’s too late to change anything.”

All of these are limiting beliefs, and they are the biggest obstacle to success in any endeavor. If you truly believe you can’t do something, full stop, then you’ll be right about that every single time.

But here’s the thing: these beliefs can be changed! You truly can free yourself from these thoughts, because that’s all they are — just thoughts. They’re only true if you believe they’re true. Are you ready to stop believing all these negative, limiting, not-objectively-true-at-all things about yourself? These tips will help get you started!

1. List your choices

“I can’t stick to a diet…” Okay, well can you drink water instead of soda for a week? Can you eat a salad instead of a burger for lunch every day for a week? What about just drinking water instead of soda or having a salad instead of a burger today? Maybe you can give up your sugary coffee drink. Or replace your afternoon candy bar with some fresh fruit. What can you change about the way you’re eating now?

“I can’t run…” Can you try walking? Riding a bike? Standing to do a task that you’d normally do sitting? Doing some yoga? Sitting in a chair and punching an imaginary punching bag? How can you get moving more than you are now?

“I can’t exercise…” Can you park a little farther from the door at work? Take the stairs? Walk to lunch instead of driving? Go to the restroom that’s a little farther down the hall? Do some squats while on the phone or watching TV? Do some bicep curls with water bottles while waiting for the microwave to finish? How can you work in more movement while doing the things you already do?

“I can’t do anything about my job…” Can you talk to someone at work about any issues you might be having? Can you ask for more training, more pay, a different work location? Can you make sure your resume is up to date? Can you keep an eye on job listings? Can you get your interview suit dry-cleaned and ready to go? How can you make yourself more valuable to current and prospective employers?

You have choices. You absolutely do. There are things you can do to work toward where you want to be. List them out, even if they don’t seem possible right now. No one but you has to see this list.

2. Set yourself up for success

If cookies trigger binge-eating behavior for you, don’t have any cookies in the house! Don’t set a trap for yourself in which you reinforce your limiting belief. If you know cookies are your biggest temptation, and you buy them anyway, and you inevitably eat one (or five or thirty), what’s going to happen? You’ll beat yourself up, you’ll reinforce your limiting belief that you have no willpower or are addicted to cookies or whatever negative thing you believe about yourself, when all along it was a clear case of entrapment.

Don’t set traps for yourself. That’s a form of self-harming, pure and simple. Remove temptations from your environment and replace them with health-supporting options. Out with the cookies, in with the fresh fruit! This is not a test of willpower, it’s an act of self-love. It’s giving yourself the tools you need to succeed.

3. Work toward short-term goals

Instead of vowing to lose 50 pounds in a year, why not aim for losing one or two pounds in a week? Instead of giving up donuts forever, why not give them up just for today? Instead of jumping right in to walking five miles a day, why not walk half a mile today and then make a point of walking just one driveway/doorway further tomorrow? Take one week, one day, one choice at a time. Every single moment is a chance to make a choice. This one particular sugary latte you’re about to order — you can choose to have water and a banana instead.  Just for this one. This one particular bowl of pasta you’re about to eat — you can choose to have a salad instead. Just for this one.

Working to short-term goals lets you experience immediate success. You set a goal, and hey, you achieved it! Maybe you don’t suck at this. Maybe you can do it.

And believing, even a tiny bit, that you can do it is the beginning of the end of those limiting beliefs.

Three steps to break through limiting beliefs

Easy recipe: homemade nut milk

almondmilk

Have you ever read the ingredient label on a carton of nut milk from your local supermarket or health food store? Most of them are full of thickeners, coloring agents and sugars. It’s kind of crazy because nut milk is so easy to make! You don’t even need a recipe, really, but here are the instructions for one quart of homemade nut milk.

For all nut milks: begin by soaking one cup of nuts in water with a pinch of sea salt for 10-12 hours (or overnight). Rinse and drain nuts and dump into a blender with a pinch of sea salt. You also can add a pitted date and/or a bit of pure vanilla extract if you like.

For almond or hazelnut milk: add 4 cups filtered water and blend on high speed until liquefied. This might take a couple of minutes depending on how powerful your blender happens to be. Line a wire mesh strainer with fine cheesecloth (or use a nut milk bag) and strain, then transfer the liquid to a sealed quart-sized bottle or jar and keep in the refrigerator for up to one week.

For cashew milk: add 3 cups filtered water and continue as above, but do not strain milk. There’s no need with cashew milk as the cashews will soften and pulverize completely. (The date may not, however, so you may want to substitute a tablespoon of raw honey for the date if you’d like a sightly sweetened cashew milk.)

That’s really all there is to it! If you’re making almond or hazelnut milk, you can take the further step of drying the leftover pulp in the oven or a food dehydrator, then pulsing it for a couple of seconds in a food processor to make nut meal for recipes that call for that ingredient. All for the cost of one cup of raw nuts!

Easy recipe: homemade nut milk

Three steps to get back on track in 2016

17229-a-woman-eating-a-fresh-salad-pvThe holidays are over. Now what?

Leave it in 2015

The most important step in moving forward is to leave the past in the past. Beating yourself up for decisions you made and actions you took in the past is a form of self harm. Learning from mistakes is one thing; dwelling on them is another. When we dwell on the past, we freeze our forward progress. We hold ourselves at the moment of transgression. Accept the fact that you went a bit off the rails over the holidays, forgive yourself for having made those decisions, and believe with all your heart — because it’s absolutely true — that you can come back from it.

Clean house

Relax, I’m not suggesting you scrub toilets. Though putting on a little music — whether it be Wu Tang Clan, Willie Nelson or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — and getting your scrub and sweep on is a great way to add a little movement to your post-holiday recovery plan! But no, I’m talking about food temptations. If you allowed yourself to indulge in Christmas cookies, special holiday foods and treats, anything that you feel you shouldn’t be eating on a daily basis and/or that triggers binge behavior, get rid of it. Get it out of the house. It’s okay that you ate those things; it really, truly is. It’s okay that you enjoyed every delicious morsel and moment of your holiday celebrations. In fact it’s more than okay; it’s great! But if you feel like you shouldn’t be eating that way anymore, get that stuff out of the house. Box it up to share with friends and family, put it in the break room at work, or just throw it away (I assure you, starving children in developing countries will not benefit one iota from your leftover yule log and kugel).

Welcome abundance

No one wants to start a health journey staring at empty refrigerator and pantry shelves. Once you’ve purged the house of non-health-supporting leftover holiday treats, it’s time to fill those shelves with an abundance of foods that will help you progress toward your goals, whether they be to lose weight, balance hormones, or just plain feel better. The only real rule to follow here is: the less processed, the better. This means choosing fresh food as much as possible — vegetables, fruits, leafy greens, unprocessed meats, nuts, eggs, whole grains instead of products made from flour, and full-fat no-sugar-added dairy. Don’t be fooled by packaged “diet” products — if you read the ingredient and nutrition labels, you’ll see that even products that claim to be light or high in protein are mostly stripped carbohydrates and fruit sugars. Just grab a handful of nuts and fresh berries, grapes or apple wedges — they’re portable and you’ll get plenty of fiber to go with those naturally occurring sugars!

These are only the first steps, but they form a solid foundation on which to build toward a lifetime of health in the new year. Stay tuned for more tips to get your health journey started out on the right foot in 2016!

Three steps to get back on track in 2016

Permission to deviate from the norm this holiday season

9150-dining-table-with-dinner-to-be-served-pv

The holidays can be stressful for health-conscious individuals. Beginning with Halloween and continuing through Thanksgiving and the December holidays, each occasion has its food temptations. Many of these can be emotionally fraught as well; no amount of explaining that you’re trying to lose weight, avoid dairy or cut back on sugar is going to remove the sting of you refusing your mother-in-law’s famous pumpkin gingerbread cheesecake.

People tend to do one of two things when it comes to facing all this holiday temptation: become overly rigid and filled with anxiety at holiday gatherings where food is involved, or go completely off-plan and eat whatever comes in range for a couple of months regardless of how it makes them feel physically.

I’d like to suggest a middle path: giving yourself permission to deviate from the norm. What does that mean? Well, it depends on what your “norm” happens to be.

If your norm is to become rigid, refuse even a bite of your mother-in-law’s pumpkin cheesecake, joylessly turn your nose up at the plethora of holiday delicacies before you while virtuously nibbling on a carrot stick and giving yourself an ulcer over the constant refusal to try “just a bite”, my advice to you is: relax! If the food on offer won’t actually kill you or make you incredibly sick (i.e., in the absence of food allergies or extreme food sensitivities), is there any real harm in taking just a bite of your mother-in-law’s pride and joy pumpkin cheesecake or your niece’s famous sticky toffee pudding? Can you fill your plate with foods that fit more closely with how you eat on a daily basis (maybe make/bring these dishes yourself) and take little tastes of a few other dishes in which the cooks have a lot of emotional investment?

In a perfect world, everyone important to you would understand why you eat the way you do and respect that, or at the very least they’d have no emotional attachment to how you eat. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Most of us live in a world full of people who express love through food. I’m not suggesting you completely abandon your convictions, insert a noodle where your spine used to be and capitulate to every individual culinary whim in a gathering of two-dozen friends and family, I’m just suggesting you weigh the cost of taking that bite against the cost of not taking that bite and make the decision that works for you, not just in terms of your diet, but in terms of your relationships and your anxiety level. If giving yourself permission to loosen the reins just a tiny bit (again, while not compromising your overall health) helps you sail through holiday gatherings with less anxiety, by all means, do that. It’s okay.

If your norm is to go wild, throw your usual eating pattern out the window and indulge in mass quantities of sugar and trans fats for six or eight weeks until you’re completely kugel-wasted and physically miserable, I’d like to suggest a similar approach to the above: relax! It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. You don’t have to eat an entire plate of kugel. You can have just a bite or two and make your grandmother happy. If leftovers get sent home with you, you don’t have to eat them! You can give yourself permission to set aside a small taste to enjoy later and then throw the rest away.

That’s right: you can throw leftovers away. You don’t have to eat them. I know the idea of that makes many people uncomfortable, especially those of us who were raised with the spectre of starving children in developing countries. To our parents and grandparents, throwing away food was the basest of sin (not to be confused with the bassist of sin, which of course is Geezer Butler). But here’s the thing: if the item you’re throwing away is a nutrient-deficient amalgamation of stripped/milled grains, sugar, oxidized fats, chemicals, and other ingredients that do not support health in you or anyone else, does it really count as food?

When you cut coupons or helpful articles out of the newspaper (this is a thing we oldsters used to do before smart phones, just go with me here), do you feel any qualms about chucking the rest of the paper into the recycling bin? No. You got what you wanted out of it, and you don’t need the rest of it. The newspaper can’t feel pain or rejection. The same is true of all that edible stuff we collectively refer to as “food”. If you look forward all year to your grandmother’s kugel, your mother-in-law’s pumpkin gingerbread cheesecake or the peanut butter nougats your son discards from his Halloween candy stash, if the taste of those foods are integral to your holiday experience, if family bonds will be damaged by your refusal to eat them, if a taste or two won’t actually make you sick, then have a taste and throw the rest away. You got what you wanted from it, whether it be warm fuzzies on your part or the part of someone you love, and you don’t need the rest. Make a donation to a hunger relief agency for every container you toss, if that helps you part with it, but get rid of it. Keeping and eating it won’t do you or anyone else any good.

If you’re having trouble deciding which holiday dishes to fill up on and which to taste and toss, ask yourself: will my health be better served if I eat more of this? If not, taste it and toss the rest away.

Most of all, give yourself a break this holiday season. Look after your health. Eat more of what makes you feel good, and eat less of what makes you feel bad. Give yourself permission to break out of old patterns and settle into new ones that better support your health, both physically and emotionally. That will allow you to greet the new year with a renewed commitment to your own well-being rather than greeting it with an extra 20 pounds and a handful of damaged relationships.

Permission to deviate from the norm this holiday season