Ask the Expert: When Should I Listen to My Cravings?By Denis Faye
Cravings can be intense—and often they go way beyond minor hankering. Surely, it can't just be that you want chocolate. There must be some reason that you need chocolate. Come on, please! Just a taste.
Unfortunately, you probably don't. In most cases, cravings aren't a physiological function telling you what you need. In fact, it's much more like that that they're a dysfunction.
You might be aware of an infographic floating around the Interwebs featuring foods that people typically crave, along with micronutrients that (supposedly) trigger those cravings. If you desire bread, toast, or pasta, the graphic suggests you need more nitrogen in your diet. Salty foods mean you need chloride, chocolate suggests a need for magnesium, etc. You may notice a complete lack of references at the bottom of this chart. That's probably because there's no science backing up these claims—whatsoever. While the craving might stem from something more obvious—sugar, for example—it's highly unlikely that your yen for chocolate means you need more magnesium in your diet.
Why Do I Crave Chocolate and Other Foods That Aren't Good For Me?
Cravings are far more complex than this cause-and-effect chart suggests. While a subtle nutrient need may be partly to blame, cravings arise for several reasons—and tend to include a tangled web of psychology, hormones, and other physiological issues.
Let's go back to the chocolate/magnesium connection. By the time chocolate gets to the milked-down form most Americans consume, there's not much magnesium left. One ounce of milk chocolate contains just 4% of the recommended daily value for magnesium. Dark chocolate has 16%.
Why would the body seek out a food for a specific nutrient when that food has very little of that nutrient? Wouldn't it make more sense that your body would crave foods richer in magnesium, such as nuts, leafy greens, or beans? Your chocolate cravings probably exist for more insidious reasons. Some research shows similarities between chocolate cravings and alcohol addiction, in that both alcohol and cacao contain similar neuroactive alkaloids (chemicals that tweak your melon).1 In other words, research suggests that chocolate is addictive.
Another reason you could be craving that brownie is because of your emotional history with it. It's one of the great American comfort foods. We're brought up identifying chocolate with birthdays, Halloween, post-soccer game ice cream outings, and all those magic moments when you were a good little boy or girl who deserved a reward. If you can't see how that would etch a positive association neural pathway deep into your gray matter, we need to get Dr. Freud on the horn, stat.
Furthermore, unless you like chewing on cacao nibs (and some people do!), the chocolate you consume is filled with sugar—and sugar cranks up the "feel good" hormone serotonin (among other chemicals) levels in your brain, giving you a feeling of mild euphoria. When it's gone, you want more.2 Combine this sugar hit with the emotional issues and you've got one powerful craving.
I'm not ruling out the possibility of a causal relationship between cravings and micronutrients—but the key word here is possibility. For instance, when I first began road cycling seriously, I found myself with an irresistible craving for potato chips. It was only when I started adding sea salt to my recovery drink that those cravings passed. Similarly, pregnant women often crave foods that are high in nutrients they need. For example, she might crave cheeseburgers—an obvious source of calcium and iron.
If you're convinced that your particular craving stems from a micronutrient deficiency, there's an easy way to test this: supplement the vitamin or mineral you have in mind. Getting back to chocolate, if you buy into the magnesium thing, try supplementing Beachbody® Core Cal-Mag™. Another angle would be to embrace the psychology aspect of cravings and instead grab a bag of Chocolate Shakeology®, so that you can indulge yourself, but in a healthy way. (Not to beat a dead horse, but a serving of Shakeology contains 20% of the recommended daily value of magnesium.)
So I Shouldn't Trust My Cravings?
Maybe sometimes. With all this talk of micronutrients, we've overlooked another possible root cause for your craving—a macronutrient deficiency. You could be craving certain foods—or certain food types—because your balance of carbs, protein, and fat is off. While it's a stretch to assume your body desires a food because it contains trace amounts of a certain mineral, the causal link between foods and macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat) is obvious. Eat a piece of carb-heavy cake and you're going to spike your blood sugar.
If you think this may be the case, feed the craving with healthy food. If you're craving sweet things, increase your fruit and veggie intake. If you crave greasy foods, increase your raw nut or avocado (good fats) intake. If you find yourself craving meat and cheese, increase your lean protein intake with chicken, fish, eggs, and legumes. If you do this and it doesn't work, odds are that your cravings are more psychologically based.
If you're deliberately eating at a calorie deficit, this method can be a problem. Ultimately, you're not getting enough of any macronutrient. In these situations, it might be useful to adjust the balance of carbs/protein/fat in your diet. So, for example, if you're in the middle of phase one of P90X® and you're jonesin' for sweet stuff, try switching to phase two, which features a carb increase.
Cravings suck. And when you're trying to lose weight, they suck even more, as calorie deficits tend to increase cravings.3 In our most frustrated, give-me-the-donut-before-I-kill-someone moments, we'd all like a simple solution. Unfortunately, it doesn't exist. Finding your way around cravings requires a little patience and experimentation. It's just a matter of finding a healthy substitute, a little willpower—or some combination thereof.
What do you crave? Why do you think that might be and how do you beat it? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources:1. Tetrahydro-beta-carbolines, potential neuroactive alkaloids, in chocolate and cocoa. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
2. Sugar Addiction in Your Body, Not Your Mind. Psychology Today.
3. The effect of deprivation on food cravings and eating behavior in restrained and unrestrained eaters. The International Journal of Eating Disorders.
Consult your physician and follow all safety instructions before beginning any exercise program or using any supplement or meal replacement product.
Drawn that Way: How 9 of Your Favorite Fictional Characters Can Get FitBy Paul Semel
Jessica Rabbit famously once said, "I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way." But not all fictional characters are so lucky. Many are created overweight, out of shape, and in need of a good workout. But that doesn't mean they can't change . . . We spoke to Steve Edwards, Beachbody's VP of Fitness and Nutrition, to figure out which program would help such characters as Santa Claus, Homer Simpson, and the Blob get into shape.
HOMER SIMPSON FROM THE SIMPSONS
WEIGHT: 239 lbs.
One night, after being thrown out of an all-you-can-eat seafood restaurant for eating too much, Homer drove around until 3 AM looking for another all-you-can-eat seafood restaurant. His compulsive eating is matched only by his compulsive drinking and his compulsive aversion to exercise.
WHICH PROGRAM IS RIGHT FOR HIM? "I'd probably start him with 10-Minute Trainer® because he needs to do something suited to his short attention span that will change his habits without a lot of time investment. Homer's the kind of person who will find any excuse to not exercise. But ten minutes a day? Pretty hard to find an excuse not to do that."
AGE: 35 (in cat years)
WEIGHT: 30 lbs.
Garfeild's diet consists of lasagna, which he eats by the pan, coffee, and the occasional houseplant. His only exercise comes when he smacks Odie across the nose, smushes a spider, or tries to mail Nermal to Abu Dhabi.
WHICH PROGRAM IS RIGHT FOR HIM? "Cats are athletically gifted, even if they're out of shape, so I'm thinking we'd want to start Garfield on a basic-level movement-based program like FOCUS T25®. It's basically twenty-five minutes of movement-based, high-intensity training. Then, when he's done, I'd move him into INSANITY: THE ASYLUM®, which would help him in his fights with Odie."
THE PENGUIN FROM BATMAN
WEIGHT: 175 lbs.
Because of his height and weight, the Penguin typically waddles when he walks, which is not conducive to regular exercise. He also has a business to run, and Batman to run from, so he doesn't have a lot of time.
WHICH PROGRAM IS RIGHT FOR HIM? "I would give him P90X3™ because it's a diverse fitness program. He's often fighting off Batman, so the more versatile he is, the better chance he'll have to escape. Plus, the program is only 30 minutes a day, so he'll be able to squeeze that into his busy schedule."
MARIO FROM SUPER MARIO BROS.
WEIGHT: 200 lbs.
Though he does a lot of running and jumping, and has a healthy, mushroom-based diet, this portly plumber still has the Buddha belly he's had since 1981.
WHICH PROGRAM IS RIGHT FOR HIM? "He does a lot of cardio, so what he needs to do is lift weights so he can change his body composition. I'd put him on Body Beast®, which is a bodybuilding program. He's already fit, we don't need to get him fitter, but we need to change the way he trains and get his metabolism moving in a way where he'll burn more calories."
BOMBUR FROM THE HOBBIT
WEIGHT: 100 lbs.
Often referred to as "Poor Fat Bombur," this dwarf did get some exercise when he joined his friends on a quest to free the Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug. Though, sadly, this was the only exercise he ever got.
WHICH PROGRAM IS RIGHT FOR HIM? "He's kind of in a similar situation as Mario, since he walks around a lot. But he's a lot less athletic. So he needs more movement-based training. I'd put him on P90X2® because it would not only help him change his body type, but he also wants to get ready for adventure, and P90X2 is our ultimate performance program."
ERIC CARTMAN FROM SOUTH PARK
WEIGHT: 90 lbs.
Besides living in a constant state of denial about his weight—"I'm not fat," he often says, "I'm big boned"—Eric also lives on a steady diet of Cheesy Poofs, chicken pot pie, and fast food, while avoiding most exercise.
WHICH PROGRAM IS RIGHT FOR HIM? "With a guy like that, you want to find an exercise he'll like to do. So I'd give him LES MILLS COMBAT, which is a martial arts program. It would be good for someone like Cartman because COMBAT would make him forget that he's exercising and think he's working on his fighting moves."
RALPH KRAMDEN FROM THE HONEYMOONERS
HEIGHT: 5' 10"
WEIGHT: 250–300 lbs.
As a bus driver, Ralph sits eight hours a day. As a man constantly trying to come up with get-rich-quick schemes, Ralph also sits for a different eight hours a day. You can see the problem.
WHICH PROGRAM IS RIGHT FOR HIM? "He'd also be a candidate for 10-Minute Trainer, but since his wife wants him to go dancing and do more active stuff, and he's resistant to it, I'd give him Hip Hop Abs® instead. He's out of shape, and almost any of our programs would work for him, but Hip Hop Abs gives you a little more rhythm, which might get him to take his wife dancing."
THE BLOB FROM THE BLOB
WEIGHT: increases with every meal
After landing in the woods outside a small town in Pennsylvania, the Blob proceeded to eat an old man, a doctor, a nurse, a car mechanic, a janitor, a movie projectionist, and a bunch of movie patrons in a single night. Which isn't healthy (or a good way to make friends).
WHICH PROGRAM IS RIGHT FOR HIM? "The Blob didn't like the cold. So I'd go with Brazil Butt Lift®, which was shot on a beach set. It's an indoor video program, but you're looking at people on a beach. If the Blob can look at the beach all the time, it would probably be pretty motivated to exercise."
WEIGHT: 5 clouds and 10 stars
While he works hard on Christmas Eve, old Saint Nick spends the rest of the year sleeping, fishing, and playing World of Warcraft. He also, on Christmas Eve, eats tons of cookies but only drinks half of the milk that kids leave out for him.
WHICH PROGRAM IS RIGHT FOR HIM? "I think he needs P90X® because it builds a functional fitness base that can see you through for a long time. And because the program trains you so thoroughly, you can keep your results for a long time. It's a little more of a time investment up front, but for his schedule, it would be the best thing."
Infographic: Halloween Candy: Trick or Treat?
Recipe: Pumpkin and Red Lentil Soup
(Makes 6 servings)
Total Time: 45 min.
Prep Time: 10 min.
Cooking Time: 35 min.
- 2 tsp. olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 cups cubed pumpkin (or butternut squash)
- 1 cup dry red lentils
- 6 cups water
- 1 tsp. ground ginger
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- Cayenne pepper (to taste; optional)
- Sea salt and ground black pepper (to taste; optional)
- Heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat.
- Add onion; cook, stirring frequently, for 5 to 6 minutes, or until translucent.
- Add garlic; cook for 1 minute, or until tender.
- Add pumpkin, lentils, and water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; gently boil, covered, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until pumpkin is soft. Remove from heat.
- Place soup in a blender or food processor, in small batches; cover with lid and kitchen towel. Blend until smooth.
- Return soup to sauce pan over medium heat. Add ginger and cumin. Season with cayenne, salt, and pepper, if desired; cook, stirring constantly, until soup is hot.
- Ladle soup into 6 serving bowls.
Tip: Blend small batches of hot liquids in blender or food processor since they expand during the blending process, therefore increasing the chance of overflowing.
Nutritional Information: (per serving)
|146||2 g||0 g||0 mg||59 mg||24 g||4 g||1 g||9 g|
Body Beast™ and P90X®/P90X2® Portion InformationP90X/P90X2 Nutritional Information:
Body Beast Nutritional Information:
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