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5 Things Your Food Cravings Are Trying to Tell You

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    The Urge to Splurge

    You know the moment when it hits you: All of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, you're craving that one favorite food — the one that tops all others — so badly you can't even think straight. It's so weird, right? Well, not really. It turns out that's just your body communicating with you. Not to tell you that it's in desperate need of a sugar hit, but rather that there's an imbalance happening.

    "Cravings are often thought to be associated with nutrient deficiencies, but this may not always be the case," says Vandana Sheth, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "They may also be caused by a combination of social, emotional, cultural, and environmental cues."

    That's because food often becomes associated with what we turn to when we're sad or feel like we deserve a reward — which is exactly why cartons of ice cream are now synonymous with heartbreak, and beer is a go-to when you've accomplished something badass. But cravings for certain foods can also mean that something deeper is churning beneath the surface. Here's how to decode your own food urges — and what to do if you're not feelin' ready to indulge.

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    When You're Craving: Salt

    Have you ever finished an intense workout only to feel like you could house an entire bag of chips? Sure, you likely burned a ton of calories — so your bod is ready for a refuel — but the craving for salt is probably due to dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance, says Lisa Young, Ph.D., R.D., adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University. "If you exercise a lot, you're sweating and losing salt, which means you end up craving [it] more to replenish those stores," she says.

    Instead of grabbing a bag, try rehydrating with a sports drink for a hit of electrolytes, or down flavored water to see if you're just thirsty. (Use fruits like lemons, limes, strawberries, and watermelon for natural flavor.) If the cravings hit all the time though, consult with your doc. Although it's less common, Young says being a salt fiend could indicate an underlying medical condition. (Don't forget to brush up on these tips for staying hydrated.)

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    When You're Craving: Red Meat

    When it feels like a big hunk of red meat is the only thing that'll satisfy, your body is likely trying to say it's deficient in iron, zinc, or Vitamin B12, says Sheth. And a dose of red meat can provide a quick hit of whichever one you may be lacking, she adds.

    If your goal is to cut back on the beef, Sheth recommends setting a timer for 10 minutes and going about your business. This short window of time allows your mind to chill out, since it thinks it will be rewarded at the ding, but in reality the pang for a greasy burger can peak after just a few minutes before starting to die down. So by doing something that requires focused attention — like sending an email or paying a few bills — you'll likely distract yourself long enough for the urge to pass. (If not, go on and have the dang burger already.)

    For a more long-term strategy, Sheth suggests talking to your doctor or a nutritionist about whether you need more of the above-mentioned nutrients built into your diet. They can suggest a wide range of meat-free options (like beans and legumes) to help keep you satisfied.

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    When You're Craving: Sugary Sweets

    Remember how ice cream is always associated with breakups? Same goes for all sweets, as a craving for sugar can mean your body is trying to give you a glimpse into your emotional health. Studies show that it's common to crave cakes, cookies, and saccharine-coated goodies when something is bothering you, be it stress, sadness, or even anger. What's worse: research out of Yale University found that women are more susceptible to cravings (the reasons for why are complex, but it could be pegged to hormones), so it's no wonder that it ain't no thang for ladies to finish off a pint when their heart feels like it's been shattered.

    To combat the cravings, head out for a hike. Research shows that walking for 15 minutes can help, and another study found that soaking up some sunshine and breathing fresh air helps relieve mental — and emotional — stress. (Need some inspo? These are the American hiking trails you must do before you die.)

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    When You're Craving: Chocolate

    Chocolate definitely falls under the sugary sweet category, but if you feel like you've got your emotional game under control, Young suggests checking your magnesium levels, as it could indicate a deficiency. "Around the time of your period, your body uses up more magnesium, which is why many women experience PMS and chocolate cravings simultaneously," explains Young. Reboot your taste buds by reaching for foods rich in the nutrient, like dark leafy greens, avocado, and bananas. (In the meantime, here are 6 things to know about exercising on your period.)

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    When You're Craving: Cheese

    When you have a bad day, there's a reason you want all the ooey, gooey, cheese — it's a comfort food that your body has learned to indulge in after processing a hefty load of emotions, says Young. That's because those meals are usually dripping with l-tryptophan, an amino acid (found in cheese) that boosts serotonin production — the hormone that influences how happy you feel. If you're trying to resist (which, remember, you don't always have to), Young suggests a relaxing yoga flow, as the gentle movement can help clear your mind and serve up an immediate hit of the feel-happy hormones. These 6 poses can help calm a racing mind.