By Sarah Jenks

Picture this:  It’s four o’clock. You’re at your desk, sitting on your couch, or out running errands, and suddenly you get this pang—an overwhelming need to eat. You have the dreaded feeling of a craving. You just won’t feel right again until you procure that bag of chips, chocolate bar, or entire pint of ice cream, soda. Unfortunately, one thing is for sure–what we reach for is almost never a healthy choice.

So why are these afternoon or late night cravings so intense? And how can we prevent them from getting the best of our healthy intentions?

Our bodies require a certain amount of daily nourishment, but it is important to be able to distinguish between eating for physical nourishment eating for emotional nourishment. Really evaluate whether you are hungry or not. If you are truly hungry, fabulous, then eat, we’re here to tell you how to do it right.

Get out of the cravings mindset and into the gym.

Figure out if you want something crunchy or smooth, hot or cold, spicy or sweet. There are healthy options that will actually quell your cravings. If you want something salty and crunchy, your mind automatically goes to potato chips, but think about it, when has a bag of potato chips ever satisfied your hunger? Processed potato, oil, and salt have no nutritional value. Opt for celery and organic peanut butter or snap peas with soy sauce instead.  If you want something creamy, go for yogurt or an avocado rather than ice cream. For something sweet try fruit, a smoothie or sweet vegetables like sweet potato or squash instead of cookies and candy.

When we are hungry and crave a specific food, it means our bodies are actually deficient in a certain nutrient. If you are craving something sweet, your body is telling you that you need glucose to help your body perform its daily functions and tasks.

Salt cravings occur when you lack the minerals found in natural, unrefined salt. Potassium, magnesium, and calcium are actually removed from table salt in the refining process. When you are craving something salty, you are not likely to satisfy that craving by finishing off a bag of Doritos. Instead, season your food with sea salt or tamari and munch on some nori (dried seaweed- it’s actually very tasty). If you are craving meat, you probably need some iron in your diet. If you are craving ice cream, you probably need some more fat. Essentially, if you crave it (and you are hungry), eat it, but opt for the natural, healthy version of what you are dying for.

Does your mood fluctuate with what you eat? Learn how to strike a balance.

If you have a craving, but aren’t hungry, you are probably looking to fill an emotional need. We frequently reach for food because it is a cheap instant fix. Remember it is only temporary, and all your feelings are going to rush right back. If you’re sitting at your desk and suddenly feel a craving, you might just need a break and maybe some excitement.  Try going for a walk around your office or striking up a conversation with a coworker. After 10 minutes, your craving will be a distant memory. If you have spent all evening alone and you start dreaming about rocky road ice cream, leave the ice cream in the freezer and pick up the phone and call a friend. Usually when we want something sweet, it is because we need some pleasure in our lives.  Go get a ten-minute chair massage or a manicure, pick up a romantic novel, take a long bath.  Anything that makes you feel like a goddess.

Get a dose of sunshine with Vitamin D, yes, even in the winter.

So next time you get a craving, don’t feel like your body is sabotaging you, or that you have to use willpower to overcome it.  Try to understand the messages your body is sending you.  When you can learn to deconstruct your cravings and listen to your body, cravings are actually a very helpful, healthy tool.