Let's Talk About Cravings and IBD
We all get cravings. Whether it's the urge for something sweet, a need for a plate of starchy carbohydrates, or something specific that seemingly comes out of nowhere. But could cravings reveal something deeper and are they linked to our disease?
An overview of interviews with patients who had IBD found that "A very frequent experience of our interviewees was difficulty in suppressing the craving for and abstaining from certain food products and the failure to do so, despite the consequences."1. Here are some of the most common cravings.
Craving sugar with Crohn's or UC
Sugar is something I crave often and it's not hard to see why. On a basic level, sugar gives us energy and I'm sure all of us with IBD could do with more of that! We might also crave it if we want to gain weight, along with fatty foods.
Of course, eating sugar too often means our blood sugar can be erratic, with energy highs and lows. Interestingly, studies have found that those with Crohn's disease consume more sugar and refined carbohydrates compared to a control group.2
Vitamin-rich foods to make up for deficiencies
I asked many of my readers and they explained that they often had vitamin-specific cravings, which gave them a hint they were deficient in it. One explained that "my body is really good at telling me what it wants - often oranges (clearly to try to restore my vitamin C levels)." So perhaps we should pay closer attention to what we're hungry for!
Another stated, "I have hated Marmite all my life but now I love and crave it! It was the first thing I wanted after my surgeries and I believe it has to do with the Vitamin B in it." Can IBD really cause us to love the food we previously loathed?
A final reminder is that when iron levels are very low, patients can experience PICA cravings or cravings that have no nutritional value such as ice and soil!
Cravings for protein and fat
Often we can crave things like red meat, which might be a sign that our body is trying to top up its fat supplies or is looking for energy. I myself have never enjoyed red meat but, at certain times, I do get intense cravings for it, a nod that my iron levels probably need topping up or my body is looking for fat sources!
Should you give in to your cravings with IBD?
In the examples above, the cravings can be a helpful signal to our bodies; but is that always the case? One of my readers explained, "I must be weird. When I crave something and then eat it, I am usually ill afterward!" and she's not alone.
The article I cited earlier explains, "The craving was sometimes so intense that some patients ate too much and even had to be hospitalized!"1 I've heard anecdotally that sometimes the foods we crave the most are sometimes the food we might actually struggle to digest so how can we tell the difference?
As the above example explains, sometimes we crave things so much we then binge on them. So, perhaps the best approach is to pay close attention to the foods we crave and try them in moderation first.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this one: what's the weirdest thing you've craved with your IBD? And are your cravings a friend or foe?
What is your comfort level disclosing your IBD to your employer?