Craving peanut butter? We’ve all been there. Standing with a spoon and a half-empty jar of peanut butter and wondering how we downed 1,000 calories worth without blinking. Ah, yes. It happens to the best of us.
But did you ever wonder why you’re craving peanut butter and can’t stop giving in? If you think food addiction and lack of willpower are the problem, then read on. Chances are, your cravings for peanut butter are trying to tell you something else.
(And you might also be interested in reading my post How to Prevent Binge Eating.)
Craving Peanut Butter? 3 Reasons Why
Reason #1: You’re eating a low-fat diet.
When fat is evil, suddenly peanut butter tastes good on everything. Rice cakes that taste like styrofoam come to life with a spoonful (or three) of peanut butter on top. That’s often your body’s signal that it needs more quality fats.
Reason #2: You’re eating a low-carb diet.
Like a low-fat diet, peanut butter cravings seem to common in the low-carb world as well. There is only one time in my life when I couldn’t stop eating peanut butter: when I was on a low-carb diet. Why? Because the fewer carbs I ate, the sweeter and more “carb-y” peanut butter tasted. It was on the “allowed” list, so I ended up eating a lot of it to suppress my carbohydrate cravings. I’ve noticed (at least for me) any dietary imbalance–like not enough fat or not enough carbs–triggers weird cravings.
Reason #3: You’re under a lot of stress.
First let me say this: “stress” can mean a lot of things. It’s basically anything that causes your body to release stress hormones (like cortisol). That means traffic jams, an argument with your spouse, or a looming deadline are all stresses–but so are dieting, not sleeping enough, constant anxiety about eating “healthy” food, hating your body, etc.
Okay, on to peanut butter and stress. Our bodies tend to crave fatty, high calorie foods when we’re stressed (especially when that stress is due to energy deprivation from excessive dieting or exercise).
But it goes even deeper than that. Peanut butter actually contains a specific compound that fights the effects of stress: beta-sitosterol.
Beta-sitosterol is a plant sterol. It’s been shown in studies of endurance athletes to normalize high cortisol levels and bring them back into balance with other hormones (as well as reduce inflammation and improve immunity). This is discussed in the book The Cortisol Connection by Dr. Shawn Talbott.
Talbott recommends taking 60-120 mg of a beta-sitosterol supplement per day. He even specifically mentions peanut butter:
“A handful of peanuts or a couple tablespoons of peanut butter contain about 10-30 mg of beta-sitosterol.” – from page 202 of The Cortisol Connection
This might explain why someone under a lot of stress (from diet or lifestyle) might eat several tablespoons of peanut butter in five minutes flat. Could it be our bodies trying to tell us something?
“If I’m Craving Peanut Butter, Can I Eat It?”
No. Your cravings are evil. Ignore them, feel ashamed, and eat whatever your current diet plan tells you to eat (even if you hate it).
If you’ve read my post on 7 “Healthy” Habits that Stress Your Metabolism (or my books The Nourished Metabolism or Love Your Body) then you know I strongly believe that listening to your body is the best way to learn what it needs to thrive.
But listening to your body doesn’t always mean eating everything you crave without putting any more thought into it. Sometimes it means tuning in to the deeper meaning behind the cravings.
This doesn’t mean you can’t eat what you crave. It just means you need to look at the bigger picture, too.
So, for instance, if you think you’re craving peanut butter because you’re not eating enough fat, here are some options that include eating peanut butter but also consider the why behind your craving as well:
- Add some coconut oil to your peanut butter, in a 1:1 ratio (I don’t know what it is, but coconut oil and peanut butter pair together really well.) This is a great way to quell a craving, while also addressing the root issue.
- Add a little more healthy fat to your diet. Drizzle the pasta with olive oil. Butter the toast. Put some cheese on the veggies. Add some coconut oil to soups or sauces. You don’t have to go crazy and swallow two sticks of butter for breakfast–take it easy, add a little at a time, and figure out the right amount of fat for your body.
If you’re craving peanut butter because of a lack of carbs, try this:
- Peanut butter + honey. Simple yet awesome. (Shhh. Don’t argue. Just try it.) Or go for the more traditional peanut butter and sliced apples–it sounds like a snack for a fifth-grader, but to be honest it tastes pretty good as an adult, too! (Or make this incredible recipe for Homemade Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups.)
- Try eating more carbs. Please don’t freak out–I said more carbs, not all the carbs. You don’t have to switch to a high-carb diet if you don’t want to–just be willing to tweak and listen. Snack on fresh fruit, try a sweet potato now and then. And if you’re up for a baked potato or a slice of sourdough bread, then go for it. You can decide what works for you, but try not to be afraid of food groups or lump foods into “good” vs. “evil” categories. That’s just way too stressful. Which brings me to my last example…
If you’re craving peanut butter because you’re just plain stressed out:
- Just eat some peanut butter. For real. You don’t need to deal with a harrowing battle of cravings vs. willpower (which does nothing but add to your stress levels). However, if you think your cravings for peanut butter are the result of high stress levels, try to do something quick and easy to counter your stress after having a nice, creamy spoonful of peanut butter. Take 30 minutes to listen to your favorite music or relax in a hot bath. If your stress is due to overexercising, then try toning down your workout for a day or two (take a relaxing walk outside instead). Have a balanced snack if you’ve been skipping meals. Exhausted? Take a power nap or try to hit the sack an hour earlier tonight.
- Look at your diet, sleep, exercise and lifestyle to see where your stress is coming from. This is a long-term approach, but it’s critical to take small steps to reducing your overall stress load. You don’t have to do everything perfectly–I promise!–but even just a few small adjustments can make a big difference:
- Get a little more sunshine.
- Eat more balanced meals and snacks (with enough energy and nutrients to support your body and its daily activities).
- Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep most nights. If you can’t do this every day, try to make up for it by taking a nap or sleeping in a couple times a week.
- Move your body a little more if you tend to be sedentary, or a little less if you tend to overdo it to the point of exhaustion.
- Make time to do the little things in life, like laugh at your own jokes, watch a few more sunsets, feel the grass under your bare toes (all work and no play doesn’t just make Jack feel dull–it will do it to anyone!).
Keeping Cravings in Perspective
The point of all this is that you don’t have to freak out over cravings.
Cravings aren’t actually the little devil on your shoulder trying to make you give in to temptation. Sometimes they’re just a little nudge from your body trying to tell you something. Don’t be afraid to listen.
Need some peanut butter recipes to kick your cravings? Here are some good ones:
- Homemade Peanut Butter
- Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownies
- Peanut Butter Stuffed Potatoes (Yes, you read that right!)
- Organic Ice Cube Tray Peanut Butter Cups
- Gluten-Free Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cookies