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Health at Every Size - these are the buzz words around the internet these days. Are you healthy? Do you want to be healthier?

What is health? The World Health Organization defined health in its broader sense in 1946 as "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity". Being healthier doesn't mean losing weight. To you it might mean:

We are very happy to announce that we have a Registered Dietician on staff who will be writing our Health At Every Size series as well as answering a reader's question each month. You can read about Shari's philosophy and experience on our staff page. If you have a question for Shari, please email us at

Disclaimer: This advice is not intended to be a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional medical, health or nutritional advice.

How to deal with food cravings

"I read somewhere that when your body craves something it's usually because it's lacking in it. Is this true? When I crave something salty is it because my body needs sodium? What should I do when I crave something? How do I give my body what it needs without giving it what it doesn't need?"

A craving is an intense desire for one particular food or type of food. Whether that's an indicator of a nutritional deficiency or not is unclear - research findings have been inconsistent. Quite a few theories exist; the most probable one being that cravings develop as a result of a medley of social cues, biochemical processes along with diverse emotional and hormonal factors. You might want to keep a food and emotions journal for a while to see which one best applies to you.

Why salt cravings?

Dehydration - If you're craving salty foods on a hot day or after being physically active, chances are that you are dehydrated and have lost electrolytes (including sodium) through sweating.

Hormones - Craving salty foods during "that time of the month"? This could be due to the effects of the hormone estrogen on the anti-diuretic hormone, leading to water accumulation that can leave you feeling bloated. All this extra water causes your blood concentration of sodium to fall. Craving salty foods is a way for your body to ensure that the levels of this essential electrolyte are normalized again.

Stress - Stress can also make you crave salty foods. Many people tend to clench their teeth when stressed out, thereby creating muscular tension in their jaw and upper neck. Consider chips, pretzels or salted nuts - they're all crunchy; a texture that is appealing and satisfying as all the munching can help relieve some of the tension held in the jaw.

Blame it on the brain - Guess what? In a few studies, brain scans showed that salt triggers dopamine, a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) associated with pleasure. In some people, this can mean that the more salt they eat, the more they'll want. And all the hidden salt in processed foods could very well cause addictions.

Emotions - If you've associated happy memories or soothing feelings with salty foods (or high fat/sugar foods for that matter), you may experience cravings when you feel blue, bored or extremely happy.

Sensory cues - Seeing or smelling a food you like can cause cravings to kick in. Scientists suggest that sensory cues increase the "hunger hormone'" leptin.

Possible nutritional deficiencies? - An animal study found that test subjects devoured table salt when they were deficient in potassium, calcium and iron. The researchers explained that sodium temporarily tricks the body in thinking that the deficiency is solved by increasing blood calcium levels.

How to beat your cravings:

  1. Have a tall glass of cool water: at times yearning for something salty, fatty or sweet is actually your body telling you it needs fluids.
  2. Wait 15 minutes: Do something else in the meantime; getting your mind off the craving may dissipate it.
  3. Try the following snacks; they're healthier than most salt and calorie laden processed foods:
    • A few pita chips with 2 tablespoons guacamole;
    • Half a baked sweet potato with tomato or mango salsa;
    • A slice of turkey wrapped around a pickle;
    • Some tuna salad and 2-3 rye crackers;
    • 3 cups of air-popped popcorn sprinkled with 1 tablespoon parmesan cheese;
    • 2 cups veggie sticks (bell peppers, carrots, cucumber, snow peas, celery) and 2 tablespoons hummus or green pea dip;
    • 1 cup edamame nibbles sprinkled with some citrus salt;
    • 1 tablespoon ricotta cheese with some fruits;
    • 1/2 cup home-made trail mix, nuts or pumpkin seeds.

Plan ahead so that you have healthy snacks on hand when the craving hits.

How to prevent cravings:

  1. Enjoy a balanced diet - Remember that intentionally restricting a food you like can cause irresistible cravings;
  2. Work out in the morning;
  3. Make sure to get enough sleep every day.

But remember: if by "craving," you really imply an occasional hankering for a plate of really salty chips, just eat the chips. And enjoy every single one of 'em chips guilt-free.

A little word about chocolate cravings:

With Easter around the corner (and if you're crazy about chocolate like I am), the risk of overindulging is always a possibility. One ear is all it takes before the torso vanishes. So, here are some tips to keep cravings under control. (Don't worry; I'm not going to tell you to have some baby carrots instead of a chocolate egg -like that works anyways!).

  1. Go for dark chocolate- at least 80% cocoa. The more cocoa the chocolate contains the less fat and sugar it will have. Plus, you'll be boosting your intake of heart-healthy antioxidants. The extra bonus is that you'll also feel satisfied with eating less.
  2. Choose smaller, individually wrapped eggs.
  3. Make your own healthy version of treats:
    • Berries or peach bits dipped in melted semi-sweet dark chocolate;
    • Chocolate rice cakes;
    • A cup of hot unsweetened cocoa;
    • A green smoothie with cocoa in it;
    • Seared or caramelized fruits.
  4. Don't buy any extra as these will only be too hard to resist once Easter is over.
  5. Don't skip meals; enjoy healthy, nutritious foods throughout the day and have your chocolate bunny after the meal to prevent spikes in your blood glucose (sugar) levels - these would put you on a hunger and energy levels roller-coaster.

I hope this helps.

Submitted by: Shari

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