What are Food Cravings?
I believe that most people in Western Society have regular food cravings. Usually the cravings are for a sweet or salty and/or crunchy snack. You know, when you are watching a good movie and you just want that bag of potato chips? Or you had a big argument with your spouse or a friend and the only thing that will make you feel better are the cookies or the bowl of ice cream? We have all been there.
According to Wikipedia, ‘a food craving is an intense desire to consume a specific food, and is different from normal hunger. It may or may not be related to specific hunger.’
Why do We have Food Cravings?
- Calming Stress & Reducing anxiety- For many people, food serves the purpose of calming stress and reducing anxiety. I remember in University, while studying for exams or writing papers, I had constant cravings for chocolate or french fries. When my stress is high, I tend to want the foods that are not a healthy choice for me. When we eat sugar and fat, we boost our levels of serotonin in our brain, which has a calming effect.
- Out of Balance -We may be out of balance. What I mean is that foods have expansive and contractive qualities. I could spend a whole post talking about this but in short.. in the East there is a Yin/Yang Theory of opposites. Foods are referred to as expansive or contractive. Sugar, for example, is on the extreme side of the expansive foods and salt is on the opposite extreme side of contractive foods. If we consume large amounts of salty foods, old cheeses, meats, etc. , our body will want to balance itself out and we will crave sweet foods. If we consume large amounts of sweet foods, again our body will want to find a balance and we may find ourselves craving salty foods. And so the pendulum swings back and forth, wreaking havoc on our body. Much closer to the middle are fruits, vegetables, sea vegetables, beans and whole grains. These are more balancing foods for our body.
- Deficient in Nutrients – We may be deficient in a nutrient. My experience with this is when I was pregnant with my son, I craved roast chicken. I would dream about roast chicken. I could see the fat dripping off the chicken, I could smell it, I could taste it. It was terrible for me. I had been a vegan for about 3 years by then and I did not want to start eating meat again. I did not know what to do. I would drive by Swiss Chalet and have a battle with myself; ‘Should I just nip through the drive-thru? No one will see me.’ I did not do this but I sure wanted to. I finally had a revelation that perhaps I needed more fat in my diet. So I started eating an avocado everyday. My dreams went away.
- Underlying Emotional Issues- We may be unhappy or there may be other underlying emotional issues. As I mentioned in the beginning, it is not uncommon for one to reach for food after an argument or confrontation with a loved one or even a stranger. We may even reach for food if we are bored (unhappy) and lonely.
How To Conquer Food Cravings
1. Organize– What I mean by this is, organize your cupboards, your pantry, your fridge. Throw away the foods that you are eating that you would rather not. Get rid of the unhealthy options and replace them with healthy options. Ensure that your fridge is full of fresh vegetables. Have a container with salad all ready to go or basic veggies chopped up waiting to be munched. Make sure that you have a variety of fruits that you enjoy. If you are not in the mode of making your own sweet treats or crackers, look for organic, healthy ones that you can purchase in the store. Or go to a local bakery that you know makes healthy treats. Start there and work towards making your own, with ingredients that you (and your body) are happy with.
2. Make a Plan- When the moment arrives that you are about to start searching through the cupboards for anything to eat, have a plan in place. Decide ahead of time that when this happens you will take 5 deep breaths, drink a glass of water, take a walk around the block, have a bath, play the piano, do pushups, take a long walk through nature, call a friend, dance to loud music, etc. Decide on something to do that will distract you from the food. The craving will likely go away.
3. Ask yourself how you feel? Take a moment to consider why you have this craving. Are you tired? Perhaps a warm bath and early to bed is really what you need right now. Are you getting enough exercise? Moving your body is very important and will keep you feeling energetic. Ideally you want to be active every day. Are you thirsty? Perhaps your body is slightly dehydrated and your brain is tricking you to think that you need to eat something. Drink a large glass of water or two or make yourself a warm herbal tea. Are you angry/sad/upset/depressed? Look at this face on. Maybe it would help to start a new hobby, learn a language, take an art class or do something that you have always wanted to do. Take some time to journal your feelings or find a trusted friend to talk to. There are options available to get help and support in these areas.
4. Take a look at your diet. What are you eating these days? Are you getting enough fresh fruits and vegetables? Are you choosing foods from the rainbow (a variety of colours)? Are you making healthy choices 95% of the time? Are you chewing your food thoroughly? Do you prepare foods from scratch or are you buying too many convenience foods? To conquer cravings, it is important to make sure that your body is getting all of the nutrients it needs to function well. Take some time to keep a food diary and note the times that you do have cravings. Also note how you are feeling so that you can see if there is a connection with that as well. Eating a balanced diet will help prevent the cravings in the first place or certainly make them occur much less often.
5. Visualize Sometimes when I have a craving for something, I imagine myself eating that food. You know when you imagine a lemon being cut open and imagine tasting the juice? Most people are able to smell the lemon and feel the saliva increasing in the mouths and practically tasting the lemon when they do this exercise. So why not do it with other foods? The key is to imagine that you enjoyed the food and then let it go and get on with the day. It isn’t a great idea to get too excited about it and then go and buy the food. The point is to have the experience, feel the satisfaction and move on. You are in control here.
6. Give yourself a break. If you have done everything you possibly can to avoid the craving and it still isn’t going away, cut yourself some slack and have a tiny bite of it. Eat it slowly and savour it. Then put it away and do something fun for at least 15 minutes. Sometimes this will be just enough to allow you to let go of the craving.
Remember that most people have had issues with food cravings as sometime, so you are not alone. With diligence and determination, it is possible to conquer food cravings. You are in charge of your body and you are in charge of what goes in it. Always remember that.