Food cravings are the subject of many studies, both scientific and psychological. The thing is, especially in this day and age, we, as human beings, like to have the sense that we are in control, in control of our own destiny, in control of our mind, in control of our body. As a result, we just can’t stand, for instance, the idea of food cravings taking control of our mind (when all we can think about all day is food), and sometimes even of our behavior (when we give in to those dreaded cravings).
This fear is understandable in many ways, but, what if it was actually part of the problematic equation to begin with? What if some of us were so used to considering unconscious messages as distractions that we spontaneously brush them aside, just like we consider cravings as an annoyance, without even a second thought, when maybe our body or our mind is trying to tell us something? Of course the idea isn’t to give into food cravings thoughtlessly—we do not for one moment want to encourage unhealthy eating patterns. But, taking a moment to embrace cravings, or rather the underlying needs / emotions behind them, rather than focusing on mastering them at all costs, might save you a lot of trouble if not rid you of cravings altogether.
Sounds too good to be true? Let’s see. Most food cravings can actually be divided into two categories, emotional vs physiological cravings. So you might want to start with learning to differentiate one from the other. Some cravings might be easier to associate with physiological needs of course. Say you are craving spinach or parsley, you might more spontaneously think of iron deficiency than if you are craving carbs, which popular diets tend to demonize. However, a carb craving might not only be emotional (such as related to needing comfort), it can indicate that your body needs more nitrogen. Being able to identify this need will allow you to make a healthier food choice, while giving your body what it is craving. This is especially true if you are cutting a food group out of your diet completely (medical reasons aside of course). With carbs, it might create a craving at a physiological and psychological level alike, so you might want to consider eating it in moderation to silence those cravings.
Still in the spirit of debunking the myth that all food cravings are psychological only, consider this: junk food cravings aren’t necessarily a sign that you “want to be bad” which is what the diet culture has imprinted in our collective mind, which in turns creates a vicious circle and self esteem issues anytime we give in to those so called bad foods. Craving junk food, such as soda, might just mean that your body needs calcium. If you have a balanced diet, chances are you are not very much prone to such cravings in the first place, but if your diet isn’t very healthy your body is trying everything it can to bring your attention on what it needs, even if it it comes in the form of pizza or French fry cravings!
Now of course, not all food cravings take root in physiological reasons, emotional and psychological reasons can, more often times than not, be at play. But, once again, we couldn’t stress enough the importance of considering the physiological reason nonetheless. Besides, a healthy diet and making sure your physiological needs are met is, after all, the best way to ensure mental health, along with regular exercise. It’s a virtuous circle this one! If you want to keep emotional food cravings in check, just like with physiological ones, you will have to learn to decipher them. In which situations do they occur the most? Which foods do you crave the most—are they foods which remind you of your childhood for instance? And so on. Getting the help of a therapist might be good idea, just like working with a dietician can help you better understand what eating right is about and how to address what your body is craving for in a proper fashion.
In the end, the first step towards freeing yourself of food cravings is acknowledging them. Afterwards, whether you decide to take yourself by the hand and do the work or seek external help, you can’t wrong, as long as you listen to yourself in the first place!
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