How to Navigate Food Cravings



What’s the difference between these two examples?

You wake up in the morning and go to make your usual breakfast – let’s say eggs and toast.  But the thought of this food isn’t really doing it for you. You really feel like fruit, maybe a fruit in particular like an apple, and some almonds sound good too!  So you forgo your usual plan and grab your apple and nut fix.

Later that day you’re at work and having a stressful day.  Finally it’s lunch break and after lunch you really have a hankering for a candy bar, a big, fat chocolatey candy bar would really hit the spot!  So you go for the candy bar, and before you’re even done with it, you’re wondering if you can get away with having another, it’s just so good!

You’ve probably already guessed that the first example is the craving to listen to, while the second example needs a closer look.  Let’s look at why, and finally provide a rule of thumb you can use as a guideline to help you navigate your own cravings.

When you find yourself craving whole foods, meaning foods in their natural state with no or very little processing by humans, it’s likely a signal from your body’s wisdom that it needs some nutrient or quality in that particular food… Click To Tweet

There’s been a lot of uproar lately about whether or not some foods have addictive qualities.  These debates, however, are always regarding the types of foods we humans have manipulated in some way, either to make them more convenient or flavorful.  There just isn’t a problem with people becoming hooked on nature’s recipes. So when you have cravings for these types of whole foods, listen to them!

What about the second type of craving?  These are a bit trickier because it’s tough to know our real reasons for the craving. Let’s look at a few of these reasons so you can become more mindful the next time you find yourself dreaming about potato chips or ice cream.

Nutrient-Poor Diet

Sometimes when your body isn’t getting enough nutrients or calories for a while, instead of craving the foods that supply those nutrients, the body’s instinct is to seek calorie-rich and energy-rich foods (think high-fat, high-carb).  

That’s because the vast majority of history as we evolved, food was more often scarce than plentiful.  So when the body senses “not-enough,” of calories or nutrients, its first choice is the food that will give it the most calories (fat) and the quickest supply of energy (refined carbohydrates).  

The first step to beating cravings is ensuring you’re regularly eating enough calories and enough nutrients. ~Meghan Leah, MS, RD Click To Tweet

Hooked by the Industry

This is probably the most insidious reason for cravings, and I wish this issue just didn’t exist.  But it’s not going away anytime soon, so our best defense is awareness and questioning how much personal power you’re willing to give away to big business.

Here’s why the slogan “once you pop, you just can’t stop” and others like it are so unfortunately true.  Big food companies hire food scientists, some of which actually have the title, “craveability experts” to manipulate ingredients, textures, color and flavors to find what they call “The Bliss Point.”  

After much scientific research, they then call in consumers just like you to be on their panel and taste test which formulationscause people to want to eat the most.  Then they find the best way to market it to invoke cravings to get you wanting to buy right away.

Not only are many of the ingredients used to increase the amount people eat man-made (like MSG), but the combinations and amounts of fat, sugar and salt put into the foods is never found in such a way in nature. ~Meghan Leah, MS, RD Click To Tweet

Humans have found a way to exploit our natural liking for sugar, fat and salt to create unnatural combinations that overload our brain’s senses and give us whopping loads of dopamine, the reward chemical, with each bite we take.  This is why many believe these foods have addictive potential. Dopamine is also the chemical increased when taking addictive drugs, and with enough use, can desensitize the brain to the pleasure effects of dopamine, meaning more and more is needed for the same effect.

If there are certain foods that “once you pop you just can’t stop,” you may have fallen into the trap of “The Bliss Point.”  Want to learn more about this?  Read the article Are You Hooked? How to Overcome the Lure of Processed Food.

Emotional Turbulence

When you think of a time you’ve been upset or stressed out, you might find yourself reaching for comfort food.  I’m willing to bet that the comfort food you reach for is not of the completely whole-food variety. It’s often a food that’s been processed in some way because, as you know from the last section, these foods provide the “bliss point.”  And who doesn’t want bliss when they’re feeling down?

While these foods do calm you down in the short term, tell me honestly – has a pint of ice cream ever solved the actual problem?  If it has, please do tell! But if we’re being honest with ourselves, self-soothing in the midst of emotional angst without actually addressing the problem doesn’t really serve us. ~Meghan Leah, MS, RD Click To Tweet

If this is you, the first thing to do is to become aware of what these emotions are, and then what triggered them.  Only then can you take steps to either A) take what action you can to ease the problem or B) work on your own reaction and response to the problem.  This article gives you a step-by-step process to begin working on dealing with these emotions.

It’s important to realize that you always have the final say in whether or not to give into your food cravings.  While the concept of “choice” gets cloudier when the manufacture of “bliss point” food comes into play, you still can decide whether you want these foods to be part of your life or not.  Only you know how much power they have over you, so it’s up to you to decide what to do with that knowledge. I hope this helps you navigate your cravings and helps you know how to respond to them!

Download a free visual flowchart to help you navigate your cravings here!

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