In a previous post, I talked about sugar, its effects on hormones, and how to deal with sugar cravings. Today I want to expand upon that topic and talk about hunger vs. cravings and how to handle the latter in a healthy way.
These past couple of weeks, I’ve wanted a bowl of ice cream every.single.evening. The feelings have been so intense that I simply couldn’t brush them off. Not to mention, as a person who believes and preaches intuitive eating, I have to honor my hunger and not deprive myself of foods that I want. Right?
Yes and no.
Yes, we must honor our true hunger. However, it’s important to distinguish real physical need from craving, which most often stems from emotional needs.
Hunger = “ I haven’t eaten anything for several hours now, and I don’t care what I eat as long as I get some food in my stomach.”
Craving = “I just ate dinner but that piece of chocolate cake over at the next table sure looks good! I gotta have it now!”
Cravings are highly associated with emotional eating in which feelings affect what, when, and how much you eat. For instance, you may crave a certain food because you’ve had a really crummy day or that particular food brings back fond memories. Cravings can also be attributed to eating a Standard American Diet (SAD) of sugary, highly processed, “hyper-palatable” foods as well as habits.
When you are truly hungry, you will happily eat anything even though you may have wanted something else. You are flexible. As for cravings, you are picky about what you want to eat, and it MUST be that one food. No substitute will satisfy. In most cases, these foods are ice cream, cookies, chips…you know, the highly processed kind.
Sure, hunger can intensify food cravings, but cravings may continue even after the hunger is satisfied. For chronic dieters whose relationship with food has been one of restriction and deprivation, once they give into their cravings, it can lead to binging.
Therefore, it’s important to distinguish between hunger and cravings. However, I don’t think cravings should be thought of as the enemy or as a sign of weakness.
Cravings are normal and can certainly fit into a healthy, well-balanced diet IF satisfied in a controlled manner.
Rather than demonizing cravings, dig a bit deeper to discover your body’s underlying imbalances/needs.
In my case, these past couple of weeks have been extremely trying in all aspects – mentally, physically, and emotionally. And I gotta tell ya…my bowl of ice cream every night provided me with a lot of comfort. It was glorious and much needed. It helped me de-stress in a way that nothing else could. The problem is that this persisted for about 2 weeks. For the first couple of days, I enjoyed my ice cream mindfully, savoring each bite. I was still in control. However, as the days went by, it was as if I was on auto-pilot. Habitually, I reached for the ice cream and slowly my portion size started to increase.
So what should you do next time your body is craving something?
Take 10. Pause, breathe and explore what’s really going on for about 10 minutes before impulsively chowing down on what you know isn’t good for you. Drink a glass of water. If you are truly hungry, the desire to eat (regardless of the food options) should persist. In that case, go ahead and eat something.
Check in emotionally. Ask yourself: Am I stressed out? Am I feeling bored, sad, lonely, etc.? If so, rather than engaging in comfort eating, develop another habit that doesn’t involve food. No amount of ice cream, cookies, or chips will solve the real problem. Instead, cultivate hobbies/interests. Sleep, exercise, meditate, etc.
Don’t deprive yourself. If you desire a specific food even after you’ve taken the time to reflect and recognize that the craving stems from an emotional need, I say go for it. Personally, sometimes there’s nothing that can make me happier than a scoop of ice cream. But do enjoy it in a conscious manner. YOU are in control.
Love. You can eat all the broccoli and kale in the world, but if you don’t have friendships, community, romance, etc., you’ll never live life to the fullest. Surround yourself with people you care for deeply and who love you back. Cultivate those relationships. Call that special someone next time you’re feeling down. If you’re truly wanting a certain food, share it with your loved one rather than binging behind closed doors. You are not alone. Most likely, what you need is a hug not some kind of food that will never fully satisfy.
- What foods do you crave?
- How do you handle food cravings?