Whether losing weight or having more energy, this is the time of year where lots of people are thinking about going on a diet or changing their eating habits. One of the biggest obstacles to any of these resolutions is a craving. Cravings can undermine the most well-intentioned radical self-care plan.
Have you ever been going along on your diet, losing weight, when all of the sudden you have the overwhelming urge to have a hot fudge sundae? You try to talk yourself out of it, but just can’t. You succumb. You feel good for a few minutes, but then you feel awful. All that hard work seems to unravel.
I grew up watching this cycle. My mother struggled with her weight since a young child. I was fortunate that I didn’t have to worry about my weight for many years. But once I hit 30, the scale made a slow and steady progression to the right. I found myself in the same cycle as my mother. I would struggle against the craving, but when I succumbed, I would do so mindlessly. I thought it was all a matter of will power and I had none.
When I began using my diet to manage my multiple sclerosis, I knew I couldn’t approach cravings in the same way I was taught. But what was I going to do?
Months ago, as I was driving home from a particularly bad day at work, all I wanted was a pepperoni pizza. I could practically taste it. Then I as approached my favorite pizza joint I woke up. “Why was my body doing this to me? Serving up this craving for wheat, cheese and red meat – all things I had come to view as poison for me.” Will power and fear didn’t seem enough.
I sat there sinking into a deep funk. How was I going to do this? I “needed” that pizza. I “deserved” that pizza after the day I had. And that was the epiphany. My cravings typically arose when I was stressed or upset about work. My cravings were rarely about what my body wanted but were about what my mind wanted.
From that moment forward I began to own the source of my cravings. I no longer succumbed to them mindlessly, but instead held them up and looked at them. When I did they often lost their power.
Understanding what triggers cravings can help you achieve any wellness goal you might have, whether it be losing weight or managing a disease. So let’s talk about what typically causes cravings.
One of the primary triggers for cravings is our emotional reaction to life. Ever eat a pint of ice cream as you mourned a lost relationship? Eaten a whole pizza while working late under the stress of a deadline? These are all poor food choices made in reaction to life stressors.
Since we can’t eliminate these events, how do we deal with the cravings? By acknowledging them. Own them. When we recognize that we are craving that ice cream to sooth the pain of a lost relationship, the ice cream loses its power. So the next time you crave something that undermines your wellness goals, ask yourself what is going on with you emotionally. Are you upset about work? Are you unhappy in your relationship? Are you bored or uninspired in your job? Do you lack a spiritual foundation? Any of these can lead you to seek solace in food (that’s why they call it "comfort" food). A little self-analysis may be the key to keeping you from that brownie.
My mother always told me that cravings were the way your body told you it needed something. While I often used that rationale to justify another slab of brie (my body is craving calcium), there is some truth to that. What this rationale unfortunately ignores is that our body processes the nutrients in the food, but it doesn’t distinguish the calcium in kale from the calcium in Ben and Jerry’s. It just wants its calcium.
Take chocolate for instance. I have always had a thing for chocolate. I would crave it like nothing else. So when adopting an alkaline diet, I gave up chocolate because it is highly acidic – an unthinkable task. At the same time, I was increasing my consumption of nuts and seeds, legumes and fruit, all of which are rich in magnesium. What else has magnesium? Yep, you guessed it – chocolate. So instead of being like a dog that will eat chocolate even though it might kill them, I am blessed with a brain that can help me decide the purest unprocessed source for what my body needs.
Lest you think I am some kind of food saint, I assure you that I’m not. I still get cravings. While I have kicked my chocolate habit and ice cream rarely appeals, my sweet tooth still sneaks up on me. So what do I do? I find ways to indulge it while staying true to my radical self-care goals.
First, I start by drinking a glass of water. The frequency with which this quenches my sweet tooth has made me realize that my body is more often craving water not sugar.
I also make sure to eat sweet vegetables and fruit such as sweet potatoes and mangoes. Are they a perfect substitute for chocolate? Not at first. But once kicking the refined sugar habit, a ripe mango is just as satisfying. Really.
I promise that I don’t have some super human will power. These tips and others can help everyone overcome their cravings and meet their wellness goals. I still get cravings. The difference is I have a plan for dealing with them. I first own it as mine, instead of ignoring it. I then determine its source – emotional or nutrient deficiency. Or do I just need a glass of water or a sweet potato.
As the saying goes, knowledge is power. When it comes to cravings, knowledge is ownership. Own your cravings and you own your health.
What cravings do you get? How do you handle them? Are you willing to try some of these strategies? Share with us what works for you.
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