Sometimes our food cravings are specific. Sometimes they're general.
Sometimes we "just need to EAT... something... dangit!"
Cravings hit with an uncomfortable force that feels overpowering and impossible to navigate.
We rationalize, minimize, ignore, fight or wish away our food cravings. Which almost always intensifies them + adds stress to an already frustrating situation.... this is entirely unhelpful and adds another layer of difficulty to managing the craving.
If we give into cravings + overindulge, we feel guilty. We berate ourselves with thoughts like:
"WHY can't we control our appetite, cravings + eating? It shouldn't be so hard! Ugghh, never again!"
Many of us have bellies + brains that are a bit wonky-wired and cravings for food that can't seem to be satisfied... or trusted... because they keep coming back despite adequate (or even excess) intake of the food/drink. We may even find the cravings nonsensically increase in intensity after the first few bites.
If we experience this type of craving, we may have some wonky wiring between our brains + bellies that has trouble determining a true hunger craving from a pseudo-food craving -- basically, we experience a craving for afood/drink that's not of nutritional origin or need.
If our brains + bellies have this wonky wiring (and many, many people do!) we mistakenly request the input of food, hoping food will produce an output that food's not capable of creating.
The truth is, food is the correct input only when physical health is the desired output. Food cannot adequately fill our other, non-nutritional needs.
The tangible nature of food has a purpose -- fulfilling physical or nutritional needs -- but is not ill-equipped to fill cravings of any other kind.
This is why it's useful to differentiate between a true hunger craving and a pseudo-food craving.
IDENTIFYing TRUE HUNGER CRAVINGS
True hunger cravings are signals driven by biological mechanisms within our bodies meant to sustain our life and vitality. When we have not fully taken in or absorbed adequate amounts of nutrients from fresh, naturally wholesome foods, our bodies will create true hunger cravings.
Pregnant women are infamous for having (sometimes odd!) food cravings. The intensity of a pregnant woman's food cravings is often heightened due to the urgency in which her body needs to obtain the nutrient in the food that will support the continued health of both her and her baby.
True hunger cravings are usually for very specific, single-ingredient, real, whole fresh foods -- e.g., fruit, lettuce, salt, carrots, red meat, plain water, lemon, plain baked sweet potato, celery, specific raw nuts/seeds, etc.
True hunger cravings are sometimes accompanied by intense physical side effects if the need for the nutrient is high. Physical symptoms of dizziness, shakiness, low blood sugar, faintness, weakness, growling stomach noise or tight, empty stomach sensations all constitute true hunger cravings originating out of real physical or nutritional needs.
True hunger cravings should be honored by eating a reasonable amount of the craved food.
(For more help determining whether you're actually hungry, see my post on 3 STRATEGIES FOR DETERMINING IF YOU'RE ACTUALLY HUNGRY)
detecting PSEUDO-FOOD CRAVINGS
Pseudo-food cravings often come from wonky wiring between the brain + belly that creates a disconnect between the origin of need and the proper solution for filling the need. Pseudo, or "fake," food cravings stem from non-biological, non-physical, non-nutritional causes.
There are many reasons for pseudo-food cravings.
Pseudo-food cravings are often for man-made "foods" -- rather than single-ingredient whole, fresh foods. These cravings are often for fast food, junk food, pre-packaged food, chips, candy, pop, candy, heavy or deep-fried food, rich desserts, sweet or salty snacks, etc.
Many man-made "foods" are better described as "pseudo-foods" due to their unnaturally hyper-palatable and highly addictive natures. Fast food, refined or pre-packaged snack foods, junk food, pop, candy, desserts, etc have incredible amounts of chemicals, sugars, preservatives, additives and other unnatural substances in them that are hyper-stimulating to the brain and/or body, but lack the fullness of nutrition found in natural whole, fresh foods. Pseudo-foods easily create pseudo-food cravings because they contribute to physical or chemical dependencies. Unfortunately, the body doesn't always realize it's been tricked by the lack of nutrients in these empty-calorie items and may create (more) pseudo-food craving for these items as an attempt to try to glean the nutrients it thinks they will provide.
Other pseudo-food cravings come from the recent sight, smell, taste, thought or suggestion of a food -- think the cravings that come from the tempting candy in the check-out lane, the tantalizing wafts outside a bakery, or the sudden desire to eat a food after reading a recipe or watching a cooking show. The body doesn't need the food, but the senses have been so stirred up by the recent idea of the food that they falsify strong pseudo-food cravings (despite lack of actual need).
And finally, there are pseudo-food cravings that result from malformed neurological pathways in the brain that connect the input of food with a desired or imagined output, particularly characterized by management of thoughts or feelings. As humans, we don't just crave on a physical level. We also crave intangible things like rest, relaxation, connection, love, affirmation, stability, reward, comfort, security, purpose, and the reduction of feelings like anxiety, fear, hurt, harm, loneliness, guilt, shame + stress.
Sometimes, our bodies will malfunction and create pseudo-food cravings as a substitute for proper management of such thoughts or feelings. We should try to avoid using food to fill cravings that exist on a mental, emotional or spiritual level. If we habitually eat as a result of this type of pseudo-food craving, we validate and encourage use of these malfunctioning neuropathways, which can increase the likelihood of the craving returning (with more force).
Because food isn't designed or capable of properly filling pseudo-food cravings, it's in the best interest of our whole health to find alternative solutions to filling our pseudo-food cravings.
Filling up on real, whole, fresh foods will build us a good nutritional foundation to help eliminate many of our true hunger cravings, and may even lessen the severity of our pseudo-food cravings.
The danger in continually using food as an input for pseudo-food cravings is that not only will food not properly fill or satisfy these cravings, it may lead to undesired short and long-term physical consequences.
We may wish to prevent and battle pseudo-food cravings by implementing replacement habits and strategies that encourage mind/body/soul balance, help with stress reduction and increase time spent in parasympathetic mode.
What food cravings do you have? Need help understanding how to handle them? Leave your comments + questions below and I'll do my best to address them! :)
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net