Identifying the true sources of our food cravings allows us to nurture both our emotional and biological needs
You get home later than expected from work. You’re feeling super drained and exhausted. You make yourself dinner and sit in front of the TV watching your favorite ‘trashy’ television show while you eat. Afterwards, you have a craving for something sweet and you give in because it feels like the only exciting thing you’ve done all day. You grab a package of cookies from the cupboard and watch another episode of your show. You end up slightly nauseous and over full and head to bed with a slight overarching feeling of guilt.
This is a very common scenario in this day and age because we tend to use food as an emotional coping mechanism — a way to give ourselves a ‘treat’ or make life feel a little more exciting, rebellious and/or interesting…or perhaps to mask some pain or deeper wounding.
A lot of the eating habits that can lead to the health imbalances (mindlessly eating junk food, over eating, or not eating the nutrient-dense foods our bodies need) get ingrained as habits because we’ve stopped being present with our food. Instead, we end up using food as a tactic to deal with our emotional needs.
What if eating itself was considered an enjoyable and healthy activity?
On a physical level our bodies know exactly what they need to be healthy. We will have a physical craving for berries if we need vitamin C. We will have a physical craving for steak if we are in need of some iron. Unfortunately, most of us have practiced not heeding our bodies’ subtle physical cravings.
A lot of people will say, “But all I crave is doughnuts! That can’t be what my body needs!” True. Although not impossible, your body probably isn’t having a physical craving for doughnuts; more likely it’s having an emotional craving for doughnuts and all they represent. Yes, you might need quick energy because you’re sleep deprived, but you could also be craving the comfort of a time passed when your dad would bring doughnuts home on Sunday morning, a craving that has nothing at all to do with what your physical body needs but everything to do with what your emotional self needs.
This emotional craving is still telling us exactly what we need; we just need the knowledge and presence required to listen to it and take action from our own internal guidance system.
Sadly, many of us have been taught that our bodies can’t be trusted. We want them to look different, act different, and we’ll go to all sorts of lengths to change them so that we may be validated physically by external sources. Many of the ways we try to change our bodies involve using our minds instead of our intuition to feed ourselves. Eventually, between forcing our bodies into diets and exercise programs and the way we all use food to fill emotional voids, we forget how to trust our bodies’ physical cravings and forget how to hear our bodies’ subtle language.
Eating should be a very intuitive process, but we’ve made it an intellectual process.
When it comes to emotional cravings, we need to become more aware of our emotional ‘hunger’ and ‘feed’ ourselves with what we are actually craving experience-wise.
One way I show my clients how to do that is by using metaphors for the types of foods we are a craving. These come from ancient Chinese medicine and from the work of Dr. Anita Johnston (download her guide on cravings and metaphor)
What You Crave & What It Means:
- Sweets— Where is my life not ‘sweet’ enough? Do I appreciate and acknowledge ‘sweetness’ in life experience (e.g., watching my kids sleep or playing with my pup).
- Chocolate—What am I craving sexually? Do I feel like romance is missing from my life? Am I sexually satisfied? Do I feel sexually connected to my body?
- Crunchy/Salty— At whom or at what am I angry or frustrated? Is there something in my life that I have not processed my frustration or anger about?
- Smooth/Creamy foods— Where in my life do I want things to be smoother or easier? Are things feeling too hard or rough?
- Warm Foods— Where in my life am I longing for emotional warmth?
- Spicy Foods— Do I have enough excitement or stimulation in my life? Do I need change in some area? Do I need more ‘spice’ in my life?
Our bodies are precious, wise, intuitive beings and they deserve to be respected, loved, and taken care of. Putting time and effort into remembering how to speak our bodies’ language is one of the biggest gifts we can give ourselves. So take your time. Slow down. Listen carefully to your cravings, physical and emotional, and start giving yourself what you really want. Your health and happiness depend on it.
>You may also enjoy reading Breaking Up With Sugar: 12 Steps to End Cravings for Good, by Dr. Karen Wolfe