Being a life-long learner and a Health&Wellness Coach I am naturally curious about the mind and body connection. From reading my articles you know that I used to have a very unhealthy relationship with food, especially with sweet food. My imbalanced blood sugar was at the heart of my poor health and cravings for sugary, pick-me-up midday snacks. Although, switching to a Primal Lifestyle finally free me from sugar, carb cravings and snacking, it did not fix my unhealthy relationship with food completely. The phrase, “too much of a good thing”, even when it comes to healthy whole foods, still applies. Even now, at times when I feel overwhelmed by work or anxious about something, I find myself scanning my cupboards and fridge for healthy snacks such as nut butters, nuts, fruit, homemade paleo treats etc. and then sometimes I cave in and overindulge in them. During these moments relying on willpower or trying harder simply does not work. I have learnt from my own experience and working with my clients that overcoming our food addictions with discipline alone isn’t very effective. In this article, I want to explore the WHY behind it. Before I dive in any deeper into the causes of cravings, let’s look at the body-mind link in relation to food.
Early Greeks philosophers such as Aristotle and physicians such as Hippocrates understood the mutual influences of mind and body and acknowledged that the health of one reflects the health of the other. However, between then and now, loads has happened as we have become disconnected and we often listen to our thoughts, but rarely listen to our body. In fact, most of us have a negative image of our body which results in the constant obsession with the way we look. I think it’s time to acknowledge our body for the amazing system that it is and cultivate a nurturing relationship with it.
NOW… Yes! I’m talking to you - I’d like you to look at your body in a mirror and consider the word relationship. Imagine a friend telling you what he or she needs from you, but instead of listening to him or her you decide to either shame him/her or do the exact opposite. Let’s face it, after a while most of us would wave goodbye to this sort of friend. Your body is your friend for life and it speaks to your soul and mind, so tune in and listen as the food cravings we have, can reveal a lot. My relationship with my body is improving and I hope yours does too, after reading this article.
There are four root causes of cravings and you might fall into one of the categories but most of the time it is a combination of all of them.
On a physical level, our body is telling us about the nutrient that it needs. Here’s a rundown of the most common cravings rooted in nutritional imbalance:
If you're craving chocolate...
Your body probably needs: magnesium, chromium & B vitamins
Foods to eat: healthy dark chocolate, spinach, swiss chard (my favourite!), sprouted nuts, sprouted seeds, fish
If you're craving chips, popcorn, nuts…
Your body probably needs: B vitamins, vitamin C, potassium
Foods to eat: avocado, papaya, broccoli, kale, bok-choi, wild salmon, pasture raised chicken
If you’re craving sweets, cakes, biscuits and sugary drinks...
Your body probably needs: chromium, phosphorus, sulfur, tryptophan
Foods to eat: liver, broccoli, grass-fed beef, kale, cabbage, cauliflower
If you're craving bread, pasta, crackers, and noodles...
Your body probably needs: chromium, magnesium, and nitrogen
Foods to eat: fish, grass-fed beef, nuts, spinach, asparagus
If you're craving cheese or pizza...
Your body probably needs: healthy fats
Foods to eat: wild salmon, avocados, sardines
We have billions of bacteria living in our gut and these bacteria communicate to our brain through the Vagus nerve. When these bacteria are out of balance and there are more bad bacteria than good, then you’re more likely to get another fizzy drink, ice-cream or other sweets (trust me, the willpower won’t save you!). When I went off sugar completely 4 years ago I felt awful for the first month. I was so overwhelmed with my cravings for sugar and depleted my willpower completely. Now, I know that this wasn’t me dying (it felt like it at times!), but the bad bacteria who were part of me at that time.
We are all emotional eaters and most of our food additions begin in childhood. Why? Well… because most of us don’t know how to process negative feelings such as anger, hopelessness, guilt, sadness, frustration, anxiety and so on. Sadly, our parents and schools don’t teach us this vital life skill. Being a Master’s student of Positive Psychology, I am aware of how important our positive feelings are, but at the same time, I acknowledge the role of the negative feelings we have. Since most of us don’t know how to cope with these negative feelings we often turn to food for momentary relief.
When I was younger I was told off whenever I showed any form of anger or sadness and was told to be kind and friendly to everybody around me. This resulted in me surpassing my negative emotions and resorting to “ANGER snacking” instead. Now, I realise that acknowledging my negative feelings, being with them and then getting these feelings out of my system in a healthy-therapeutic way, aka expressing writing, is the only way forward. This realisation was a real game changer for me and now whenever I feel “ANGER snacking” coming on, I take a deep breath, investigate further to find what caused it and then I sit with it for a while. Some people might choose to physically remove that anger out through boxing, dancing or even a pillow fight… find what works for you and do it! Embracing the discomfort, as you can imagine, isn’t very comfortable but it can create a long-term solution and not just temporary relief.
Another pattern that I noticed with myself and my clients is that at times when our inner-critic is particularly loud or we think we aren’t enough we often reach for sweet things. In these moments it isn’t the food that our body is hungry for but love, connection, companionship, support and being taken care of.
The key takeaway here is to remember that suppressed emotions get stored in our body and if not removed can cause more serious physical and psychological issues.
We are all physical creatures, we are meant to move, play, rest, and feel good. If you are neglecting sleep and rest then your hormone “ghrelin” will become out of balance and leave you feeling hungry especially at night. Namely, the fewer z’s you get, the more hungry you’ll feel, so make sleep your priority!
Another tip for decreasing cravings is engaging in physical pleasure. For example, the hormone-like substance oxytocin is released in the brain in response to skin-to-skin touch, so instead of reaching for another piece of cake, give somebody a hug or a kiss.
So, what are you truly hungry for?
When it comes to stopping cravings, eating healthy and living a simpler, more nourishing life, knowing what you need can be tricky and even if you know what you need, following through can be super-tough.
If you feel like food controls your life, I get it. I’ve been there.
If you feel like you can’t love your body, I get it. I’ve been there.
For those ready, I have limited spaces available for one-on-one work. I find that free information is a great start, but it's personalised support and accountability that really make the difference. Find out more here.
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Yours in health,