Dear Char: How can I make sense of my cravings for certain foods? I feel so confused!
Great question. I have certainly struggled with this over the years, and I hope that these seven guidelines can help.
#1. Consider the possibility that all cravings come from a dietary fat deficiency. I first heard this from a lecture by Dr Tom Cowan, author of The Fourfold Path to Healing. I resisted this idea, UNTIL I started to pay closer attention to the context of my cravings. Sure enough, not eating enough good quality fats (in the form of olive oil, coconut oil, butter or ghee, lard, nuts and seeds) makes me crave strange foods, like pepperoni pizza! Consuming animal protein can play a role here, too, but fat is just as, if not more, important. Fat satiates the appetite and makes you feel good!
Get this: eating fat promotes oxytocin. Oxytocin is THE hormone of calm, love, and connection and is dominant during labor (where it facilitates contractions) and breastfeeding (where it facilitates bonding). It also opposes the stress response.
When we eat food high in fat, the upper part of the small intestine releases a hormone called cholecystokinin (CCK). CCK not only activates gall bladder function, it also stimulates the release of oxytocin giving us a feeling of satiety and wellbeing after eating fat.
This insight comes to us from an excellent book titled The Oxytocin Factor by Kerstin Uvnas Moberg.
Good to know, right?
#2. Investigate food allergies. The most common culprits are gluten, dairy, corn and soy. Most people will reveal their food allergies to me in conversation by saying, “I can’t live without THAT!”
Here is what happens: your body wants to maintain balance. When a specific food creates inflammation, the body now has a new set point and will crave the food that is causing a problem. This is no different than an alcoholic or drug user craving their next hit. The only answer is to withdraw the likely foods from the diet and observe your body.
I remember when I first removed gluten from my diet. I couldn’t stop thinking about bread! I would eat and have this vacuous feeling like I hadn’t eaten. My body was waiting for the bread! Fortunately, I knew what was happening and rode the wave. I thanked my body for letting me know what was going on and after a few weeks the cravings passed and all my symptoms improved. My body had a new set point, and I removed the problematic food.
#3. Sugar and caffeine are drugs. If you ingest a drug, expect to crave it. If you crave true freedom, however, remove these substances entirely. With time, your body will adjust to life without them.
No one can reach his or her goals on will power alone. As a source of energy, will power is limited. Some people have very little of this energy to start with, and others appear to have more, but no one can choose healthy foods on will power alone. It will eventually fail you. This manifests as yo-yo dieting and the idea of “I will change everything on Monday” (this was always my favorite).
It just doesn’t work.
The real way to address cravings in our food supply that contains drugs is to call upon something much, much larger than your self. This is at the heart of the 12-Step programs.
Recovering my vitality became more important than eating dessert. That is a different kind of fuel than will power. Committing fully to your vitality makes it much easier to refuse to eat certain foods because then, you realize that your choices are changing the world. You access an energy that is of God, not of the ego. This is the flow that will sustain you.
#4. Eat a breakfast rich in fat and protein. Throw away your cereal, toasts, smoothies, oatmeal, donuts, and bagels, and enter the realm of eggs, sausage, bacon, leafy greens, quiche, breakfast tacos, and butter coffee. If I stray from my egg and sausage breakfast, I am amazed at how hungry I am at dinner and then the cravings for weird food hits me in the early evening.
The only way to know this is to do it.
#5. Go to bed as close to 9PM as possible. I know this one is irritating. We know sleep is good for us, but we just can't get enough, and if you're a parent, forget about it, right? I know. The struggle is real. But here's the scoop:
There are two primary sources of energy for your body: food and sleep.
If you don't sleep well or enough, then you crave refined carbohydrates for quick energy. Now, you may be so adapted to inadequate sleep that you don't even know what I'm talking about, but this phenomenon is at work in your body. Sleep affects your blood sugar and blood sugar affects what you want to eat. If you would like learn more about this read Lights Out.
#6. If the food you are craving exists in Nature, go for it! The main exceptions are the ones previously listed. There is probably something that your body needs in that food. Honor it.
However, if it is a processed food that keeps haunting you, go back to my first two suggestions and take a deeper look. You may need more fat and protein in your diet and/or you may have one or more food sensitivities. Investigate both.
Take a moment to check out my previous blog titled Gum, Waiting Tables, and Artificial Sweeteners. Your body seeks nutrient density, not just foods that taste good. Unfortunately, the food we eat is only as good as our soil.
This is one of the reasons why I use Standard Process nutritional supplements. The majority of whole food concentrates in these supplements are grown on an organic farm in Wisconsin with beautiful, rich, dark topsoil - these little brown and green pills deliver important micronutrients that if missing from our diet, create strong cravings.
Also, make sure that your diet regularly contains foods like organic, leafy greens, such as collard greens, kale, bok choy, beet greens, broccoli greens, and dandelion greens, as well as butter from grass-fed cows and eggs from pastured chickens.
#7. Cultivate compassion for yourself. If you “give in” to your cravings, avoid the spiral of shame. We are complex human beings, and must forgive ourselves and start over repeatedly. These forces working within us are strong (consider hormonal fluctuations with the menstrual cycle), and it’s not the end of the world if you eat the cookie. Just make sure that it is the best cookie you can get your hands on!
These are my favorite!
Bottom line: health is a relationship between you and your body.
When you make the decision to eat real, nutrient dense food, the way in which your body talks to you, gets clearer and louder. Sometimes this is very uncomfortable, and that’s OK. Don’t buy into all the happy pictures of people drinking green juices and going to yoga class. That certainly wasn’t me when I started my journey…I was a hot mess in the trenches trying to figure out how I lost my life!
When you address your cravings, you are taking a stand for your vitality, and in doing so, your body will let you know what is no longer serving it. Being confused is a good place to be! Confusion means that you are doing the work and learning something new. Over time, self-confidence will take the place of doubt. Just stay the course. Trust me.
Defeat your cravings in peace!
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