I am an emotional eater. I eat when I’m happy, stressed, sad or mad. Basically I just love food and what I eat is always strongly tied to my current emotional state. This time of year is always stressful for me in my work place. It’s no wonder I’ve been craving chocolate daily and my carb intake (mainly pasta) has increased. It’s a cycle that we’ve all faced in our lives. In fact the term “Comfort Food”, in my opinion, plays on our inner need to soothe our souls with food.
My cravings are pretty typical and don’t often change. I crave chocolate after I eat, especially after lunch. Lucky for me I work in a school and even luckier I’m the Principal. One of the perks of my job are birthday cupcakes and many weeks they come daily. Most times I can limit myself to a bite of the delicious chocolate icing as the rest of the cupcake drops into the pail. But, during periods of high stress, all bets are off. My other strong cravings are for salty food, specifically Ruffles Potato Chips. Darn those ridges do me in every time. This is easier to avoid, as I don’t often have them in the house.
My comfort foods are also simple. When I need to soothe my soul with food, I’m craving pasta and pizza. Simple to get and even simpler to make. Don’t you wish you craved broccoli when stressed or emotionally drained? Life sure would be easier if that were the case. Heck, I’m not even picky about the pasta menu. It could be with sauce, cheese, butter, who really cares just cook some. My other craving when I’m stressing is wine. It is so comforting to have that glass of wine after a long, hard day. It also pairs so well with the pasta and/or pizza.
I often wondered, aside from stress, what do my food cravings really mean. I’ve read a lot about it and there are many opinions on that topic. Today, I wanted to share my takeaways from my reading, as they connect to me. Of course, you may have a different take based on the cravings and emotional issues you are facing. I’d like to share the scientific explanation, as well as the emotional based one.
Cravings can be thought of as the way our body tells us what it needs. If you have been eating an unbalanced diet lacking in key food groups, or nutrients, your body could be signaling this need through cravings of certain foods. Cravings can also be linked to your desire to fill emotional unbalances in your life. In both cases, they are your body’s way of telling you it needs your attention. Many cravings could be tied to thirst, hunger, exhaustion and stress. It’s our job then to learn to listen to our body signals and respond appropriately, meaning not with a bag of Ruffles.
Let’s take a look at some common cravings and what your body might really be asking for.
Wait, are you telling me I really don’t want the delicious piece of chocolate? I’m going to have a hard time buying into this one.
When craving sweets, you actually could be dehydrated or thirsty. Hmm, considering my craving for chocolate returned these past two weeks when I stopped drinking water, I might have to pause and think about this one. Craving sweets can be tied to dehydration, so the first response should be to drink. Sip some water, preferably warm as it washes away toxins, before reaching for that cake or chocolate. Give yourself a half hour of sipping before eating. If you still want the sweets after that it could be a different signal.
You may be craving sweets because you are emotionally unhappy. Your body might be trying to cheer you up. Sugar is known to release endorphins, much like exercise, that make you feel a sense of euphoria. This is why you feel satisfied after you eat the chocolate, beside the fact that it is just plain delicious. To offset this type of craving, move! Go for a walk around your building, block or neighborhood, change your scenery and your mood and see if that improves the craving.
Further, try to incorporate more sweet foods in your daily diet such as, fruits and vegetables. Instead of chocolate try a small cup of red grapes, or strawberries when in season. Another good choice would be slices of apples drizzled with raw organic honey. Since I get the craving after lunch, I’m going to try eating sweet potatoes with my salad and see if that helps, followed by a walk to distract myself from my chocolate thoughts.
My dear friend Bonny always said you have to follow your sweets with salt. Of course she always said this as we ate Dunkin Donuts and headed to the deli to buy some chips. Hence the popularity of sea salt chocolate and salt/vinegar chips, kill two cravings with one food.
In reality, cravings for salt can be a signal that your body is missing some minerals found in natural salt. Many table salts used today are stripped of certain minerals due to processing. One possible fix is to use quality salts such as unrefined mineral or sea salt. I use Himalayan Sea Salt in a salt grinder. One issue with this change, though, is the lack of iodine in many sea salt products. Be sure to read the labels and look for a sea salt that has been fortified with iodine as there are studies indicating adverse effects from lack of iodine.
On the emotional side, salt is thought to be a means of helping people “go with the flow” and relax. Salt attracts water, as well as movement and flow. When craving salty foods, try to do something to relax as your body could be reacting to the stressors in your life. Go for a run, walk or simply meditate. Find an alternative way to not eat the Ruffles and whatever you do avoid the grocery story in those moments.
Pasta, or Carbs
Carbs are sugars in disguise, so the same things we discussed under sugar cravings apply here. You may simply be dehydrated. For me, this one is all about emotion and comfort. Bread, pasta and pizza are staples in my emotional diet. I eat them when really what I need is a hug, or the warmth of family time and a simpler life. They evoke so many happy memories of eating back in the day. In our family we had bread at every meal and pasta was a fan favorite for me as a kid, as well as for my kids. Seriously, what kid doesn’t love macaroni and cheese and no, we don’t do the blue box in this house. Homemade was always served, albeit dripping in processed Kraft American cheese. Anyway, the best possible emotional meal for me would be fried chicken cutlets with a side of mac and cheese. On a side note, cravings for cheese are thought to be for those who have “mother” issues in their life. It could be you feel you need some mothering, miss your mother’s comfort or even had an overbearing mother.
The only way for me to change the channel on this craving has been to cook healthier versions of these meals. Though it is recommended that you have a wonderful conversation with a dear friend and enjoy belly laughs, that’s not always a fast enough fix to stave this off. I’ve learned to use whole grain products, hormone free cheeses that are not individually wrapped in large cardboard boxes and baked chicken cutlets in place of fried. This has been equally effective in providing me comfort in times of need. Just trying to keep it real!
Emotional eating is one of the main reasons many of us overeat. In the short term, it fulfills our basic needs, but in the long term it causes feelings of guilt and negative self talk. Rather than expressing our emotions and dealing with our real needs, we tend to soothe our emotions with food. Pushing back those feelings and providing comfort to ourselves with food can quickly become a habit, as food becomes the first thing we reach for.
I wish I could sit here and tell you I’ve got this covered, but I don’t. The only advice I can give is to not let it go too far. Becoming aware of what you are doing and why is always the first step. Then make this simple changes to how you approach your cravings. 1) Portion control can also help. If you really need the chocolate, the Hershey kiss size is far better than the extra large Hershey bar. Buy the smaller size always helps me. 2) Make healthier versions of your comfort food. There are tons of recipes online that have taken favorite comfort foods and made them healthier. In many cases they are just as good and do the trick. 3) Finally, going for a walk or run can be one of the best ways to offset the craving. Put some great music on and go. Fill your head with sights and songs and distract your mind from the cravings.
What do you crave and how do you offset the craving? I’d love to hear your ideas.