Three Steps to Support Your Body to Overcome Cravings
By Christopher Allison
We’ve all heard a young child demand, “I want it! I want it! I want it!” We may chuckle and feel for the child’s parent who must deal with their child’s outburst. But what happens when an adult has a voice inside that starts insisting, “I want it! I want it! I want it!”?
Cravings are a challenge that many of us have experienced. Cravings may show up as a relentless calling from a certain food that consistently beckons you to be eaten. Or maybe you just find yourself standing in front of the open refrigerator looking for something to fill an inner hole. This craving often runs contrary to what you know is good for you. Yet… there it is. Somehow, you just want it. But if a craving is there, what does it mean and what are you to do about it?
Possible Cause of Food Cravings is Imbalance
Some would say cravings are a sign of your body’s need for certain nutrients. They say you should give in to those cravings to rebalance and give your body what it “needs.”
There is some truth to the idea that if you are craving a food, then your body needs something to rebalance. Certainly some food or nutritional supplement would likely help fill the void ¾ temporarily. Unfortunately though, the craving itself comes from an imbalance. For true healing and freedom from cravings, we will need to address the underlying issue that created the imbalance.
For example, if a person is craving chocolate and they go to the internet, they will find that chocolate has magnesium in it. So, they think they need to eat chocolate to satisfy their need for magnesium. Whether they have a magnesium deficiency or not this becomes their justification for satisfying their chocolate craving. But more than likely, something in their body is out of balance.
You want to ask yourself, “If I am craving something, what part of my life is out of balance?”
Role of Comfort Foods
You have probably heard the term comfort foods. The term is used for a reason. These foods often have nutrients that affect neurochemicals that help create a feeling of safety or warmth. Comfort foods can increase serotonin or dopamine–two neurotransmitters that help us feel satisfied and happy.
It may be comfort foods that keep enticing you, reminding you of the happy times you’ve enjoyed with that food in the past. There is definitely an emotional aspect of food that not only changes brain chemistry, but reinvigorates positive memories.
How to Cure Cravings
In searching for answers why you crave, ask yourself the following questions:
- Have I been eating to support my body‘s energy needs?
- Have I been eating foods that support my body’s nutritional needs?
- Have I been eating foods that support the building blocks of my body?
You need to feed your body properly for it to perform optimally. If you don’t, you may get away with it for a while, but you’re only surviving on youth and hormones. Eventually overdoing it backfires and you’ll be unable to maintain health and create balance. At that point you start to crave sugar, carbs, salt, certain fats and other comfort foods for a quick fix.
Physical and Emotional Root Causes
Instead of giving in to temptation, ask yourself, “What is going on in my life?”
- Am I going through a difficult time in general?
- Am I stressed about family, job, finances or some other major issue?
- Am I sleeping the amount my body truly needs, or just eking by?
- Have I been skipping meals or waiting too long between meals?
- Am I moving, starting a new job, getting married, divorced, or going through some other major transition?
Underneath any craving is a bodily system that is calling out in need of some support. Maybe a food fix can help temporarily ¾ but it is only going to be temporary. If your life is out of balance, your body will be out of balance. Then your body’s craving is telling you that something needs to change in your life if you are to be healthy.
In some cases, you may be going through a short-term, temporary life event that requires eating to supporting the body differently. This short-term requirement changes your body’s need for different foods, but isn’t really a craving.
For instance, if you are perspiring and working hard packing for a move, the short-term need for salt and carbohydrates is real. You have lost electrolytes and need energy from food to compensate for all the energy used up moving stuff around. It is important to remember that when you are done with the move your body’s need for increased carbohydrates is over. At that point, if you continue to supply excess carbohydrates you will create an imbalance of insulin and then cortisol. The continued increased consumption of carbohydrates will start a craving for sugar and is a very common pattern for people.
In another example, during longer periods of stress, the need arises for protein and fat. The protein compensates for the catabolic tendencies of the stress hormones. Plus, it meets the need for an additional source of slow-burning energy from fats. If you are not getting additional protein and fat, you will tend to catabolize muscles and start craving sugar and fast-burning carbs. This will inevitably add to your fat mass, produce insulin resistance and begin a real craving based on the imbalance of carbohydrates.
Our bodies need a dietary change based on emotional challenges and physical exertion, and even the climate we live in. An example of climate-based needs may be the difference between Inuit Eskimos and Amazonian natives. The Eskimo diet of lots fish and whale blubber would be disastrous for an Amazonian native. And of course the high plant and fruit based diet of the native Amazonian would be disastrous to the Inuit.
Pass on the Cravings
If you remain mindful of your body’s balances and how your life experiences are affecting you, then you can eat to support your body with the food you need to create balance. And when you’re in balance, you won’t crave food. You change your foods to meet the needs of your environment.
If you reach for comfort foods or commercially prepared foods, then your body will respond with cravings. These cravings are a result of the influx of chemicals and imbalanced insulin and nutrition. Given the opportunity, your body creates a cycle of metabolic distress from improper nutrition. Then, you’ll begin to hear those foods you shouldn’t eat calling to you from the pantry or freezer. They may even “drive” you to the grocery store.
If you continue to give in to the calling from an imbalanced diet, the call will get stronger and stronger and harder to ignore.
If you eat to support your body’s needs, then the cravings disappear. Healthy food tastes great and you’ll live a longer, happier, healthier life.
So what should you do?
Three Steps to Outsmart Your Cravings
- Forces a release of stored energy as sugars, proteins and fats
- Leads to insulin swings
- Causes tiredness in the afternoon
- Disrupts sleeping patterns (difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep)
If you want to maintain a strong body as years go by, then eat for your body’s structural needs. Your body is made of protein, structural fats and minerals. If you focus on eating a nutrient-dense diet full of these compounds, then you’ll have stable energy and fewer cravings.
Second, to supply your body with energy, reset the fight or flight response through meditation. My favorite is the body scan meditation process. Another individual guides you through focusing on differing parts of your body from the head to toes. Both UCLA and Harvard have found this leads to better autonomic system integration, less stress, and fewer cortisol, blood sugar and insulin swings. By bringing your attention and awareness to different regions of the body, you reduce anxiety and depression. This practice is particularly good for people who have a hard time clearing their minds. The guided meditation allows you to focus and receive all the benefits of renewed energy.
Third, if you find you’re in a stressful situation, remember to breathe from your belly. As you do, not only will you get more oxygen, but you will also massage an important nerve called the vagal nerve. The vagal nerve supports your digestion and balances your fight or flight response. As a result, cortisol exposure is reduced as well as cravings as time goes on.
Following the above steps and guidelines, you can end those destructive cravings and set your body on a path of health and create balance.
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Chris Allison DOM is formally trained as a Doctor of Oriental Medicine and is licensed as an Acupuncturist. His love of helping people took him into Functional Medicine, Hormone Balancing, Neurochemistry and Endocrinology. As a young adult he learned the interaction between our mind, body and spirit and teaches how they are all interconnected and influence the experiences we have in life. With the diverse training Chris has, he can take complex symptom patterns and explain in easy to understand terms just what is going on and how to rebalance in a way that takes care of the core reasons we feel the way we do. Many people who have been to numerous MD’s and holistic practitioners are able to finally get the answers they need to become balanced and fit again.