CAUSE #1 - EMOTIONAL: Many understand, at least intuitively, the relationship between food & emotions. Today, we have a very comprehensive neuro-biological basis for this relationship (see Table 1).
SOLUTION #1 - Before indulging in your next craving, analyze the table below and become conscious of the possible emotional connection that may be underlying your specific food craving. Then, instead of trying to fill that emotional void on a physical level with food - work on it at the level of your emotions to resolve the issue at its core.
Table 1. Common food cravings and their emotional connections.
Source: Doreen Virtue Ph.D. CONSTANT CRAVINGS: What Your Food Cravings Mean and How To Overcome Them. Carson, CA: Hay House Inc., 2011. Print.
CAUSE #2 - PHYSICAL: Stress and fatigue, amongst other physical factors, can also cause unwanted food cravings. When we are stressed, overworked, and/or physically exhausted, the body's demand for fuel increases exponentially. Unfortunately, the body knows all too well that the quickest way to supply that much needed fuel is through processed foods and products high in refined sugar. These foods require very little digestion and quickly boost the body's glucose levels, providing a burst in energy - which is typically short lived and ends with a crash, which then prompts the body to seek out another quick source of energy in a never ending cycle of fluctuating blood sugar and energy levels (this is one of the basic (and most overlooked) mechanisms responsible for all types of addictions). In addition, it has been scientifically proven that white/refined/artificial sugars (and products that contain them) have a similar addiction profile than drugs such as heroin and cocaine - In fact, they have been found to alter brain chemistry and cause dependency in similar ways to these common drugs. There are many processed food companies that spend millions (some even reported to spend billions) annually to research "innovative" ways to make their products as addicting as possible within the confines of the law.
SOLUTION #2 - REDUCE STRESS, BALANCE YOU BLOOD SUGAR & MAKE WISE CHOICES:
Rather, than allowing yourself to become over stressed and physically exhausted, pushing your body to reach out for quick sources of energy at any cost - be actively conscious of your body's needs and allow yourself to get ample amounts of rest, while practicing stress reduction techniques. Prioritize yourself first above all else to make sure that you always allow ample time in your schedule to feed yourself properly, rather than opt for convenience/fast food just to keep up with an over ambitious to-do list! In addition, take note that stable blood sugar levels is a key step to overcoming food cravings (and any type of addiction). The best way to keep your blood sugar stable is to snack every 90 minutes between meals - and to eat a varied diet rich in whole foods. Finally, be mindful of the latest research findings on the effects of sugar/processed foods on your health and don't allow these profit driven companies to get you hooked with their slick marketing and strategically engineered "food" products.
CAUSE #3 - BACTERIAL: There are 10X more microbial cells in our body than human cells! These microbes regulate and control many aspects of our health, including our "cravings" for certain foods. Microbes require a reliable source of fuel for their metabolism and have developed very sophisticated tactics to ensure that their host (i.e., YOU) supply it to them. In short, "good" bacteria (i.e., probiotics) require healthy sources of pre-biotics, including plenty of fibre obtained from fresh fruit, vegetables, etc. Interestingly, when our levels "good" bacteria are balanced, we have a natural inclination to eat healthier. In contrast, when the levels of "bad" microbes (viruses, fungi, bacteria, and parasites) are high, we have a tendency to develop cravings for unhealthy foods. In fact, these "bad" microbes thrive off of processed foods, including sugar, alcohol, dairy, bread, etc. and they have the capacity to make you specifically crave those foods to ensure their survival.
SOLUTION #3 - STARVE THE "BAD" BUGS, FEED THE GOOD BUGS:
It is possible to overcome your food cravings by simply starving out the bad microbes, while feeding the good microbes. I've discussed healthy dietary practices (click here to read) and other ways to optimize the gut flora (click here to read) in previous articles.
CAUSE #4 - NUTRITIONAL: The body's innate wisdom is acutely aware of its needs at every moment. When left unimpeded, your body will be naturally inclined toward the foods that would be most beneficial to it at any given time - whether to counter a nutrient deficiency, help detoxify harmful substances from the body, or even because that particular food may contain specific properties to assist the immune system in fighting off pathogens. However, factors such as stress, major nutrient deficiencies, hormone imbalances, and dehydration can cause breakdowns in the body's lines of communication and our innate wisdom can become increasingly out of tune - leading to strong inclinations, even cravings, for foods (and even substances like cigarets and alcohol) that are destructive to our health.
SOLUTION #4 - TUNE IN & LISTEN TO YOUR BODY:
Before you can truly listen to and trust the messages your body is sending, recall how your emotions, levels of stress, and even gut bacteria can cause your body strong inclinations/cravings to harmful foods and substances. That said, you need to make sure that your innate wisdom is well tuned and that your body's lines of communication are open, so that you don't receive mixed messages about your body's true needs. This process will automatically be achieved as a result of comprehensively addressing the previous 3 causes of cravings and by starting to make conscious food choices to balance your nutrition. At this point, your body's innate wisdom will shine through and guide you effortlessly to what your body truly needs!
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Registered Holistic Nutritionist & Certified BodyTalk Practitioner