Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Food Cravings-What are They Really?

Emotional eating. It's what you are doing when you are putting food into your mouth at any time when you are not truly hungry.  I'm really familiar with this, and if you are here reading this blog, you might be too. 

I want to eat when I am tired.  It's pretty simple actually.  When I feel fatigued I have trained my body and mind to expect food.  Am I hungry? Not at all.  Do I eat anyway? You bet. Is that why I was overweight? Most likely it is a big part of it. And until I learned to replace eating when I am tired with doing something else when I am tired, my relationship with food was a nightmare and a source of embarrassment. Eating any food made me feel guilty, even when I was eating out of real hunger.

What do cravings have to do with all of this? Well, a craving for a certain food IS NOT THE SAME THING AS HUNGER. When you experience a craving, it is a signal that you are looking to experience a FEELING (in my case, more energy). That is why no amount of chocolate or potato chips can ever do the trick. What you are actually seeking is a sense of energy or calm, of excitement or peace.  In other words, we are seeking a feeling and not a food.

What are your sources of fatigue? Lack of sleep, stress, anger, boredom, loneliness--any and all of these feeling can trigger a craving for food because we have become habituated to eating in order to satisfy those needs.  But it doesn't work, does it?

Naturally thin people do not use food when they are tired, angry, lonely, or bored. They take a nap, work out their anger, call a friend or find something to do. Us emotional eaters need to rewire our brains' circuits. After all, what we're after is not the ice cream, chips or chocolate--it is a feeling of calm or revitalization at the end of the day. Junk food can never deliver this feeling.

Just remember, you are after a feeling, not a food. Find an alternate way of achieving that feeling. Maybe it's a warm bath or a hot cup of tea or a yoga class.  Or maybe just take a few deep breaths.  Make a practice out of using the alternative.  The alternative must feel like a reward.  Once you have done this multiple times, over the course of two to three months, your brain circuitry will be rewired in a healthy way.  You can do it and you are worth it!

Based on an article by Peggy Hall in the July/August issue of Clean Eating Magazine. http://www.cleaneatingmag.com/

If this post spoke to you and you are looking to dig deeper into how to overcome your cravings and not self-sabotage, here is a great article from Peer Trainer:


Geri said...

I actually think that calling emotional eating "craving" is confusing the issues. I'm not an emotional eater at all; I eat when I am hungry and for no other reason. But I have cravings. They are very real and they are related to hunger and nutritional status, not emotions. My cravings tell me what I need to eat. Sometimes I would kill someone for a salad. Sometimes (more rarely) I really need a hamburger. So I completely obey my cravings because when I do, I am satisfied and well-nourished.

I actually think cravings can be very useful in telling us what our bodies need. The problem, of course, comes when emotional eating is involved and there is a disconnect between what the body needs and what the brain wants.

Wendy said...

Excellent point Geri. The semantics may leave healthy eaters confused. The phenomenon that the article was referring to was the urge to eat anything when a person is not physiologically hungry. Is there a name for that other than "emotional eating"?

Geri said...

No, I think it's emotional eating; I think that's accurate. And I think it's important to call it that because there is a real difference between physical and emotional cravings, and I believe that it's important for emotional eaters to learn the difference. I am married to an emotional eater and we are currently working on separating "need" from "want" where food is concerned. I am finding that for him, cravings (even real ones) are so tied up with the shame of emotional eating that he has a hard time allowing himself to listen to his body, even when he's really hungry. It's so complicated...

Anonymous said...

I love this blog. I finished Alejandro Junger's Clean detox program this summer and have drastically changed what I eat but I am starting to slip again. Today's entry was super useful. Thanks.

Wendy said...

Geri-What you described about your husband is exactly how I felt--I felt guilty about eating anything because I sometimes ate for emotional reasons. Now I am free because I get it. I can totally enjoy food in a way that I never have, ever in my life. It is so wonderful. I hope that your husband will be able to experience this freedom.

Anonymous--I think that slipping is a very normal part of the process of overcoming eating issues. In fact, ever since I hit my "goal" weight at Weight Watchers I feel like my whole life has been one big slip (even though it hasn't really). I am starting to mentally regroup though by doing things like revisiting the subject of emotional eating. Right now I feel really confident in my ability to keep the weight off, as long as I keep doing what works for me (educating myself, recording my food, counting WW points, and exercising). Maintaining new healthy habits does take some work. Keep us posted!

Geri said...

Wendy -- we've been talking about your blog a LOT here in our house. A lot of what you write is *totally* what is going on in my husband's head; I am sure of it. He is back on WW right now (and doing well...) and I am working on getting him to consider being more fully close-to-vegetarian so he can eat high volume. We just went on vacation to the Galapagos and he ate almost nothing but fruits and vegetables for a week (by choice. Produce in Ecuador is *amazing*) and was sort of shocked at himself.

So keep writing. I think for men the issue is tougher because women talk about food and weight and men just don't. It's really a hidden issue for them. Having a place to read this sort of thing is especially helpful to men, I suspect.

Anonymous said...

Wendy, another great on-target post. I'm going to revisit the PT article, too. Thanks!

Lindsay said...

I think what Geri was originally saying sort of supports a theory that we discussed in my Nutrition class in college. Sometimes cravings are indicative of nutritional deficiencies. When you're low in iron, you might crave a steak. I went on a long family vacation, eating a lot of junk along the way, and after two weeks, I really just wanted some steamed broccoli.

It's really important not to confuse real live cravings with impulse eating. Taking vitamins has helped me not intensely crave things as much as I used to. But I have to be careful not to impulse eat when I get bored. :)

Wendy said...

I think if someone is craving broccoli, they don't have to worry so much about eating broccoli for emotional eatings. The type of cravings that I am referring to are the ones for foods with little or no nutritional value--like fried, salty foods or sugary processed foods. If you feel yourself craving those things, I think you should think about what feeling you are trying to achieve.

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