Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Anatomy of a craving

I'm fascinated with food cravings and what they actually mean.  When I really pay attention, my diet seems to be for the most part based on satisfying cravings, rather than what will nourish my body the most.  The strongest seem to be for caffeine, sugar, and bread.  But what's really behind these cravings?  What is it that I am lacking that is making me crave these foods which ultimately do not make me feel good?

In her book "The Diet Cure", Julia Ross explains how she helps many people overcome their cravings and food addictions by using amino acid supplements to balance their brain chemistry and blood sugar.  She says that we are trying to self-medicate ourselves using these foods which provide a temporary solution to our low levels of certain neurotransmitters.  Using food in this way prevents us from finding a long-term solution.  What I love about this is that it does not mean that those who overeat or who crave sweets are simply weak-willed or gluttonous.  I think this old view needs to be completely scrapped and replaced by a biochemical explanation which shows that when we crave something, it is our brain's way of telling us what we are lacking.  By using these cravings as clues to figure out what is out of balance, they can be a tool rather than something to feel guilty about.

When I have a craving, I can't seem to get it out of my mind.  On my way home today I was in such a frenzy to finally get there and eat the tuna sandwich with chips that I was fantasizing about since leaving work.  Instead of enjoying the warm weather and the walk to the subway, I was in a frenzy to just get home.  It wasn't so much a physical hunger, but a psychological one.  Usually this makes me feel like there is something wrong with me, that I need to crack the whip and stop obsessing about food.  I'm trying to instead accept that at this point in time I often feel the need to eat certain things, which either comfort me or provide me with what I think I need at that moment.  It's looking for the right thing in the wrong place.

I also happened to have a craving for pancakes soaked in butter and syrup today.  I remembered how my grandmother used to make these for me when I was younger, and how she used to always take care of me.  All of a sudden I felt sad, thinking about her and how she is sick now.  Then I realized that the craving could have been an attempt to relive my youth when I would spend time with her and always be well fed.  So it wasn't anything about the food, but what the food represented for me.  I think our cravings can also tell us a lot about our emotions.

I'm not going to fight against myself anymore.   I think by finding the cause of whatever cravings I have, I will be able to work through them and get to the point where they are not an issue.  Then I will be able to make food choices based on what my body needs.   Fighting these cravings with willpower misses the whole point; they serve a purpose and are taking care of a need that has not been satisfied in other ways.

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