Have you ever found yourself longing for a specific type of food, even when you’re not actually hungry? That was a rhetorical question — of course, you have. While a “hankering” for foods is completely normal, an insatiable drive for specific foods often indicates deeper issues like emotional distress or even nutrient deficiencies and hormonal imbalances.
Deep cravings come from our bodies saying “I have unmet needs.” We may be missing particular vitamins or minerals and we keep eating in an attempt to get that nutrient. This is why eating a wide variety of healthy foods is important. If we eat more calories from cookies, chips and Chinese takeout, our body is still starved for the basic nutrients to carry out everyday functions – like thinking, or an immune system response. You feel tired and cranky and want to solve it with a pizza when your body is really just depleted of iron or b vitamins.
Another unmet need might be emotional distress. One of the most frustrating things about food cravings is that they can show up even if we’ve just finished lunch! The term ‘comfort food’ was coined for a reason! What is your comfort food? Why does it feel so good? My friend Janet loved to overeat ice cream when she was lonely. It reminded her of spending Sunday afternoons with her dad when she was a child. They would have special time together and eat ice cream. She was trying to feel a little less lonely whenever she ate ice cream. Her approach to the cravings was to find things that fed her need to connect with someone she loved—looking through old photos of her dad, calling her daughter on the phone, chatting with the neighbor, or cuddling with her cat.
Begin to observe if you crave food when you’re feeling bored, angry, lonely, tired or upset. Learning to identify and manage emotions before you’re halfway through a tub of ice cream will not only enable you to stop your cravings in their tracks, it will also empower you to choose food (or another activity) that will nourish your body and help keep you on track for all your health goals.
So, here’s a little trick for you to try out. Get a piece of paper — it doesn’t have to be big, a post-it note would do! Write out these few questions, so that the next time a craving strikes, you can remember to H.A.L.T.:
Am I Hungry? Has it been more than 3-4 hours since I last ate?
Am I Angry? Do I need to diffuse this feeling with some exercise, journaling or conversation
Am I Lonely? How many hugs have I given today? Can I visit or call a friend?
Am I Tired or Thirsty? Do I need more rest? Meditation? Or a big glass of water?
By asking yourself these questions, you’ll be better able to identify whether you really want to eat to nourish your body, or whether you’d rather take a relaxing walk along Lake Michigan, read a book, chat with a friend. If you are truly hungry, give your body the gift of healthy choices. Plan ahead – buy apples, oranges, almonds, whole grain crackers, canned hummus, RX Bars or Greek yogurt. Before you head out anywhere, have one or two of these choices with you. If you are stressed or stuck at work and have no healthy options available, you will choose whatever is convenient rather than eating something that truly supports your health. For healthy sweet treats at home choose applesauce with cinnamon on top, date and coconut rolls, chocolate avocado pudding, an oatmeal cookie or yogurt with fresh fruit.
No matter what you choose to do, what is important is that you’re making a mindful decision to take care of yourself. There’s only one YOU on this planet, and they deserve to be treated well!