What’s happening with your cravings? Are you managing to keep yourself busy and not needing food to combat the boredom, or is it so bad that you’re stopping by the kitchen every few minutes? As the weeks’ of lockdown are increasing, I’m finding that more and more people are struggling with being pent-up in one space, not being able to do many of the nurtures that would normally keep them busy – work, socialising, shopping, being in nature etc. So I thought I’d take this time to explain the different types of cravings, and help you determine whether you can manage them.
When I see a client, they often tell me that they are chocoholics, and can’t do without their daily fix. But two weeks later when I see them for their first follow up, they are feeling very different and many ‘had no cravings at all’. Why would that be? How can cravings just disappear? The simple answer is that most of the cravings that people have are in fact self-inflicted. I divide cravings into 3 groups, physiological, habitual and psychological. Let’s take a look at them and what they entail.
Physiological cravings are cravings that come from your body because it requires energy. When your blood sugars drop your body starts sending out messages to say that there is a need for food. In the early stages of this message, there is no major effect on the body, just a small emptiness or hollowness in the stomach area. If the blood sugar drops lower, these signals become stronger and eventually you will want to eat ‘anything’ and the food that seems most appealing tends to be the favourite junk food – that food just stands out for you and the ‘craving’ for it has begun.
Many people have these cravings at night, after dinner, in which case the above analysis does not make sense. But it is still a physiological reason, because the body was not adequately fed during the day and so there is an excessive craving at the end of the day.
To physiologically keep your body at its happiest, you need to make sure that you eat regularly during the day, starting early and eat more during the day than later in the day. Once you set your plan up this way, and eat enough for your needs, your physiological cravings will subside.
In the example above with two weeks into an eating plan there are ‘no more cravings’ – it is precisely the physiological cravings that I have removed by balancing the clients eating plan and giving the body the energy and correct nutrition when it needs it. This helps us to determine whether there are psychological cravings at play.
Let’s look at habitual cravings now as these often come together with the physiological cravings and are also easily ‘cured’.
Habitual cravings are those cravings that you have paired with another event or situation. For example:
• Having a biscuit with your tea or coffee
• Having popcorn at the movies
• Having a glass of wine when you get home after a stressful day
• Eating at night when you are watching TV
There are many situations and events that we pair with food. This takes a little more time and energy to figure out, but it’s worth it if you want to learn how to conquer your cravings. The best way to determine this is to keep a food diary. Write down when (and what) you eat, and what you are doing at the time, whether it is for stomach hunger or ‘just because’. You should see a pattern emerge.
I believe a lot of stress or even boredom eating are actually habitual cravings. It is a habit we have learned over time to use food to dissipate the stress or get rid of the boredom. Food (and drinks too) have become such a ‘helper’ with the little frustrations of life. And because the junk food tastes soooo good (completely subjective as to what you like or don’t like, but I’m saying this as a general to what people feel) it’s become the norm to use it for anything – nourishment as well as nurture. The bottom line is that we need to learn to nurture our souls with things (walks, relaxation, exercise, spending quality time with loved ones etc.), not food!
And that brings us to psychological cravings.
Psychological cravings are those cravings when people use food to fill a void, an unhappiness. When the conversations in their heads are very negative and self-sabotaging, and their anxieties are high. They generally have a very different approach to food, and food is the one thing that can make them feel better. These cravings are real, very real. And they unfortunately take lots of time, practice and patience to correct.
I’m not going to go into too much detail on the psychological cravings, but the good news is that they are not half as common as people actually think. Work out first if you are keeping your body in a good physiological space, then look at whether you can get rid of some of the bad habits you have developed. Make sure that you are giving yourself enough non-food nurture, and soon you’ll be able to get to your peak physical health.
P.S. I work with clients to get them out of their bad eating spaces – set up eating plans to maximise their potential, and work through any psychological eating that may be holding you back. I am here to help you if you would like help with this. The group programs also tap into and work with these topics.