Cravings are one of the most common experiences we get asked about. And what we say about cravings isn’t always what people are expecting to hear. We believe that food cravings are our bodies way of giving us important information. We don’t usually recommend that people try to ignore, suppress or fight a food craving. Our experience tells us that doing this only tends to make the craving worse. There are lots of reasons people experience food cravings. Our bodies are very clever and have built in mechanisms which are able to detect the levels of various nutrients and minerals in our cells.
Sometimes a craving can be your body trying to tell you that it needs something. This is perhaps most well known in pregnant women when people are recovering from a period of the illness like the flu. I personally experienced this after a week or two of making the most of hotel buffets. When I get home, I often notice that I crave fresh salad, fruit and vegetables. Most people aren’t used to paying attention to their body in this way. Listening out for the wise messages our bodies naturally give us about what they need. But we can practice and get better at this by developing skills and introspective awareness.
In fact, doing so can be a powerful way to take care of our body’s needs. Another common reason people experience cravings is because they’re consciously trying to restrict themselves from eating a particular food or food group. Sometimes there will be important reasons for this, such as having a medical condition or allergy. But often this is because people are following a diet or trying to lose weight.
Does this sound familiar?
We have certainly had the experience of trying to cut out a particular food like chocolate. And soon chocolate is all we can think about. There is a phenomenon psychologist referred to as ironic process theory, which shows that the more we try not to think about something ironically, the more we’ll think about it. The key, therefore, to reducing cravings for specific foods is to find ways to make enjoying these foods a regular part of your eating routine.
Once you know you can have these foods on a regular basis, they’ll soon become less interesting and exciting and your cravings will reduce. We get that this can feel pretty scary for some people, though. So one way we can do this is through a process known as habituation. Look out for a future session on cravings, which will contain more information about how to do this.
Food cravings can also be a way of your body communicating an important emotional need. As we know, food can become a way to soothe, distract or suppress our emotions. If we have unmet emotional needs in our lives, our bodies might be trying to take care of us by getting us to eat.
One way to reduce these types of cravings is to spend some time thinking about how you can take care of and get your emotional needs met.
Exactly what this will look like will be different for different types of emotions?
That could include things like seeking support from a loved one, setting boundaries with a colleague, planning or problem solving, getting enough sleep, ensure that you’re eating enough throughout the day or taking regular breaks when you need them. If you are experiencing mental health difficulties, it can be useful to talk to a qualified healthcare professional about this. If this feels relevant to you, you might also find our blog series Unemotional Eating Helpful.