Satisfy Food Cravings, Don't Kick Them

There's thousands of articles and help books devoted to kicking cravings, but what if your food cravings don't need to be denied? Learn why you should satisfy food cravings, not kick them. 

How much time and energy have you spent trying to overcome food cravings? I don't mean that as a rhetorical question, I actually want you to take a moment to think about it.

If your answer is way too much, I don't think you're alone judging by the 600,000+ results I got after googling "stop food cravings."

And who wouldn't want to "Crush Your Food Cravings" or "Get Rid of Junk Food Cravings For Good?" I mean, who ever craves a sensible snack of carrot sticks and hummus? Nope. It's a pint of coconut chocolate chip gelato for me baby.

The thing is, I'm a firm believer that your body knows what's best and will tell you what it needs. One simply has to filter out the noise of diet culture and tune in. That's the basic idea Intuitive Eating was built on.

There's plenty of good science to back up the idea that tuning into your body will guide you to overall, more nutritious choices. One of the most fascinating and profound was a study done in the 1930s by a pediatrician named Clara Davis. She took 15 orphans, most of which were suffering from the deleterious effects of, well, being an orphan in the 1930s. She provided them with an endless array of 34 foods and allowed the toddlers to decide what and how much they ate without outside guidance. She found the children instinctively chose the foods that were best for their individual needs, for example, eating more protein during times of growth and, perhaps most interesting, a child who drank cod liver oil until he cured himself of rickets.

Your body knows what's best for you in the moment - not Dr. Oz or Oprah or that friend on facebook with the 6-pack abs. Or even me. But what is a craving if it's not your body's way of communicating it's needs? What signal are you sending your body by constantly ignoring it? This is the inherent danger with dieting - it's basically telling your body it doesn't know what it's talking about.

Food cravings can come from positive or negative places. A couple weekends ago, Scott and I spent the afternoon shopping for art at an open studio event. We found ourselves downtown on Main St., near Sweet Cream Co. and their incredible handcrafted ice cream. Ice cream had been on my mind for the past week, probably because the temperature was just starting to creep towards spring. So, we both got a cup with two scoops (zucchini bread and classic Tahitian vanilla for me, in case you were wondering), sat outside on a bench, enjoyed people watching, the sunny, breezy day and of course, our ice cream. That would be a positive craving.

Other cravings have a negative trigger. These cravings pop up when you've been depriving yourself of a specific food or adequate calories/nutrients. They arise when you've been ignoring hunger for too long. They stem from a desire to distract yourself from an intensely negative emotion, like sadness, stress or boredom. Because when you're eating cookies, you're not thinking about (or dealing with) the real issue that's troubling you.

But even these negative cravings aren't inherently bad. Your body is needing ice cream in that moment for a very real reason. Your craving is trying to tell you something, that you need nourishment, either in the form of food, or emotional nourishment. Depriving yourself of that craving is just as harmful as immediately turning to food, because both, in essence are ignoring the real problem. Food cravings don't need to be denied, they need to be investigated. 

Stop feeling guilty about food cravings and start getting curious. Indulge your food cravings (yes, even for Krispy Kreme donuts dipped in hot fudge). This may mean eating a crapton of sugar for a while as the novelty wears off, but it's the ONLY way you can build trust in yourself. The catch? Before you do, hit the pause button for a moment. Tune into your body and ask it what it really needs. At first, it's needs might not be very obvious hidden behind the intense cravings, but eventually, it will become more clear. Maybe your body needs a slice of chocolate cake....or maybe it just needs a break.

With time, you'll build confidence and trust and knowing when food is the thing that will fulfill your craving. At first, satisfying food cravings is scary business, so I highly recommend working with a dietitian who specializes in Intuitive Eating. If you live in Columbia, SC or are interested in virtual nutrition counseling, check out my services and shoot me an email if you're interested in scheduling. Or, search for a certified intuitive eating counselor in your area.

When was the last time you remember craving a food? Was it a positive or negative craving? What do you think your body was trying to tell you?