We all have cravings, but why? Why some things and not others? And why is it usually for unhealthy things?
Dr. Doug Lisle’s Pleasure Trap goes into great detail about what actually happens to our brains when we want the bad stuff (or typically the bad stuff ). In a nutshell, every time we feel good from an experience or something we’ve consumed, new connections form in the brain asking for more. Just think of the thousands of chocolate-wanting neurons begging for more!
Also, our minds are designed to put in the least amount of eff ort for the biggest pleasure response. This definitely worked to our advantage before the agricultural age, when we foraged (and hunted) for food. We ate what we needed to survive. But now that we have easy access to way more food, and a big chunk of it is incredibly unhealthy, this primal instinct is slowly (or quickly) killing us. This chemical makeup in our brains can make us dependent on a whole host of things: sugar, salt, caffeine, or booze.
On top of that, processed and junk ‘food’ is designed to make us addicted. Food scientists have this in mind with every ingredient they create and add to that can of soup, flavoured crisps, McDonald’s fries, or flavoured drinks that most people consume daily. This makes it physically difficult to give up certain foods. Our bodies feel like they can’t live without them. Even the New York Times has featured an article about this very real Orwellian problem. Pretty disturbing.
You can crave certain foods because you’re lacking a nutrient found in that
food. It might not be the best food for you or even the best source, but your brain asks for it. When you’re dying for chocolate at that time of the month, you might be low in magnesium. Yes, it could be the sugar in there, but specifically craving chocolate when you’re PMSing might be a deficiency issue; try pumpkin seeds, quinoa, almonds, oatmeal, spinach, black-eyed peas, or a baked potato instead. I often recommend a quality calcium/magnesium supplement to moderate cravings that will also help reduce other PMS symptoms, including cramps.
We can also have an emotional attachment to certain foods and the memories that come with what Mum used to cook for us when we weren’t feeling well. You may associate ice cream with having a reward. Or you may have a connection with certain holiday meals that can be hard to break. If you think that Christmas just won’t be the same without turkey, butter, sugar, or tons of wine, it may be hard to make a change. But there are plenty of healthier options and recipes available. Eventually, you won’t miss it.
I recommend adding foods that will help you thrive. Get creative. Try something new every week or two. Your palate will change, and you’ll start to crave more of the good stuff . It’s also important not to see the changes as deprivation. Feeling like you’re missing out on the joys of life will set you up to fail. Think of all the new foods you get to try and how much better you’re feeling instead. If you’re having a tough time saying no, then get help from friends and family or even a support group. Having people around you who have been there is a great tool.
One thing you won’t hear from me is any suggestions for dessert. This isn’t because I don’t want you to have a treat. If you’re going to eat something sweet, I prefer it in fruit form. And if you’re eating out much or buying premade foods, soups, salad dressings, or sauces, you’re eating too much sugar. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that people who eat 2,000 calories per day should limit their daily sugar intake to 10 teaspoons, or 42 grams. But most Americans eat about 21 teaspoons, or 88 grams per day. The American Heart Association recommends 6-9 teaspoons (25-38 grams), which I think is more like it. When it comes to sugar, less is always best.
Should you give in to these cravings? Only you can truly answer that. For most people, indulging occasionally is a slippery slope. Or if you are avoiding certain foods for ethical reasons, I’d say stick with it. There are plenty of physicians like myself who get it and will listen to your needs and concerns.
L.Ac., one of Los Angeles’ best-known acupuncturists and author of Fix Your Mood With Food, is the powerhouse behind the Live Natural Live Well brand, embracing a popular blog, YouTube videos and monthly radio show. She is passionate about spreading the message of holistic living and empowering her patients to heal themselves, and has attracted broad media attention from Psychology Today, Time, FOX News, Billboard Magazine and VegNews, among others. She’s available for phone consultations. You can find her at www.livenaturallivewell.com. This article is an extract from Fix Your Mood with Food. Twitter – DocHeather, Instagram – thedocheather, Facebook – /docheather1