should I eat the food I'm craving?
I get asked this question all the time! There’s confusion around whether cravings are “bad” and if you choose to indulge, it means you’re weak and without self-control. These types of judgments create unnecessary mental chatter and only serve to erode the trust you place in your body. If you feel an urge to eat a particular food, your physical, emotional or spiritual self has identified a need and is asking you to fulfill it. Remember that your body is on your side. It is your biggest advocate, working in your favor 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is not your enemy, nor does it need to be controlled! While it’s entirely up to you whether or not you oblige, you may feel conflicted as to whether or not you can trust the source - What if I’m craving chocolate? Or cookies? Or pasta? Why don’t I ever crave healthy food?
While it’s wonderful in theory to automatically give your body whatever it asks for, it’s also possible that that food might not make you feel great in your body. Also, your past reliance on sugar, carbohydrates or fat may have perpetuated an emotional desire for these foods. For instance, sugar creates a dopamine release in the brain so that you come to crave it, and if you’ve got certain health goals in mind, it might not actually be in your interest to over-do it on sugar. Thus the age-old question is born: to indulge or not to indulge?
Cultivating trust in your body is a process, and teaching your body that you’ll listen when it speaks is a powerful reinforcement of self-respect.
If you aren’t sure whether or not to concede on a craving, try asking yourself these questions:
How will I feel afterwards?
Start by first identifying your ideal state of feeling, both physically and emotionally. You might identify with any or all of the following examples:
Light on my feet
Without an upset stomach, headache, energy crashes, etc.
Now identify, based on past experience or best guess, how you’ll feel after eating what you’re craving. Does this align with how you want to feel? Is this food supportive of your wellbeing?
2. What need will I satisfy - physical or emotional?
We all have an emotional attachment to food. It’s so ingrained in our lives that it would be impossible not to! But eating purely for emotional gain, or to cope with emotions you’d rather avoid, is the start of muddy waters. This is the appropriate time to evaluate whether or not you’re truly hungry. Think about what your hunger signals are - growling stomach, empty feeling, low energy, dizziness, and so on. Will this food first fulfill a need, and second nourish your body and not just your mind?
3. Do I feel any effects after eating this food?
There’s an incredibly interesting concept surrounding food allergies and food cravings. Sometimes, the food you crave and subsequently eat on a consistent basis can turn out to be a food you’re actually intolerant to. In a nutshell, certain foods may not agree with your body, thus creating inflammation and an allergic-type reaction in your body. Pay attention to whether certain foods upset your digestive system 5-24 hours after eating it. Sometimes, this reaction can occur without you experiencing any symptoms. To cope, your body will respond with increased dopamine, making you feel better than you actually should after eating that food. Food allergy tests and food journals can be helpful in figuring out intolerances.
4. What’s in the food I’m craving?
Our body has clever ways of poking us until we listen. Sometimes, craving a certain food is your body’s way of asking for a legitimate need. For instance, you might constantly crave apples. Think about what’s in an apple - carbohydrates, vitamin C, fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and so on. Evaluate whether or not your diet is lacking in these specific nutrients.
So, you might have correctly concluded that there’s no right or wrong answer! There is beauty in the freedom of not having strict, black and white food rules. Perhaps one day you choose to eat it, and the next day you don’t. Ultimately, variety in your diet is a good thing and you can never go wrong with developing trust in your body. By spending a bit of time on self-reflection and introspection when a craving pops up, you can become more confident in making decisions around food.