Constant Craving

February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

Do you ever have a really strong craving for something?

What is it? In terms of food, are you aware of certain items that really get to you. Ones that break through your armor of willpower. Ones that seem to call your name from the cupboard or refrigerator, and tempt you into eating them, even when you have rationalized that you are not hungry. Have you ever really sat down and questioned why these foods have this effect on you. I invite you all to try this. But first let’s see who the culprits are. Let me guess at what they can be. Ice cream, candy bars, doughnuts, fast food, burgers, french fries, bacon, cheese.

Notice how I didn’t mention broccoli, kidney beans, oatmeal or apples. Curious, no? These happen to be foods that I eat often, and really truly enjoy. But how come they don’t make the list of things I crave. I would venture to guess that they didn’t make you’re list either. Why is this? Yes, we may crave different things from time to time, but why are there certain foods that we are more likely to crave? Are they more satisfying? Do they simply taste better? Or do they connect with us on some level other than diet? The answers to these questions may be surprising.

There is a book called “Breaking the Food Seduction” by Neal Barnard, M.D. that taps into these very questions. The book has become a primary resource for me in cross-referencing theories I subscribe to regarding addiction and behavior. The book is clear to point out very early, that when it comes to certain food habits there is simply a physical basis to them. This may be tough for people to swallow, especially those like myself who come from a psychology background and believe in behavior change through rehabilitation. There is something to say for both approaches. The goal here is to not choose one “lens” of looking at things over the other. But to have them work complimentary.

So if you are a firm believer that it is gluttony, or weak will, or personality type that makes you cave into your cravings – you may want to reconsider.

Did you know that eating certain foods, like chocolate or cheese, create opiate effects in your brain. These foods stimulate the release of chemicals within the brain’s pleasure center, and this is what keeps you coming back to them for more. It will take physical changes to break these food habits, like adjusting your overall diet and increasing exercise. Exercise can release the same chemicals within the brain’s pleasure center. And along with adding new foods to your diet, your blood sugar will be regulated evenly and appetite controlling hormones will begin to work for you. Eventually you will become more resistant to cravings, and less likely to snack or binge. This is where your behavior meets your physical make-up.

Therefore I’m not saying that you should rule out your willpower or behavior when it comes to changing food habits. But I am saying to stop blaming yourself for your cravings. It may better serve you to understand the physiological effects that some foods have on you, and what physical changes you can make in your lifestyle. Noticing the interplay between these factors can give you insight on the nature of your cravings. Understanding the forces behind them, concluding that there may not be one thing to blame. Especially not you.

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