Understanding Food Cravings and Addictions

I think we’ve all experienced emotional eating at some point whether it was to ease boredom, soothe uncomfortable emotions or even celebrate, rather than to satisfy REAL hunger. We may even have felt powerless to our cravings. Unfortunately, emotional hunger can’t be satisfied with food and perpetuates a self defeating cycle of guilt and shame.

How can you spot emotional hunger and what can you do about it? Emotional hunger usually pops up as sudden craving for a specific food, often resulting from a specific situation or emotional trigger. Another clue is a feeling of not being satisfied even after being full.

If you pay close attention to your cravings, you can create a practice of replacing your "unhealthy comfort foods" with more nutritious versions, while also satisfying your cravings.

Cravings can be caused by imbalances in your body, mood swings, dehydration, nutrient deficiencies and general poor food choices. Social influences can also cause over-eating or knowingly indulging in foods that don't agree with you. Mindful Eating is a practice that develops awareness of your eating habits and allows you to pause between triggers and your actions.

Mindful eating involves eating only when hungry, taking small bites, chewing slowly, enjoying every bite; appreciating the different textures, tastes and aromas of our food.

Tips to Reduce Emotional Eating and Overeating:

  • Awareness. Identify your personal triggers. Most emotional eating is linked to unpleasant feelings but it can also be triggered by positive emotions, such as rewarding yourself.

  • Hydrate. When a trigger hits, dehydration is often a player. If drink a large glass of water, you may be surprised how quickly the craving will pass.

  • Pause. Emotional eating tends to be automatic and "mindless". When a craving hits, take a moment to pause and reflect to give yourself an opportunity to make another decision. Don’t forbid yourself, just tell yourself to wait a few minutes. While your waiting, check in with yourself. Ask yourself “How am I feeling?” “What’s going on emotionally?” Even if you end up eating, you will have a better understanding of why you did it and can work on it next time.

  • Substitute. Find other ways to deal with your emotions. If you don’t know how to manage your emotions in a constructive way that doesn’t involve food, you won’t be able to control your general eating habits for long.

  • Breathe. Accept your feelings – even the bad ones. When you allow your emotions to flow through you rather than suppressing them with food (or any substance) you build inner strength and confidence rather than feeling powerless to food.

  • Self Monitor. Keep a food diary. Tracking how you feel before, during and after your meals while keeping you accountable. Often emotional eating involves mindlessly eating large quantities, nutrient deficient food choices and snacks instead of meals. A good way to stay aware and correct a harmful pattern is to simply document and stay accountable to everything you consume during the day.

  • Food Prep. Most often poor food choices is simply a result of convenience. Designating one day a week to prepare your foods in advance sets you up to win. If you have healthy options when it's "GO-time", your chances of winning over cravings is much higher.

  • Sacred Dining. Consider meals a sacred time to enjoy the present moment and nourish your body. Never eat standing up, watching TV or with other distractions. Sit with your food, enjoying ever bite, imagine where it came from, and express gratitude towards the people who helped make it available to you now. Take small bites and chew slowly in order to experience the different flavors and sensations of each bite.

  • Be hungry. Don't wait until you are ravenous to eat. Skipping meals and not drinking water all day will cause you to overeat and burden your digestion resulting in elimination issues and premature aging. Have a meal plan for each day. Be sure to pack snacks or healthy meals if you are on the go or at work all day with few breaks.

  • Grocery Store. Stay on the outside aisles of the grocery store. Most healthy options are on the outer pathways while snack and processed foods are on the center aisles. Staying focused on fresh produce and whole foods will help avoid impulse purchases and poor food choices.

  • Fire up your digestion. Drinking warm water will help activate your digestive enzymes while also calming hunger. Eating fresh celery before your meal will also help release more HCL to promote better digestion.

Using food from time to time as a pick me up or reward isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's about the awareness, nutritional value and frequency. When eating or drinking is your primary coping mechanism, you can get stuck in an unhealthy cycle and never address the real problem. Most importantly don't beat yourself up. Start where you are today. Remember...

A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. .