Decoding Your Cravings: What your snack choices can tell you about your emotions
Ever Wondered Why You Crave Certain Foods?
Humans in general – and women in particular, can often turn to food as a means of celebrating, coping with loss, dealing with stress – and many more emotions. Food really is more than just food – and depending on the person, it can contain meaning, messages and emotions that are so strong, they feel as if they’re ingrained in our DNA.
Have you ever wondered why you crave certain foods – and how that craving can change, depending on your mood or situation? It’s no coincidence that most people have a go-to category of snacks and comfort foods that they favor. Below, I’ll outline the major categories of foods, and the common emotional and psychological associations inherent in each. As you read, think about the snacks you simply MUST have. Can you relate to any of the associations?
Our cravings are usually grouped in a few main categories, as listed below:
Salty/Crunchy: Cravings for chips, salty snacks and crunchy foods often indicate stress, boredom or deadlines. Have you ever consumed a family size bag of chips or a whole can of Pringles while trying to finish a paper, meet a deadline or simply because you had “nothing to do”?
Incidentally, salty foods is actually very counterproductive in these scenarios, because they can actually RAISE your blood pressure (internal stress barometer) – making the problem worse.
Sweet: Sugary snacks indicate a lack of energy and focus (how many times have you hit the vending machine at work at 3pm), as well as the need to feel loved, upbeat, or emotionally balanced. Sugar has been said to be more addictive than cocaine, because it activates more areas of the brain that trigger pleasure hormones. The rush that you get can be truly addictive and brings about a false sense of love and enjoyment. This soon disappears, causing you to reach for more sweets to recover the feeling.
The emotional and neurological connection to sugar is why it’s so common for women especially, to dive into a pint of ice cream or consume an entire pack of Oreos when feeling down or lonely. In fact, most of the respondents of our Sacred Self-Care Assessment stated that this is how they deal with emotional stress.
Caffeine: In all its forms, caffeine is another common go-to and personally, used to be my Achilles heel. Women who consume a lot of coffee and other caffeinated products are often tired, overworked and overwhelmed, carry a lot of responsibility, are required to maintain a high level of mental alertness for long periods of time and spend a lot of time helping others or putting out fires.
While many people enjoy a fine cup of coffee or espresso for the richness and flavor – if you find yourself downing multiple cups a day or running a tab at your nearest Starbucks, you make have an issue with stress and overwhelm. And much like sugar, caffeine provides a temporary altered state – one in which you are more alert, quicker to respond and experience improved cognitive ability. Until you crash, that is.
Doughy/Breads/Cake/Cookies: Aptly described as “comfort foods”, these types of snacks often fill two main needs. 1. Sugar – which as mentioned above, brings about a false sense of pleasure and comfort on a hormonal level, and 2. A nostalgic and emotional comfort, due to the fact that we often associate baked goods with our mother’s or grandmother’s kitchen, feeling cared for and happiness.
It’s also important to note that if you find yourself being inordinately attracted to sugary or doughy foods – you may be dealing with an internal yeast or candida overgrowth. Candida (a fungus) feeds off of sugar and starches, and will often stimulate cravings, in order to allow the organisms to continue to feed, grow and spread. Having frequent yeast infections, frequent unexplained headaches or a white coating on your tongue may all indicate a candida overgrowth.
Dairy: Cravings for milk, cheese, ice cream and other dairy products has long been associated with comfort, consolation, and feelings of maternal love (positive mental association from childhood), and you will often see someone consume more dairy products when they feel lonely, missing relatives, or are seeking to “fill up” some emotion.
Eating too much dairy can cause an enormous amount of congestion in the body, but for those with a dairy addiction – they will often deal with any level of discomfort to experience the feelings of comfort, satisfaction, love and care they get when eating cheese or ice cream.
Have you seen yourself in any of these descriptions? If so, it’s not entirely your fault. How we relate to food is influenced by a number of factors, including:
–> Emotional Connection – As humans, our brains work by building connections and associations between things, events and emotions. We can often gravitate to a particular type of food because we connect it to a particular emotion, event or person.
–> Advertising/External Programming – This trigger is huge, as foods manufactures literally spend billions of dollars to create a desire for their products. This is done in many ways – both overt, and subconscious. Extensive research is done and people are paid a ton of money to figure out how to get you hooked on foods that often have no nutritional value, and can even cause worse emotional and physical reactions. And they’re often extremely successful.
–> Inherited Patterns – Very often, our eating habits mirror the things and ways that we saw our parents and those around us eat. We can also inherit emotional food associations, and similar ways of using food to deal with sadness, stress, joy, and pain. For this reason, you’ll often see families in which many of the members are overweight, or in which coming together over certain types of food seems to further cements the bond between family members. The good thing is if you have inherited negative food patterns, it is possible to reverse them, Alhamdulillah.
–> Chemical Stimulants – Food in its natural state breaks down into individual components and elements, which are absorbed and used to send signals and performs actions in various parts of the body. Also, specific foods trigger chemical messengers in our brains that can elevate our mood, make us feel a sense of comfort or energy. However, when naturally occurring in real food – these are balanced and don’t usually throw a person off kilter.
When it comes to artificial flavors, additives, colors, preservatives, etc. – these are isolated and potent chemicals that are added to food (to mimic or enhance normal responses brain/emotional to food). These chemicals are absorbed into the brain and bloodstream and can cause havoc on our delicate internal hormonal balance. This is why many children who are considered ADHD will improve dramatically when you remove artificial and processed food from their diet.
Tools for Combating Cravings
There are a few things you should know about the (often unhealthy) cravings we experience. Firstly, the feelings of comfort, stress relief or happiness that we are “feeding”, is often temporary. Usually, after a binge, guilt sets in. It becomes worse when you realize that the food didn’t solve the original problem and may now be causing feelings of low self-worth (Did I eat all that?! Who would do something like this?), feeling a loss of self-control – and worst of all, it can lead to engaging in some dangerous or compulsive behavior – such as purging.
We will all succumb to cravings from time to time – that’s natural. However, if you find yourself staring at the bottom of a pint of ice cream or empty bag of chips too often, you’ll want to pay a bit more attention to what triggers your cravings and better equip yourself to dealing with stress or emotions in a more effective way.
Before allowing yourself to sink into a food fueled spike or depression, take a minute to stop and think clearly about the following:
– What is the underlying issue or emotion that is triggering your craving?
– Is there an uncomfortable feeling your trying to avoid, a relationship problem you’re struggling with, or a deadline that’s stressing you out (journaling or free-writing is a great way to figure this out)?
– What actions you take to change your circumstance. It may be as simple as changing your location (away from temptation), finding an alternate enjoyable activity, or squarely addressing the reason for your stress.
– What physical help or emotional support can you seek from others to truly address the issues you face, instead of succumbing to the craving? You may not be as alone as you think.
– If you’re truly hungry, what’s a healthy/less unhealthy substitute can you eat? Often, if you distract yourself with another activity or food, the craving will fade.
By understanding the psychology and physiology behind cravings, and taking concrete steps to deal with the REAL issue at hand, you can often alleviate the need to loose oneself in a pint of ice cream, inshaAllah.
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