What Our Hunger Cravings Are Really Saying
Updated: Mar 14
Hunger cravings can really bushwhack you. I should know since I was in a constant battle with the munchies for most of my adult life. I believed resisting my cravings was necessary in order to be healthy, as was following a clean diet and a strict exercise regimen. I was proud of my ironclad discipline and saw it as a symbol of my commitment to health.
As I approached midlife, however, fatigue set in. My dietary vigilance made me grumpy. The thought of continuing on this tightrope would bring on tears of frustration. I began to notice how much precious time and energy I was spending on thinking, planning and worrying about food. I wanted to live differently. So, I started with facing my aversion to cravings with an open curiosity instead of my usual resistance.
"Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.' --Marie Curie
What do we really know about our hunger cravings? When did they become the enemy? In a basic sense, they’re merely our bodies communicating to us. But we worry that if we give in to our cravings, we’ll spiral out of control and binge. We don't trust ourselves.
Is emotional eating so bad, really? To put it into some perspective, eating enhances and creates positive emotional experiences. In fact, food cravings arise from regions of the brain that are responsible for pleasure and reward; it’s not surprising, then, that a lot of happy memories and pleasurable experiences centre around breaking bread with loved ones or cozying up with soul-satisfying nosh.
Unfortunately, we're wary of eating purely for emotional satisfaction. And we've lost our natural ability to eat intuitively. Instead, we play it safe by sticking to our meal plans, food combining or portion control. When we feel peckish, we drink water, chew gum and draw on all means of distractions until the urge passes.
But what if we stopped running away and held some space to really look at our cravings? The process of this inquiry might lead us to realize that in some ways, the very measures we take in the name of health are unhealthy. And they may actually be perpetuating our dreaded hunger hankerings. But the only way to explore this is to slow down our knee-jerk resistance and practice decoding them.
So, what can our hunger cravings really be telling us?
Lack of nutrition
We need a variety of foods to meet our nutritional needs. When this need isn’t being met, our bodies respond in the form of cravings. Research supporting this suggests that cravings don’t necessarily signal that our bodies want more food but that it wants more nutrients.
A diet of healthy food doesn’t necessarily mean we’re getting all the nutrients we need.
Certain diets that are touted as being healthy may actually lead to nutrient-deficiency because they require the elimination of whole categories of food. In a study on diet and health outcomes, researchers found that it is actually inadequate consumption of nutritious foods that is linked to more disease and death than overconsumption of any “bad” foods such as red meat, processed food, fat and sugar.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
When starting a new diet be mindful about how your body responds and adjust accordingly. Trust your experience of your body.
A no-brainer. But this also applies to those of us who think we’re eating enough, who regularly control our portions or the timing of our meals and the number of daily meals.
A lot of factors affect hunger - hormones, sleep, stress, varying levels of activity. As long as we're alive, we will always experience these variable states. Adhering to an eating regimen that doesn't take into account our biological and psychological fluctuations sets us up for failure. The sad part of this is that we blame ourselves when we stray from the food rules.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
Our efforts to control our eating actually creates an over-fixation on the food. Direct your attention instead to the signals from your body.
We live in a thin-obsessed society so the pressure to look a certain way is quite tremendous.
We restrict our calories to control our weight. We use exercise and other measures to maintain a certain number on a scale. But in doing so, we could actually be imposing a weight on our bodies that is incongruent with one that makes our bodies feel safe.
Our notion of an externalized ideal weight represents the prevailing idea of weight as an indicator of health. But we know that two people who fall in the same age, gender, weight and height category may still look very different from each other.
Trying to fit into a weight range that doesn’t take into consideration our unique physical traits and genetic constitution can make our bodies feel unsafe.
As a result, we might be getting food cravings or constant thoughts of food, not because we are weak-willed, but because our bodies don’t feel they can perform optimally at the current weight.
In a study on the Body Mass Index and mortality rate, it was found that a heavier weight allows the body to survive overwhelming bacterial infections, even at an advanced age. Our ability to store fat has helped humankind survive adversity and starvation. Women are also genetically designed to store more body fat than men for obvious (and wonderful) reasons. When we think of weight and body fat in this way, should a few extra pounds at the end of the day truly be cause for alarm?
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
It’s time we redefined our ideal weight to include what feels right to us as authentic individuals.
Specific Food restriction
So much of the information about health and nutrition we receive from society is steeped in diet culture and promotes food as either good or bad. This leads to stringent food rules and restrictive eating behaviour that are not sustainable. The stricter we are with our diets, the more we desire the forbidden food. And the longer we hold out, the stronger and more frequent our cravings become.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
When it comes to eating responsibly, we tend to adopt an all-or-nothing mentality which can actually undermine our health goals in the long run. Strive for balance. Food is not the enemy.
Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.--- Aristotle
Our core beliefs about health and nutrition could be the culprits behind our eating woes. To some extent, our aversion to hunger cravings is a conditioned response to the deeply entrenched prevailing myths about health and beauty that impact all of us. It also does little to build self-awareness - of our thoughts, emotions and body - that is needed to work towards achieving authentic wellbeing.
And isn’t that what we all really crave?