Managing Unhealthy Cravings

We all have some level of awareness of the fact that some foods are healthier than others. We also have some notion of a balanced diet, which would contain all of the nutrients we might need. Sometimes, we think about choosing the foods that are healthiest for us... But those pesky cravings are just so hard to resist! 


What if the secret to starting a new lifestyle of choosing healthier foods is not rooted in sheer willpower, but in a potential realization?


The realization is this: you can engineer your body's food cravings. That's not to imply that you're body doesn't "know" what it needs, but rather that there is a way to remove mental "confusion" about what you're body is "asking" for (I use quotations here because personifying the body's physiological processes is somewhat misleading). The way to do it is to adopt a new philosophy of what "you" like to eat. 


Who are you? Better yet... "what" are you? From a biological sense, you're a system of systems. The function of each of these systems is vital to all of the others. In order to perform optimally, these systems need different resources in different quantities. The next time you say you "want" some food, you should ask yourself if you're speaking for all of these systems.


So what is this mental "confusion" I mentioned earlier? The confusion is craving foods because you believe it is the best way to obtain something you need. Just a couple web searches can yield sufficient scientific evidence to support this theory: the prime physiological forces compelling this "confusion" to crave suboptimal foods are rooted in the regions of the brain responsible for memory formation and pleasure.


This means that, after years of eating unhealthy foods, we can become conditioned to crave the same tasty, yet unhealthy, foods time and time again. Although these cravings can occur for multiple reasons, they occur most often when we have low blood sugar, when we are missing other specific nutrients, and/or when we are feeling down emotionally.  


When we are low on blood sugar, we crave foods that will help us raise it. We can learn to snack on complex carbs (looking up the Glycemic Index is a great investment of time) instead of scavenging for candy and other sweets. This helps keep blood sugar and insulin levels more normalized. 


Sometimes, you just need specific nutrients. A common example of a craving caused by a nutritional deficiency is the chocolate craving that coincides with a magnesium deficiency. Spinach and avocados are just some foods high in magnesium with numerous other health benefits. Another example is the cheese craving that pairs with vitamin D deficiency. Fatty fish and egg yolks are among foods high in Vitamin D that do much more good for your body. 


Even emotions can come into play when craving unhealthy foods. You can choose to these foods as a crutch when we are low on serotonin and other neurotransmitters related to pleasure. But if you look for pleasure in other things like acquiring new skills or making new friends, the cravings will have much less power over you. 


It's a big challenge for someone to let go of the potent short-term pleasure of unhealthy foods when there is a shortage of pleasure overall. It can be an even bigger challenge for those suffering from a genetic disposition to obesity and/or an eating disorder. I am intimately aware of that challenge having dealt with it myself. 


It's important to remember that the challenge can be overcome, and that the process becomes more rewarding with each passing day. Saying "no" to the meaningless, short-lived pleasure of eating unhealthy foods will drive you to seek out experiences and connections that yield us longer-lasting and more fulfilling pleasures than those attained from satisfying unhealthy cravings. 

You deserve to feel healthier, perform better, and live longer. 

And you should choose the foods that best support all of the biological systems that allow you to do so.


To put it simply, a zen master may ask you this question: "Who is the 'you' that wants the cake?"


Author: Max Samouhos


Photo by Carissa Gan on Unsplash
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