Why Do You Crave Unhealthy Food?

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By Joanne Beccarelli

Almost everyone who tries to change the way they eat deals with cravings in one form or another. Cravings are usually the reason behind many giving up on healthy eating goals and are often viewed as an issue of will power – leaving you thinking that yours is weak. In reality, cravings have little to do with hunger or will power.

Cravings are created from three possible issues – the habitual trigger (ingrained patterns), your body’s physiology (the biological) and your mind’s emotional conversation (the psychological).  

The good thing about cravings is that they are your body’s messengers and – with the right decoding handbook and strategies – their messages can be just what you need to move past the frustrations you might be feeling.

Let’s talk about the 3 primary reasons for cravings.

Entrenched Habits and Patterns

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The easiest types of cravings to decode and rewire are those from habitual behaviors. Over time, we all develop patterns, many of them involving food. For example, a common trigger is a specific routine you follow that links times of day with places or activities involving food. When situational triggers are your nemesis, it becomes important to identify these and change them.  

Try this habit-handling exercise to manage cravings that are built into your routines:

1. Keep a food/mood/activity journal for one week to examine your cravings and habits. Look for routines in time, days, events and even people that surface regularly when your cravings hit.
2. The patterns that pop up hold the answers! Look for themes that repeat over several days.
3. Mindfulness and awareness come first, then a change. Consider walking a different route, stopping at a different shop, or changing the definition of your relaxation time.
4. Be resourceful with options ahead of time so that the new behavior will be just as satisfying and become a habit.

Your Body’s Physiology

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Body physiology is about your body’s functions. Since your body is always trying to stay in balance and take care of its needs, nutritional deficiencies and hormonal triggers are some of the most challenging cravings to figure out.

Although it is hard to believe that there are nutritional deficiencies with our food-abundant world, hunger and cravings are often a simple signal for more nutrition. This is most evident when hunger still exists after eating, indicating that the foods were nutritionally deficient for what the body needed.

Hormonal triggers are a bit different and can bring on hunger or play with the brain’s pleasure center. The tricky issue is that certain foods activate hormones, such as dopamine and serotonin and the body is triggered to want more food to maintain the “feel-good” state just like addictive substances do. Therefore, it is not surprising that sugar and carbohydrates top the list of foods that affect the neurotransmitters in the brain.

Add these modifications to your diet to take back control from cravings that come on because of physiology and supercharge your nutrition:

1. Flood your body with foods that are high in nutritional value. Use vegetables and fruits, the most nutritious foods you can eat, to crowd out other foods so they become the majority of your diet.
2. Eat lots of greens but also vary the colors so you get a spectrum of nutrition. Different colors means different nutrients.
3. Try eating specific foods when certain cravings arise to solve a deficiency and change hormonal responses.

Craving Deficiency Foods to eat
breads, carbs nitrogen, protein high protein foods
chocolate magnesium nuts, seeds, legumes
oily/fatty foods good fats, calcium avocado, nuts, seeds, greens, broccoli, legumes, seeds
salty chloride celery, kelp, seaweed, tomato
sugary chromiumcarbon, phosphorussulphur, tryptophan broccoli, grapes, fruits, nuts, veggies, grains, cabbage, cauliflower, cranberries, raisins, sweet potatoes, spinach

Your Emotional Conversation

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The hardest of all cravings are the cravings that are tied to emotions. Humans are emotional beings and both the highs of life and stressful lows trigger the most intense cravings. Plus, emotions often link to hormonal triggers and to habits. Just like physiology, emotional stability plays a role in urges for food. Whether you are filling a gap from loneliness, boredom, or sadness, fueling your engine in response to stress, or using food as celebration, emotions are behind these behaviors and the cravings that arise.

Take these steps to see how food choices and cravings are tied to your emotional state:

1. In most cases, habits are moving in rhythm with emotions, so the food/mood/activity journal exercise described earlier is the single best tool to start seeing how emotional patterns play a part.
2. Write moods before and after having food to find the emotional patterns. Many people deny having emotional links to cravings until focusing on it. With an emotional trigger, even after eating, there is little or only temporary satisfaction so this is a key pattern to look out for.
3. Shifting emotional rewards and reactions is a bit more challenging, but once identified, solutions are easier to create for anger, boredom, sadness, etc.

In most cases, cravings just mean that your body’s signals are mixed up or that you simply didn’t know what they mean. But now, with increased awareness about the three biggest reasons for all cravings and using the action tips, you will be on your way to catching yourself before helplessly succumbing to those cravings.

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Joanne Beccarelli
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Joanne Beccarelli

Holistic Health Coach, Juicing Junkie and Writer at GLAD for Health
Joanne Beccarelli is a holistic health coach, juicing junkie, writer, soon to be cookbook author and recovered emotional eater. Inspired by many great voices in the health-thru-food revolution, Joanne found her way out of hiding in shame (losing almost 100 lbs in the process) and stepped away from the corporate world. She now dedicates every day to helping others who are overwhelmed, overworked, and overstressed, find awareness, fulfilment and better health.

Joanne has a Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition from eCornell/T. Colin Campbell Foundation, and became a Certified Health Coach through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. She is also a member of American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP), and the International Association of Health Coaches (IAHC).
Joanne Beccarelli
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