Craving for a certain kind of food can be a sign of nutritional deficit in your body but cravings can also be a sign of emotional and psychological problems. It is essential to work on the roots of that specific desire for a certain kind of food and to become aware of whether it is a real nutritional need or rather a psychological problem.
There is a relationship between food and mood and it is, more often than not, very strong. We eat when we are hungry but also when we celebrate, we eat when we are sad, we eat to indulge ourselves or to reward ourselves, we eat even though we are not hungry, because we do not want to offend our host. So, food is a symbol of many things for us.
Many people, even though they do not like to eat, feel the urge to consume great amounts of food. There are two main reasons why this happens. The first reason is physiological and the second is psychological. Many unnatural products that are industrially made can cause physiological addiction, which will remind our body constantly that we need that certain kind of food. This kind of addiction will last. It might not be as serious as drug abuse and drug addiction, but in some cases it is hard to stop eating junk food and sweets that we crave for. The psychological problem is connected to emotional relationship we create in early childhood with food. There are many theories that explain our emotional connection to food.
The psychoanalytical theory explains this emotional relationship with the very first feeding experience. When a mother is breast feeding her child, the child and mother create a special bond. This is the first baby’s relationship with somebody in her environment. The feeding situation is a symbol of that first special relationship. If a mother is not responsive to the child’s needs, or is avoiding a child, in adolescence and later adulthood a person might experience emotional emptiness. Food is a symbolic way to fill up this emotional emptiness. Behavioral oriented psychologists explain this attitude towards food through the principles of learning. In early childhood, when a child is stressed, hyper or sad, parents usually give them food to calm them down or comfort them. Every time parents do not have time to talk with their children about problems or their behavior, they look for love in food. Children learn fast while small. This kind of comfort eating is learned unintentionally in childhood and it stays later on in life. Children also eat when they are not hungry to indulge parents or grandparents. This way they connect love and gratitude with eating. Eating slowly becomes a way to get approval, love and reward. However, this is not real happiness but rather a false feeling of fulfillment, which is also dangerous.
Comfort eating and overeating, no matter what mechanisms are included, can be very dangerous, for both physical and psychological health. Becoming overweight can cause many health conditions that can handicap a person for life, and working on feelings and emotions through eating does not work that well.
The best advice that I can give you is to ask yourself when you feel the urge to eat certain food or to just to eat when not hungry, do you really have to eat? Pay attention to your behavior and see if there is a pattern, when you feel the need to eat. Try to analyze your behavior and feeling with your eating patterns. Take one step at a time and try to enrich your nutrition with more fruits and vegetables. Try to teach yourself to eat a piece of fruit when you crave. It will take time. You can also have five meals a day (three meals and two snacks) and that way you will become more aware of whether your food is emotional comfort food or a real need.
The true hunger is not in your head
When we feel the impulse to eat something, usually something specific, we need to ask ourselves: Do I really need this food? Am I really hungry? Or, is it your brain trying to focus your attention on something else that will bring you emotional satisfaction. When we feel true hunger we feel like we could do anything just to satisfy our hunger. On the other hand, if our hunger is specific and we crave a certain kind of food – that is your brain talking to you and not your stomach. If you crave for a piece of cake, it probably wants to repeat the experience of eating cake, even though there is not a real nutritional body need for it. If you realize that this is happening, you also have to ask why. What was the situation when you were eating cake, how were you feeling and what does it mean for you? Is there something else you could eat to satisfy this need? The helpful thing can also be just trying to forget about the craving and let it pass. This is just a temporary need and you can focus on some other activity. Once you try to redirect your brain onto something else, it will as the time passes, be much easier to control your cravings.
Are you hungry or thirsty?
Sometimes when we think we feel hunger but it can also mean we are just thirsty. Great number of people is chronically dehydrated. This is why many nutritionists advice to drink a glass of water every time before a meal. This is why you will see if you are really hungry and you will also eat less food. Sometimes after eating very salty or grease food a “phantom hunger” might occur. The best way is to drink some water and wait ten or fifteen minutes to see if you are really hungry or were just dehydrated.
Talk to your friends and family
Conversation with friends and family can help you get out of the cycle you have created in your head. People can become negative, discouraged, and anxious or depressed when they are alone and thinking. That is why it is important to communicate with others and to be more active.
If you feel uncomfortable talking to your friends and family about your problem, you can always see a counselor, therapist, or a nutritionist. They will provide you with useful information about how you can get control over your eating and your emotions.
It is also useful if you talk to people who had problems like yourself.
Avoid unhealthy snacks after meals
It is healthy if you have a snack a couple of hours after a meal, but make sure it is healthy food. You can have fruit or yogurt but you should avoid sweets and junk food. It is a good idea if you plan your activities after meals because it will be good motivation to finish a meal and stop eating then.
Your activity does not necessarily have to be physical. You can do whatever you have planned for that day, as long as it takes off your attention from food and eating. You can clean your house, answer your emails, see a friend or clean your closet.
Another piece of advice is to brush your teeth right after you eat. It will become a habit that will help you focus on other activities after meals and it will also mean that the meal is over. The fresh taste of tooth paste will keep your focus off eating. Keep yourself busy and when you feel like you would like to eat somewhere in between meals you can take a chewing gum and try to do something else.
Keep a food diary
Use the power of written words. If you feel bad about your eating habits, write it down. Also write down how you feel and think about your problem and how you feel when you overeat. Write down what you have eaten and what you have not; how much glasses of water you took. In times when you feel tempted to eat something to comfort yourself, read your diary. You might find something in there that will help you go through those rough moments. Also you can write down how you feel at that exact time. While you are writing, there is a great possibility to reduce the anxiety and the need for unnecessary food.
Another useful exercise is to write about your eating problem (comfort eating or overeating) while you feel calm and focused. It is another perspective of your problem when your feelings, thoughts and behavior are in balance. This will help you be “the objective observer” of your impulsive and irrational habit. The more you get detached from your impulsive need, the more successful you will be in controlling it when it comes back.
How to calm your emotions caused by hunger?
Self-analysis is the best way to see if you have a pattern of comfort eating or overeating. You need to get to know yourself. Sometimes it is better to show emotions and talk about them even though you do not prefer showing your emotions. Prolonged suppression of emotions can lead to many psychological problems and one of them is an eating disorder. If you crack your behavior, emotions and eating patterns, you will be able to control your cravings.
When you feel unpleasant emotions or anxiety caused by hunger, drinking hot tea will calm you down and prevent you from eating. Drinking herbal tea (caffeine free) will give you a feeling of warmth and pleasure. Ginger tea will warm you up and mint tea will calm down your nervous system.
A nice conversation with a friend or a family member can always put you back on a track. You do not have to feel ashamed of your problem but brave because you set your mind to doing something for yourself and changing what you do not like.