Today let’s talk about cravings.
Whether or not we like it, cravings are simply inevitable. At some point on our whole food plant-based journey, we all end up craving non whole plant-based foods.
And while initially cravings may appear to be insurmountable, the secret to crushing them is actually far easier than you think.
Not All Cravings Are Bad
At their core, cravings aren’t necessarily bad.
Cravings are simply signals that you want something. If you’re tired, you ‘crave’ sleep. When you’re thirsty, you ‘crave’ liquids.
But, alas, cravings don’t differentiate between healthy and natural ones or self-destructive ones.
So a distinction needs to be made between ‘bad cravings’ and ‘good cravings’. (I personally have a lot of ‘good cravings’ like garlicky broccoli, baked tofu or my favorite oil-free veggie Drunken noodles at the neighborhood Thai restaurant.) We need to encourage the ‘good’ ones and learn how to deal with the bad ones.
Your Cravings—Physical or Mental?
Cravings can be both physical and emotional in origin.
From a purely physiological point of view, cravings often stem from a nutritional deficiency. Plant compounds, particularly
micronutrients, are intrinsic to cellular metabolism and therefore act as a satiety switch. When we eat whole plant foods, our bodies stop looking for them. However, when we eat foods devoid of micronutrients (e.g. refined foods), our cravings kick in as our bodies continue to look for that next bite that may contain the micronutrients they need.
Equally, a craving can be induced when you eat a diet high is SOS foods. As Dr. Doug Lisle says, SOS-rich foods hyper stimulate us; they make us want more. Just think about chocolate chip cookies and potato chips! You will find the more you eat, the greater the cravings become.
And of course most cravings are a combination of both; they are a sign of a LACK of essential nutrients as well as an EXCESS of too much SOS-rich foods.
Many people mistakenly believe you curb cravings simply by ‘breaking’ the addiction to the unhealthy SOS rich food. But that’s only part of the story. Just avoiding the ‘bad stuff’ isn’t enough. We need to stop the unhealthful food and replace it with a health-promoting, nutrient-rich alternative. In other words, we need to address the EXCESS of bad foods while simultaneously correct the LACK that caused the bad craving in the first place.
But cravings are not just physical. They can also stem from our mind and emotions.
Why Cravings Are Triggered by Food Memories
As Jonathan Safran Foer said, ‘Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving and identity.’
Foods carry with them memories, associations, traditions and emotions. When we crave food, we often really crave the people, places and experience those foods are linked to.
Our culture—our very identity is often inextricably linked with food. We associate certain foods with happy memories, comfort and love; eating them is nothing less than a form of self-soothing. So when we ‘crave’ that ice cream it’s not necessarily because we lack any certain nutrient but because we associate it with celebrations enjoyed with friends and family. Similarly, the
hamburger tempts us not because we need it ‘physically’ but because it conjures up carefree summer days, barbecues and beaches.
Our cravings live as a tapestry of visual images in our mind. We don’t just think about that piece of cake, we actually see it in our mind’s eye.
And thus one of the best techniques for getting rid of the cravings is to rid ourselves of the images themselves. To do that, you need to put time between you and the unhealthy food ‘stimulant’. The more time elapses, the more difficult it is for your mind to create a good image of the stimulus and therefore the less likely the craving will appear. In other words, the longer it has been since you indulged in that fudge sundae, the harder it becomes for your mind to create the ‘image’ of that gooey ice cream and chocolate sauce and the less likely you will be tempted. Over time, the cravings subside and ultimately disappear altogether.
8 Simple Craving Crushers
Here are some specific, practical ideas for you to help you keep your cravings in check:
- Out of sight, out of mind. Keep your environment ‘safe’ from temptation. When I make (and eat!) desserts for special occasions, I find myself wanting more (even though they are created with the healthiest of ingredients). To solve this, I always give desserts away after an event is over. If it’s not there, it can no longer tempt me.
- Avoid SOS-rich foods. ‘Foods that provide hyper-normal amount of pleasure’ can trigger destructive cravings. Being SOS-free and eating a whole food plant-based diet will take care of cravings naturally with time.
- Patience and perseverance are key. As discussed earlier, the longer you go without contact the ‘bad’ foods, the less likely you will have that tempting image in your mind and the more likely you will succeed beating the craving altogether.
- Focus on high micronutrient, low calorie density foods, especially green leafy vegetables. Leafy greens give you a double dose of goodness: the bulk of soluble fiber boosts satiety while the high micronutrient content provides the required amount of plant chemicals your body needs to curb cravings.
- Avoid ‘cheat days’. These simply expose us to foods that are already hard enough to avoid; by eating them—even once a week—we keep those images of that ‘bad’ food in our minds fresh. If on the contrary, we abstain for a long time, the image (and thus the ‘craving’) will diminish.
- Eat whole plant-based foods rather than refined goods. Nature has provided us with plenty of natural goodness and sweetness. We need to look no further than fruits or vegetables to find a fulfilling snack or dessert.
- Eat consciously. Always think before eating something. Are you really hungry? Or are you anxious and sad? What exactly are you feeling? What is your body telling you? If you’re really craving sugar but aren’t hungry, consider going out for a quick walk and some fresh air before putting something in your mouth. If you truly are hungry, eat an apple while you prepare a more substantial meal complete with a variety of plant-based whole foods.
- Eat regularly. It’s much harder to deal with a craving when we need calories fast. Eating healthful foods throughout the day will keep you satiated; your energy levels and mood will thank you.
Once you understand the dynamics of cravings, you’ll see that it really is possible to get rid of them. With a little bit of time and eating a varied whole food plant-based diet, you will be well on the way to putting those pesky cravings behind you forever.