We all have them. The question is why? Why for some things and not for others? And why is it that they’re usually for things that aren’t healthy?
Dr. Doug Lisle’s Pleasure Trap goes in to great detail about what actually happens to our brains when we want the bad stuff. Or at least usually the bad stuff. In a nutshell: Every time we feel good from an experience or something we’ve consumed, new connections form in the brain asking for more. Just think of the thousands of chocolate-wanting neurons!
Also, our minds are designed to put in the least amount of effort for the biggest pleasure response. This definitely worked to our advantage before the agricultural age, when we foraged (and hunted) for food. We ate what we needed to survive. But now that we have easy access to way more food (a big chunk of which is incredibly unhealthy), this primal instinct is slowly — or quickly — killing us. This chemical makeup in our brains can make us addicted to a whole host of things: sugar, salt, caffeine, dairy, or booze. You name it.
On top of that, processed and junk “food” is literally designed to make us addicted. Food scientists have this in mind with every ingredient they create, which makes it physically difficult to give up certain foods. Our bodies feel like they can’t live with out it. Even the New York Times recently featured an article about this very real, Orwellian problem. Pretty disturbing.
You can also crave certain foods because you’re lacking a nutrient found in that food. It might not be the best food for you or even the best source, but your brain asks for it.
A few examples:
If you’ve ever had to have a hamburger or steak, you might be lacking iron. That’s really what you’re craving. So no need to actually eat beef; you can pick up a kale salad, lentils, chickpeas, edamame, or tempeh. Make sure to eat vitamin C-rich foods or take vitamin C supplements to aid in the absorption of iron.
PMS and chocolate. When you’re dying for chocolate at that time of the month, you might be low in magnesium. Yes, it could be the sugar in there. But specifically craving chocolate when you’re PMSing might be a deficiency issue. Try pumpkin seeds, quinoa, almonds, oatmeal, spinach, black-eyed peas, or a baked potato instead.
Seafood. This may mean you need more healthy fat in your diet. Make sure to eat some omega-3 rich daily, like hemp, kale, flax, seaweed, or walnuts. Avocado is another fat fave of mine. Some people prefer coconut oil.
That all-consuming “need” for dairy comes from casomorphin. Casomorphin is the opiate-like chemical released when consuming dairy. It makes you hooked without even realizing it. Whether it’s in humans, cows, or goats, its real purpose is to make sure babies drink enough of their mother’s milk.
We can also have an emotional attachment to certain foods, like the memories that come with what mom used to cook for us when we weren’t feeling well. You may associate ice cream with having a reward, or you may feel a connection to certain holiday meals. This can be hard to break. Thinking that Thanksgiving just won’t be the same without turkey, butter, sugar, or tons of wine can be shifted. There are plenty of healthier, cruelty-free options and recipes available. Eventually, you won’t miss it.
I recommend adding in foods that will help you thrive. Get creative. Try something new every week or two. Your palate will change, and you’ll start to crave more of the good stuff. It’s also important not to have the attitude of deprivation. Feeling like you’re missing out on the joys of life will set you up to fail. Think of all the new foods you get to try and how much better you’re feeling instead. If you’re having a tough time saying no, then get help from friends, family, or even a support group. Having people around you who have been there is a great tool.
Should you give in to these cravings? Only you can truly answer that. For most people, occasionally indulging is a slippery slope. Or if you’re avoiding certain foods for ethical reasons, I’d say stick with it. There are plenty of people like myself who get it and will listen to your needs and concerns.