It can feel like such a struggle to eat foods that heal rather than harm our bodies. It seems like everything is a pressure to indulge, to crash, to binge even. Advertisements and food companies have the science of junk foods down to…well, a science. And you’re supposed to rise as a solitary figure to say no to these gods of taste? To the average, unsuspecting individual this would be a colossal task. To you, however, knowledge is truly power and perhaps this article will add some tools to your arsenal in your understanding of why you may be wanting those undesirable foods and some actions you can take to regain control of your choices, your money, and your food.
There are a number of possible reasons for cravings.
1. Food Reactivities
Food reactivities are quite common and can play a crucial role in your cravings. Both food allergies and food reactivities are your body’s response to a food that it sees as an invader – it doesn’t tolerate the food as it normally should. When you eat a food your immune system “reacts” to, you activate an inflammatory response every time you eat that food. One result is an adrenaline boost after eating these foods. Upon getting that boost, you feel more energetic and as if you can get life done. Then comes the adrenaline crash and you need to get another fix. This often looks like going to eat more of that food that you react too, getting another adrenaline high, and repeating the cycle. These foods that you react to are often the same ones you eat every day and ones that are inherently inflammatory such as junk foods.
To identify if this is a factor in your life, simply ask yourself which foods you must eat and you may unearth some things you never realized before. However, you can also rely on lab testing to identify specific reactivities. This would be an IgG (immunoglobulin G) panel that looks at reactions to a list of individual foods. Avoiding these foods for a time or possibly permanently can go miles to reducing your dependence on this sort of food addiction.
2. Stress and Fatigue
Who isn’t running around over-taxed, tired, and stressed? When you are stressed and tired, your body and brain chemistry are negatively impacted by stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Chronic stress demands chronic output by the adrenal glands of these hormones and chronic activation of the pituitary gland in the brain to stimulate adrenal function. It’s a nasty loop which can fatigue your brain, create abnormal hormonal patterns in your body, and, again, play a role in that adrenaline addiction mentioned above that pushes you to choose junk foods and sugar. Sugar is not merely addictive, it is the immediate energy your brain thinks you need when you are running on fumes. But eating that sugary treat when you’re trying to cope is harming you on a cellular level by messing with your blood sugar and harming your brain as it struggle to deal with blood sugar swings.
Self care plays a colossal role in combating this source of cravings. Sleep! Sleep is incredibly important in healing from stress and fatigue, regulating you hormones and immune system, and nourishing your brain. And it’s free. Other actionable items are: resting during the day, nourishing healthy relationships, creating habits of gratitude, joy, and contentment, and learning how to ask for help.
3. Inherently Addictive Foods & High-jacked Foods
It’s awful that some components of foods are naturally addictive, but there is no way around it. There are a few mechanisms behind this, one of which is the stimulation of the opioid receptors in your brain. Sugar, dairy, gluten – this triad is infamous for making your brain think it loves and needs them every time you eat them. In reality, it is increasing your dependence on these foods. The food industry uses this phenomenon to make you crave their. It is staggering how much money and research goes into a simple chip formulation for just the right texture, crunch, sound, etc. or into a soda for bubble content, “ah” factor, and much more. The more food is engineered and changed from the whole foods our bodies truly need, the more you need to be aware of this game that is underfoot.
This facet may be more in-depth in terms of addressing it. The first step is to recognize the effect some foods can have on your brain and your perception of needing them. For some, this is enough knowledge to make a change. For others, counsel, support, and change over time can be a huge relief.
Certain pathogens can actually impact your food choices, especially causing you to crave sugars. Candida and parasites are infamous for manipulating host's (that’s you) dietary habits in an attempt to survive and thrive in the body. This may be an increase in high sugar foods for direct fuel for the pathogen, or more indirectly through inhibiting immune function (as sugar is highly immunosuppressive) so that the pathogen can more easily live on.
This issue is one that is needed to be addressed by a practitioner who can perform appropriate testing and treatment.
This does seem like a lot of negatives and suggestions for avoidance. But what can you actively DO right now to take charge of your cravings? I would encourage you to eat the three F’s and one P: Fat, Fiber, Fermented foods, and Protein.
All four of these groups work around the clock to ensure your body and brain has the fuel it needs when it needs it, to stabilize blood sugar, to nourish your gut microbiome, to aid your immune function, and much more. All of these combined equate to a you that is not only less inclined to binge eat, but also a you that functions at optimum speed. Rather than being dependent on food, you can begin to experience clearer thinking, less hangry moments, and all manner of benefits from this sort of dietary upgrading.
If you need suggestions on which foods to start with, for fats try nuts, olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, palm oil, and grass-fed animal fats. For fibers the world is your oyster: nuts, leafy greens, fruits, whole foods, wild rice, chia seeds, and flax seeds. Proteins are easy, but always try to go for grass-fed whenever possible. Fermented foods include raw pickles, raw sauerkraut, pickled carrots, and kombucha.
When you need to indulge, indulge big! Eat those foods your brain truly craves. Look for Paleo and Keto desserts and experience the decadence of real ingredients. Check out the Culinary Corner section on the Rapha Nutrition website for mouth-watering suggestions. Real food doesn’t taste like murdered steamed broccoli. Real food nourishes your whole person. If you’re struggling to take action on this knowledge, I would love to talk with you more. Rapha Nutrition is a no-condemnation zone, where your needs are the name of the game. Now, go forth and conquer.