Understanding Our Food Fixations
Hunger is as much a physical manifestation as it is a societal and emotional one. Biologically, our bodies are hardwired to want certain flavors, nutrients and combinations thereof. Culturally, we’ve learned to eat in celebration, in mourning, at social gatherings and sometimes in secret. We also seek out food in an attempt to shift our emotional state: sugar, chocolate and caffeine are expansive and uplifting; bread, pasta and gooey cheese are soothing and cushioning. So when we experience cravings, is our body telling us it needs something? Or is our mind telling us it wants something?
If that seems like a lot to unpack while deciding what to make for dinner, you’re right. Taking a moment to identify where our cravings come from means we get to address deep-seated patterns and make balanced and informed choices around something we do at least three times a day. Here are a few factoids to consider when cravings kick in.
The Two Tastes That Dominate Our Cravings are Sweet & Salty
Sugar cravings make sense on a couple of levels:
- Sweet foods flood the brain with dopamine, the chemical that makes us happy.
- In nature, sweet foods are energy dense, so we’re genetically predisposed to favor them.
- Sugar helps us store fat, a biological advantage for our ancient ancestors whose mealtimes were uncertain.
A salt craving can mean a few things:
- We’re dehydrated. Our bodies are 70% water and thirst often masquerades as hunger. Salt helps us retain water, so a salt craving could actually be a cry for more H2O.
- We’re conditioned. Most processed foods are super high in sodium, so we may be craving what we’ve been conditioned to think of as a “normal” saltiness.
- We need minerals like calcium, sodium, magnesium, zinc and other trace minerals to stay healthy. Since we don’t really know what zinc tastes like we fall for salt when what we really need is nori, kale, chard, or wild caught salmon.
- We’re fatigued. Salt cravings can be a sign of adrenal fatigue, especially if accompanied by exhaustion and serious under-eye bags. (If that sounds all too familiar, consider getting your cortisol and adrenal levels tested.)
And a chocolate craving? Minerals again. Raw cacao is rich in magnesium, which women need more of when they’re on their periods. Vindicated!
Here’s one more morsel: When we don’t get enough rest, our bodies produce more ghrelin, a.k.a. the hunger hormone, which the body secretes when the stomach is empty. Or when we’re exhausted. Makes sense.
Sleep more = eat better.
At the heart of any mindfulness practice is the ability to tune in to ourselves. Learning to listen to our intuition and our body’s own inner wisdom is a powerful tool. It’s also a muscle that, like any other, requires regular use. An effective place to start is around our relationship with food. Learning to ask and answer the question what am I craving right now is the first step to empowering ourselves as conscious choosers. As opposed to ravenous maniacs. We’ve all been there.