Mental Toughness

Let Your Cravings Teach You

Spoiler Alert! Unpopular opinion ahead.

If you experience daily cravings it could mean that you are missing something. But it's not what you think.

Your body evolved to ask for foods it needs through hunger signals. If you just lifted heavy weights your body is going to need protein and a bit of carbohydrate to rebuild the muscle breakdown caused by the intense workout. So you feel hungry soon after working out. You might assume you would crave lean protein and steamed veggies.

But come on.

Have you ever craved a can of tuna after a workout? Me neither, though I have forced one down to see how it affected me for the day. And I did feel full, energized, peaceful, happy, and productive. I didn't experience as much soreness or fatigue. I gave my body what it needed. But I had to learn that when a craving hits it is not always accurate.

So why don't we crave what we need?

Craving is a more intense hunger signal that can lead to ravenous feeding frenzies, followed by indigestion and guilt. 

Craving is different from appetite. Craving is an alarm system, letting you know that something is off center in your body. How you answer that alarm is key because it sends signals in the opposite way expected.

Usually cravings happen when you deprive your body of nutrients consistently over time. The body can make ends meet by recycling the protein already in your system. But after awhile it gets nervous as the energy stores go way low. Then it sounds the alarm: "Get a doughnut now! Brain needs glucose immediately, and we've already started breaking down muscle. We need to solve the crisis immediately!" 

Your body's cells don't see that you are surrounded with grocery stores and cupboards full of food. They don't have eyes. They only sense nutrient deficiency and send signals to fix the emergency. Unfortunately, we have 24/7 access to junk foods so it's easy to get roped into this vicious cycle of craving and bingeing. 

Why would we crave junk food when we need nutrient density? This is the most frustrating evolutionary instinct. Carbohydrate and fat together provide immediate emergency energy and the body can work with plain sugar very quickly to put a proverbial band-aid on the problem. It's a temporary fix to keep disaster at bay. But long-term it's the worst solution.

But sugary foods are inflammatory and addictive. They also lack the nutrients for building muscle and repairing cellular damage. In fact, sugar causes cellular damage. It's a devious little molecule! It gets an all access pass into your mouth because the brain knows that it can use its quick carbohydrates to fuel itself immediately. Sugar puts on a sweet face, but once you let it in, sugar is a terrible house guest. 

what sugar does to your body

  • It leads to fatty liver disease and makes your organs fat
  • It sets you up for diabetes and leads to obesity
  • It creates high blood pressure which leads to heart disease
  • It sets you up for addictive behaviors and keeps your mind constantly on food
  • It contributes to depression and emotional eating habits
  • It makes you more hungry and less satisfied
  • It ruins your skin. Sugar breaks down collagen that keeps skin firm, smooth, and elastic
  • There's more. Sugar basically breaks down many of your body's processes which leaves you vulnerable to some of the scarier diseases: diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer's, insulin resistance, and makes you more susceptible to other illnesses as it weakens immunity

So, when you get an intense craving what should you do? 

Recognize that craving is in the mind. It is a learned behavior and can be retrained. Since cravings show imbalances in the body, giving into them doesn't make them go away. Your body is still trying to get vitamins and minerals and antioxidants. But you keep feeding it lab-created processed foods. It keeps sending the signals for nutrition but you've been conditioned to reach for junk food. 

So basically cravings show that you are missing nutrients or are trying to find a way to deal with emotions.

marketing thrives on unconscious cravings

Cravings are also created by the processed food industries. Using tantalizing images, bright colors, cheerful jingles, and healthy vibrant models they create an illusion of happiness by association.

Not only do they create imagery to convince you to give into cravings regularly for their profit, they spend a lot of money finding ingredient combinations that create maximum satisfaction, minimum satiety, and addictive behaviors.

Light, fluffy, crisp, salty, sweet, fatty, crunchy tastes and textures are the ones that keep you chewing long after your stomach has had enough. If you eat potato chips out of the bag its light crunchy texture tricks you into believing you have eaten enough. If you think about it, you've probably eaten the equivalent of 4 potatoes. 

When working right, your hunger signals will turn off when you get the right amount of nutrients. You will naturally lose interest in eating and turn your attention to other fun things and live your life. When your hunger signals are manipulated by food additives, salt, fat, and cane sugar it's hard to know when you are actually full. 

Now that you know how cravings work, keep checking in to see what I do about managing addictive behaviors. Knowledge is the power of change, but habit will make the changes permanent and effortless.