Monday, November 03, 2008

Cravings - compulsion or choice?

Katie wrote a great post the other day about the pitfalls of following the only-eat-what-you-like school of thought. Lots of stuff to get you thinking there, and it got ME thinking about a related topic: cravings.

I've had many arguments with people who insist that if you crave something, then it must contain some nutrient that your body desperately needs. For instance, if you crave oranges, you must be short of vitamin C. I actually did have incredibly strong cravings for oranges during two of my three pregnancies. I'd buy one of those big string bags and chow through the lot in about 3 days. As far as I can tell, I wasn't lacking vitamin C. Just as a side note, I also craved a lot of Mars Bars and Tim Tams and I really doubt that I was in dire need of extra sugar or fat. In fact, all that got me in 20 weeks was a bonus 20-odd kg of bodyfat. :o(

Anyway...back to the intuitive thing. There are all kinds of reasons why you might have cravings, and the most common are emotional responses and habit. If you think about it, you hardly ever hear anybody say Ooh, I have such a strong craving for spinach/broccoli/choko, I just HAVE to get some NOW. Nah, it's always chocolate, lollies, ice cream, or maybe toast, pizza or hot chips. Always, ALWAYS high-carb, high-GI, not-very-healthy foods.

If you've developed a habit of regularly eating potato chips while watching TV at night, then the minute you sit down in the evening and turn on the box, that conditioned response will kick in and you will crave potato chips. If you have always dealt with certain emotions (or more accurately, avoided dealing with them) by turning to favourite childhood foods, then that's exactly what you’re going to do as soon as you feel that scary anger/disappointment/loneliness or whatever feeling it may be.

Sure, it is important to be in tune with your body’s needs. As an athlete, knowing when you’re carb-depleted is vital, so that you can take appropriate action – and by the way, that means having a big bowl of oats rather than a giant-sized pack of marshmallows. And sometimes the signals can be a bit subtle, or can easily be confused with other things. But if your body is “telling you” that you need a pizza, a couple of vodka Cruisers and a big slab of mud cake, then it’s LYING to you. They do that, you know….

If you follow a sensible nutrition plan, with a balance of protein, carbs and fat, and a small allowance for treat foods, and you eat regularly, then you’re less likely to have a problem. Sure, breaking a habit can be difficult initially, but I get impatient with people who say they “must” have chocolate every afternoon, or that they “can’t” stop at less than an entire family block. They’re using the wrong word: it’s not CAN’T, it’s WON’T. They’re simply not prepared to take responsibility for their choice, preferring to blame it on some mythical compulsion.

Breaking the cycle isn’t all that easy, but it can be done if you really want it. You might need to employ some simple strategies to help get through the initial weeks. For instance, if the TV thing is your issue, then try doing something else at that particular time of night….instead of turning on the TV, go for a walk, call a friend - clean the toilet, whatever works. And don’t have bags of potato chips in the house, at least not initially. It’s not brain surgery….

I make bad food choices at times too. I fall into old patterns now and then, overeat and so on – but I don’t tell myself that I couldn’t help it, because I “had to” eat that huge pile of chocolate. I accept the responsibility, tell myself it wasn’t the best response to the situation, and I move on. Another day, another meal – I know I’ll do better.


Debstar said...

Hey I had that craving for oranges when I was pregnant. Then it hit me that every time I ate an orange I vomited within 10 minutes. Craving cured.

AlleyCat Runs said...

Great Post Kek.

I often crave "a pizza, a couple of vodka Cruisers" but not usualy the "big slab of mud cake" luckily i realise it's evil me trying to trick myself!!! Damn straight your lying to youself.

Michelle said...

I've been craving broccoli a lot lately- does that make me weird? I hadn't eaten it since my comp and had to ring the boy for urgent broc pickup while he was shopping. Like most cravings; it didn't taste nearly as good and it's more expensive- me thinks it's out of season.

Unknown said...

Great post, Kek. Although, I do have to admit that there have been many a time where I have run around going ZOMG MUSHROOMS in a mushroom craving frenzy. Same thing has happened many a time with broccoli and zuchinni as well. (and let's not forget the tomato soup at 10am story!)

It's a complex and complicated thing, cravings - and most of the time, you're right, it tends to be an emotional trigger rather than a physical one. Though once you start listening to your body, you can differentiate between emotional and physical needs and THAT is a pretty damn powerful thing. :-D

[psst, can you believe I still have ALL of my Max Brenner, Haigh's, and San Churro chocolates untouched from Melbourne? ^_^ I'm waiting for my body to want them instead of shovelling them aimlessly, hah!]

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