Have you ever noticed how every time you’re feeling down or have had a disagreement with your parents or spouse, you instinctively reach for a bag of wafers or chips, or dig into the refrigerator for a tub of ice-cream? There’s a reason they are called ‘comfort foods’.
Emotional eating is one of the main reasons for overeating. Rather than expressing our emotions, we tend to suppress and ignore them by turning to food, which our bodies translate as “comfort” and “fulfillment”. Scientific research has shown that when people have difficulty identifying and dealing with their emotions, they are more prone to engage in binge eating.
Therefore, the key is to be emotionally aware and in touch with your feelings. By deciphering the real meaning of your cravings, you can get an insight into what’s gnawing at you, while also avoiding packing on the pounds. Cravings are a sign that something is off balance or that we need to pay attention to something in our lives. If we choose to look at cravings from a symbolic point of view, we can get layers of information and insight into what is imbalanced or what needs tending to.
Here are some general cravings and commonly associated emotional states, based on the properties of the food:
Sweets (pastries, cakes, candy, pies, etc.): Cravings for sweet foods of all types are probably the most frequent cravings that people confess. When I ask the sugar cravers about what is going on in their lives, they typically shy away at first, saying “you don’t want to know” and then they rattle on about working too long and hard, crossing off their never-ending to-do list items, and feeling utterly exhausted. They barely have any time to do what they’d like to do. The real reason for this craving is that they aren’t experiencing enough joy – it has been lost in their daily grind.
Spicy: Those who like spicy food, even to the point that their eyes well up with tears, are most likely looking for intensity and action in their lives. These types of folks love to be on the go – going to movies, plays, theatre, traveling to distant countries, exploring new restaurants, and so on. When they haven’t made the time to do these things, spicy food becomes the kick to “get them going”.
Salty: Salt does an interesting thing in our bodies: it attracts water. When we eat lots of salt, we move the water in our bodies with it. The salt is like a magnet for movement and flow, which is important for helping people to “go with the flow” of life and relax. Overindulging in salty foods predisposes you to hypertension or high blood pressure and it also does the exact opposite of helping you relax and de-stress. The satisfaction offered by salty foods is immediate, but fleeting.
Caffeine: While people who crave spicy foods need this wake-up on a physical level, people with cravings for caffeine feel a call to action in their intellect! They like to feel mentally alive or alert, processing and absorbing all the information they can, so that they can be at the “forefront”. However, caffeine gives the false impression of keeping it all together and being mentally sharp, but in actuality, it exhausts us further, especially if consumed excessively through the day.
Crispy foods: With every crunch, it’s a subtle cry of “hey, look at me!” Perhaps we are angry and want to “snap” back at someone, but we feel restrained. This craving may also be associated with the need for approval, especially if you are feeling unappreciated.
Chocolate: Chocolate allows us to be blanketed with a feel-good, ‘in-love’ feeling that is like no other. Of course, it contains compounds that change our brain activity, triggering the release of powerful hormones, so it’s no surprise that we have this relationship with chocolate.
Soft, filling starches: Squishy, soft, and comforting – these are the qualities of starchy foods like breads, pasta, and even rice. We gravitate towards them when we feel that we need some hand-holding or warm embraces.
Ice cream: For a lot of us, our connection with ice cream takes us back to childhood, memories of happy summer days, and feeling like you’re on top of the world. It imparts a feeling of freedom and being carefree.
Cheese: For those of you with any “mother” issues – whether you are in need of a ‘motherly’ figure, or are guilty of over-mothering, there’s a good chance you have a love affair with cheese. You may be craving the consolation of a strong, healing figure in your life. Cheese provides grounding, earthy protein to keep us anchored.