The word craving can take on a positive or negative meaning. It all depends on your view. Many times it takes on a negative connotation. It’s something that needs to be controlled, fought, and denied every minute of every day. You have to have willpower to deal with cravings and you have to be strong to fight them off when they arise. This is how I used to view cravings.
I have had a complicated relationship with food. I have had many food “demons” to deal with along the way and I have had to have an incredible amount of willpower when it came to changing my eating habits. Because of my past experience with this, cravings were always something that were bad. I felt that a craving was a moment of weakness that had to be fought and avoided at any cost. To cave would mean I was weak and I would beat myself up. It was a vicious cycle of feeling out of control and not feeling strong enough to deny my food urges. Clearly it wasn’t working out for me.
I know many of you might feel that way too. Maybe you have had a rough time with food and you have come to view a craving as a bad thing. While I don’t like to place the blame on too many outside sources, the media does have a part in the way we view cravings. So many fitness and health websites or magazines put out articles with tips and tricks to fight your worst craving. They tell you if you have enough willpower you can fight off the evil craving and stick to your healthy ways. I gobbled those articles up and tried all their tricks like counting to a hundred and waiting for the craving to pass or drinking a glass of water when I got a craving. Sometimes they worked and sometimes they didn’t. Everytime they didn’t I felt like there was something wrong with me. Why could I not control myself? What was wrong with me?
Nothing was wrong with me. I’m human. It isn’t weak to have a craving for ice cream or pizza, that doesn’t somehow make me a failure. Once I realized this, I started to work on changing my idea of craving. I read more scientific articles and journals about cravings rather than relying on the grocery stand magazines. Turns out that researchers are finding that craving certain foods might be your bodies way of telling you that you are deficient in a certain nutrient. Nobody goes around saying, “Man, I’m really craving a big bowl of brussels sprouts!” They do say that they could really go for some chocolate or potato chips or pizza. Well, a craving for chocolate might mean that you are low on magnesium and should eat some nuts. A craving for potato chips could be a sign that you need some calcium and should fill up on dark, leafy greens. Our bodies are amazingly complex and for the most part are able to tell us exactly what they need. Our job is to learn how to listen and interpret those signals properly, then act accordingly. Cravings are one of the bodies signals that it needs something. The problem occurs when we misinterpret that signal and think that because we crave chocolate ice cream we need to eat that chocolate ice cream. In reality, we need to learn what our body is really saying when it craves chocolate ice cream.
You are not less of a person because you crave “bad” things. You are not a failure if you resolve your craving for a cookie by eating a cookie and you are not doomed to be a slave to your cravings forever. Start to look past the initial craving and see what it is that you really need. If you are constantly craving one certain thing, meet with your doctor or other health professional to see if you are nutrient deficient. Then find the healthier alternative to your craving. Once you start learning what you really need and making the right choices, it will be easier to interpret your cravings and get the things that your body really needs. It will be tough at first to not eat the potato chip and do the work to find out what you’re actually craving. But the more and more you do it, the easier it becomes. If you slip up, don’t beat yourself up. Remember you are a human being and no one is expecting you to be perfect. Being healthier is all a learning process, one that lasts a lifetime. It’s ok to make mistakes and fall. How you react and what you do to change after those mistakes says more about you than the actual mistake. Pick yourself back up and get right back to it!