Several years ago in my forties, I found myself overweight and very unhealthy. Dieting, hunger and cravings kept me miserable and hopeless. At my darkest moment, I decided there MUST be a way to get thin again and to stay thin without extreme measures and hunger. My desperation led me to research the underlying emotional and physiological causes of weight gain and to follow a plan to regain a healthy body weight. I lost the weight, kept it off and wrote about the principles in my book, As Thin As You Think.
One of the biggest blocks to weight loss comes from “emotional hunger”, which causes the intense cravings that make us feel out of control and leads us to succumb to eating junk food.
What is emotional hunger?
In general, emotional hunger comes on suddenly and gives us an urgency to satisfy it NOW. It causes us to crave specific foods and isn’t satisfied by a full stomach. Emotional hunger eating tends to trigger feelings of guilt, shame and powerlessness (which lead to even more cravings and overeating).
Food cravings come from both physiological and emotional causes. Becoming self-aware of your body, heart and mind will help you lose weight the healthy way. Let’s start with the the heart.
Here is a brief summary of what common cravings might mean about your feelings:
Sugary baked goods (cookies, cake, pies). This may indicate sadness and a need for love and reassurance. Do you feel the daily grind of life depletes your happiness and causes you to reach for cookies? How can you get love and support from people, including yourself, instead of from food? Also, research has shown that the company of a pet can be one of the best antidepressants around. Petting and brushing my cat, Jersey, is one of my daily doses of love therapy!
Salty cravings can arise from stress and anxiety. Instead of delving into that bag of chips or salted nuts, practice ways to deal with stress without food. Exercise, meditation, listening to music and watching comedy are some ideas.
Crunchy food cravings can be a sign of anger and tension. Instead of releasing anger and frustration by chewing crunchy food, ask yourself, “Who or what am I angry about?” Look for ways to resolve your anger without reaching for food.
Bread and pasta can indicate a craving for comfort and calm. If you’re feeling stressed and tense, you may be reaching for carbs to boost brain serotonin. Practice self-calming techniques to boost serotonin naturally.
Cheese, ice cream and dairy cravings can arise from a need for nurturance and may be triggered by fond memories of the past and/or worries of the future. Feelings of vulnerability can cause us to crave the softness of dairy products. Ice cream may remind us of childhood, when we were taken care of and when life was simpler. Instead of eating a bowl of ice cream, practice self-nurturing habits and love yourself unconditionally (like a loving parent). Tell yourself “I am safe” and “I am lovable and worthy today”. Less focus on the past and future can lead to present moment contentment.
Spicy cravings may indicate a desire for more excitement and fun in life. Has your life become boring? How can you spice things up without reaching for Doritos?
Candy and alcohol cravings may indicate a need for a quick reward and pick-me-up. They’ll indeed raise your serotonin and dopamine levels, but will lead to a huge crash later. And, it’ll take more and more of these products to stimulate your brain, causing more intense cravings and weigh gain.
Chocolate cravings may indicate a hunger for love and intimacy. Chocolate contains a chemical called PEA, which is the same chemical that’s released when we’re in love. On a physical level, it may indicate a deficiency in magnesium.
When you feel a craving calling, ask yourself, “What am I really wanting?” Caving and eating junk food will only mask the true need you have. It’s a temporary fix that leads to more cravings and weight gain. You deserve better than that. You deserve to be healthy and slender!
With warmest wishes,