Did I get your attention with the title of this article? Who doesn’t have at least a few food cravings they wish they could control? I’m afraid, though, that my title is nothing more than an attention–getter, because I’m not actually a believer in controlling cravings. Food cravings do not arise spontaneously, and they are not just a product of your genes. They arise from your body’s deep–seated desire for nourishment. Whether your particular craving is for a specific flavor of ice cream, Coke or Pepsi, potato chips, M&Ms, white–flour pasta, coffee, or any of the other usual suspects, that craving is actually a sign of your body crying out for some type of nutrition. That’s why controlling your cravings doesn’t work. Even though we know on an intellectual level that junk foods are not good for us, those foods have been designed to appeal to the body’s desire for nutrition and balance. Our bodies crave salty foods like French fries because the body thinks saltiness is an indicator of high levels of essential minerals. We like sodas with high amounts of caffeine because they make us feel detoxified and re–energized. In other words, you have these strong cravings for junk food precisely because your body wants so badly to be healthy. While your mind may be saying “I know that’s not good for me,” your body is responding “Are you nuts? Eat that or else! We need it to survive!”
While it may be technically possible to control your cravings for a limited time through sheer will power, the only effective, long–term solution is to meet your body’s needs with foods that are truly nourishing, rather than foods that simply appear nourishing. The former bring you into a ongoing state of balance and satisfaction; the latter are satisfying for a very brief time but then leave you in a state of even greater neediness. Sometimes it’s not just nutrition that is lacking—for example, a craving for caffeine is usually a result of not getting enough sleep. A craving for sugary foods could be from a series of stressful events in your life. Just yesterday, I found myself starting to devour a bar of chocolate after a long and stressful day. However, I realized that the real problem was not the bar of chocolate, or my craving for it, but that at that moment I was unwilling to focus my attention on resolving the source of stress in my life. Once I did that, my cravings vanished. And in fact, that did take a little willpower—but the key is that it was willpower applied in a productive direction.
My recommendation for you is not to control your cravings, but to analyze them. Ask yourself where this craving is coming from, and what kind of need your junk food is meeting (however temporary a solution it may be). That method will put you on the right path to the heart of the problem, instead of leaving you stuck focusing on the symptoms. Maybe your body is craving junk food because it really needs whole grains and green vegetables, but isn’t familiar enough with those foods to crave them (and believe me, once your body gets used to well–prepared brown rice, you’re likely to crave it daily). Maybe you’re just looking for a physical sensation to block out the pain from some frustrating events in your life, and it’s really those events that need to be attended to. Once you have taken some steps towards understanding your situation, rather than simply feeling guilty, you’ll find that it’s a lot easier to “control” those cravings than you would ever have believed.