Your Food Cravings
Lenore Y. Baum, M.A.
Most of us have food cravings, which inevitably lead to bingeing and guilt. Why do we feel so powerless over these urges? The power behind these desires originates in the body's impulse to maintain homeostasis. That is, it is always striving to achieve a balance - chemically, emotionally and spiritually.
Cravings fall into three categories: allergies, discharges and system imbalances. You might be surprised to learn that allergies can contribute to cravings. Ironically, we tend to crave foods that we are unknowingly allergic to. If you feel terrible after eating a common allergenic food, such as dairy, wheat, corn, nuts, eggs, shellfish or chocolate, you are probably allergic to it. The good news is that you can probably build up your system up to so that over time you can tolerate the allergen. Start by avoiding it for a period of time. Then, eat small amounts of it, gradually increasing the portion. Your immune system will be more likely to tolerate the allergen, and your craving for the food will be reduced.
The second type of craving, discharge, arises when old toxins of our favorite foods, such as ice cream, alcohol or potato chips, dislodge from our cells and leave the body through the blood system. As the blood passes through the brain, the hypothalamus picks up the memory of the taste and emotional satisfaction of eating it. This triggers a desire to eat the food again. Usually this craving will disappear after several hours, if you let it. If it persists, or if you want to act on it, you can use the homeopathic remedy of eating a small amount of the favorite food. Better yet would be to eat a healthful substitution for it, such as eating Sweet NothingsŪ frozen, non-dairy dessert instead of ice cream, BirellŪ non-beer in place of beer, or baked tortilla chips rather than potato chips.
Imbalances in the system can also lead to cravings and bingeing. Traditional Asian medicine uses the principle of yin and yang to represent the balances that are created from the attraction and harmony of opposites. When we eat foods that are yang, our bodies crave yin foods to achieve balance. For example, eating foods such as meat, cheese or pretzels (yang), stimulates the desire for foods such as sugar, chocolate or alcohol (yin). People's strong cravings for yin foods diminish dramatically if they eliminate meat and other yang substances from their diet.
In addition to the principle of yin and yang, traditional Asian medicine believes that the body requires foods with all five tastes, sweet, sour, salty, pungent and bitter, to maintain balance. Most of us shun bitter and pungent foods, which nourish the heart and small intestines, and lungs and large intestines, respectively. Could this be a contributing factor to America's epidemic of heart disease and digestive problems? Next issue, Part II, will detail foods in the five taste categories and how to balance them.
Not to be overlooked is the emotional aspect of cravings. Macrobiotics and traditional Asian medicine link emotions with specific organs and illnesses. For example, the spleen and pancreas are considered the seat of worry and are nourished by sweets. When we are upset or anxious, we tend to want to be comforted and instinctively reach for sweet, calming, often numbing substances like candy, ice cream or alcohol. A better way to allay these feelings and to heal these organs is to eat naturally sweet vegetables and whole grains, such as winter squash, carrots or brown rice. Be sure to chew grains well. This predigests them and makes them taste even sweeter! Of course, resolving the emotional pattern of worry would reduce the stress to the organs as well.
Beyond the emotional triggers for food cravings is the more subtle spiritual cause. On some level, most of seek a feeling of wholeness or oneness with the universe. When we lack that sense of completeness and inner peace we seek gratification where we can experience it tangibly. Becoming one with the food we eat is no substitute! Wholistically speaking, regular spiritual practice is as important as eating as whole, natural foods.
By understanding the source of our desires, we can stop the destructive cycle of cravings, bingeing and guilt. Then, we will be free to enjoy the healthy state of mind and body that nature intended.