What is a Food Craving?Dec 07, 2021
My Peep story
Let me start by introducing myself. "Hello, I am Miriam Hatoum and I am probably the most food suggestible person you will ever meet." So here's my story. Was it a food craving or an urge?
About Easter time I am in the home stretch of a long commute after an exhausting frustrating day. I am listening to some inane talk show where they are going on and on about Peeps. How they used to just be yellow ducks. Now they are pink bunnies or green dinosaurs or purple eggs. On and on.
I don't even know why I am listening to this drivel. Probably I am tired of weather and traffic reports, or music is just hitting me the wrong way. Neither here nor there. I'm listening to this stupid conversation. I come down the street that I always come down, passing a convenience store and a Walgreens.
Without even knowing what I am doing, I pull out of my lane of traffic and swerve into the parking lot. I get out of the car, walk into Walgreens, purchase a package of Peeps and eat them in the car.
It was as if I was not even the driver. The car had a mind of its own and pulled into that parking lot. I did not even have a craving for Peeps. I just had this urge that was a reaction to the trigger of listening to that conversation.
How many times do you find yourself elbow-deep in a bag of chips or buried under the crumbs of a coffee cake? More than you care to admit? Yeah, my friend. Those are the end products of urges. Your goal for this month? Learn about urges and cravings.
What is an urge?
An urge is a strong desire or impulse to do something usually in response to a trigger.
- For instance, you might be frustrated with a phone call, hang up and then have a strong urge to get up and get something to eat.
- You might have an argument with a friend and have a strong impulse to dive headlong into a bag of anything will take the edge off.
- Usually an urge that lands up with eating something is your impulse to soothe a trigger in some way.
Often you are not looking for a specific food. Any food will do as long as its corresponding "nature" matches what you are looking to satisfy.
- If you are reacting to sadness, you might turn to candy (its property is sweet and welcome).
- If you are reacting to anger, you might turn to chips (its crunchiness lets you work out some energy).
- If you are reacting to anxiety you might turn to ice cream (its soft texture is soothing).
The urge you feel is always in direct relation to the trigger.
- Sometimes you don't even know what that trigger might be.
- For me and my Peeps fiasco, I knew after the fact that the trigger was the talk show.
- In the immediate I wasn't even asking myself, "Why the heck do I want these Peeps?"
What is a food craving?
A food craving is a strong desire for a specific food and is not the same as an urge.
- I had no desire for Peeps.
- I had no intention of eating those Peeps when I set out for home that day.
- Eating them was the result of an urge more than the result of a craving.
- A craving for a specific food might be the end result of a trigger much in the same way an urge is, but an urge is immediate.
- With a craving you can go for a week until you get just the perfect food you are thinking about.
Physical reasons for a craving
There can be a physical reason for the craving. Example:
- One time I was craving chopped liver.
- I am not a liver person and if I eat it once a year at a holiday that's enough for me.
- But recently I was absolutely CRAVING chopped liver.
- I assembled all the ingredients and took my time making an absolutely delicious batch of chopped liver.
- I ate it every day for four days until it was gone.
- I was puzzled though, and because inquiring minds want to know, I did some digging:
- I learned that specific food cravings (that aren't obviously accompanied by social and emotional triggers such as Thanksgiving) may mean that your body is lacking in an important element.
- It might mean that you need certain vitamins, minerals or other nutrients.
- It made sense to me that maybe I was depleted in iron if I was so strongly craving liver, but my body could also have been looking for chromium, phosphorus, zinc or tryptophan.
- Nighttime food cravings, especially, can be caused by the hormones insulin, ghrelin, leptin and peptide YY (see blog on The Mechanics of Physical Hunger).
- Furthermore, if you don't get enough sleep and your cortisol is high because of it, you can be craving food at night.
- So there are very physical reasons for these cravings and so don't be imagining that there is necessarily something horribly wrong with your goals, whys or intentions.
Emotional reasons for a craving
This one is sort of easy. Let me take the same chopped liver. The particular time I am talking about I think there really were nutritional needs behind wanting to eat the liver. I say this because when I am on top of taking my supplements I rarely get that craving. When I am careless about them - especially the desiccated liver I take - my mind wanders to chopped liver.
But I can see that it could easily have been emotional to want the chopped liver. For me it is a popular appetizer at some favorite holiday dinners.
- Over the past few years the matriarchs of two of our families that celebrated these holidays together have passed away (my aunt was 101 and my mother was 104).
- Then my brother moved over 1000 miles away, further diluting the joy of getting together.
- Then with the Covid-19 pandemic, family holiday celebrations totally stopped.
Do you think I might have been craving a food that symbolized family get-togethers and love? Still, it was not an urge to eat chopped liver because it did not have that immediate nature.
Other reasons for a craving
Sometimes it is as uncomplicated as craving pizza because you heard of a new pizza place that just opened. But it's not an urge, and you can wait until the circumstances are right to order just what you want and sit down and savor it.
- Sometimes it is as uncomplicated as craving Chinese food because you hardly ever indulge and you just want to have those flavors. But it is not an urge and you don't stuff yourself at an all-you-can eat buffet and eat it all just because it is there.
- Sometimes it is as uncomplicated as craving an iced-coffee on a hot summer day. But it is not an urge and you don't have to order the largest size and have them put a scoop of ice cream in it besides.
- Sometimes it is as uncomplicated as loving Peeps and enjoying one row - or one small package - of them every Easter because you just want to. But you don't swerve off the road, into the parking lot, and come out with your mouth stuffed full of flavorless, yet colorful, marshmallow candy.
And sometimes - and this is where Breaking Free From Diet Prison: The Roadmap to Low Carb and Keto Success can really help you - the craving - especially if it is something sweet - can come from eating things that are sweet - even fruit, artificially sweetened foods and foods that are high in carbohydrates. Sugar begets sugar cravings. Plain and simple. Change the way you are eating and you will eliminate a lot of your cravings.
What can you do when it is an urge? (More immediate than a craving)
Short and brief (because I answer this in detail in the free bonus guide below):
- Acknowledge it (when you can).
- Watch it pass by and let it dissipate.
- Set a timer.
- Sit on your hands.
- Get out of the room or out of the house or out of the bakery aisle - whatever it is.
- Breathe deeply and pay attention to your breathing because your brain cannot fully attend to two things at once. If it is engaged in the attention to the breathing it cannot be engaged in the attention to the urge.
When you don't see the urge coming or don't even recognize that is there, stop yourself in the middle of the behavior of eating.
- You know you are eating.
- You know your hand is moving things to your mouth.
- No matter what you paid for the food, throw it out.
- It is going to land up in the trash from your hand or the toilet from your...
If you are in a total trance and don't even know you are eating until it is gone, go back to my blog on The Power of Forgiving Yourself and take a lesson. You can't make things better if you hate yourself. Forgive yourself and tell yourself that you will try to be more awake when the next urge hits.
What can you do about a craving?
Even with a craving such as pizza and beer, Chinese food or whatever, if you have mastered where you are on the hunger scale (to know if you are truly hungry and when you have had enough), even a craving won’t be enough to sidetrack you.
Once you have learned when you are satisfied (6) or can stop yourself mid-way through a 7 (full) before you have done any damage, physically or emotionally, you can address cravings with little worry.
In other words, if you are craving pizza and
- it is allowed on whichever food program you are following, and
- you have identified you are hungry and later when you are full
- even if that means leaving some behind or having a little bit more,
- it will make no difference whether you have eaten the pizza or a salad with tuna on top.
With this example, and you are eating low carb and only eat between a 4 and a 6, then this is where there might be little difference between the salad and the pizza.
As long as you do not overeat and you are aware of your carbohydrate intake the rest of the day, your choice may not make a difference. If you are on a Keto food plan, then no, you won’t want to have the pizza (unless you have made a Keto crust). You will have to sit with that craving a bit.
With all my heart (and that is why I am doing all this) I want you out of diet prison forever. I want you to learn the answer to the question: What is a food craving? Parse it out from real hunger.
The first very important tool you need is the understanding of your hunger scale (please please please download the free bonus that came with that blog!). Once you know for sure that it is not real physical hunger that you are experiencing you can address your cravings and urges in a much more logical manner.
- Get yourself a timer like the one pictured here.
- When you are out of the house you can use your phone or iPad, but there is something about a physical timer that makes you really aware that you are waiting something out.
- I have little hourglass timers in almost every room in the house.
- They are timed for 90 seconds - not even 3 minutes.
- They work!
You just have to get used to putting a pause between the food cravings and reaching for the food.
- I have, on occasion, actually gotten ahold of the food (I think a bag of marshmallows was my last run-in with an urge food) and I held them, opened and smelled them.
- I waited for that little 90-second timer to run out then I closed up the bag and put it away.
Just learn to pause and I promise you can sit with your urges and food cravings, and break out of diet prison forever!
Learn more about this with my book and course:
Book Breaking Free From Diet Prison: Common Sense Keto and Low Carb
Course Breaking Free From Diet Prison: The Roadmap to Low Carb and Keto Success
And, if you haven't been getting my FREE bonus guides all along, here is one that will help you with Urges and Cravings. Here is also my chopped liver recipe in case you have been having a craving for it!