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What Are You Really Craving

By Abbe Klemme, RD LD

One minute you’re innocently going about your day—the next minute you’re engulfed in temptation. What is the object of your desire? A chocolate brownie with creamy vanilla icing. Next thing you know, you’re fighting the urge to take a big bite.


What just happened? You experienced a strong food craving. In most cases of a craving, it’s not to satisfy hunger, but to satisfy a different need. Common triggers are boredom, procrastination, excitement, comfort, love, frustration, anger, rage, stress, anxiety, mild depression, wanting to be part of a group (socializing), and just letting loose. We’ve all eaten for every single one of those reasons at some point or another. Identifying the trigger is the first step, but often it is difficult to put into words exactly what we are seeking by eating. For instance, you may be seeking…


Sensory gratification. when this happens, you are trying to satisfy a taste for something special. It is natural to want to experience pleasure with food. We often seek food for happy occasions. So, good food is associated with good times.

. certain foods are associated with giving us comfort, like craving a bowl of soup when you’re sick. Is eating for comfort on occasion detrimental to our emotional health? No! But, if you find that food is your ‘go-to’ substance or the only thing that provides comfort when you are sad, lonely, or uncomfortable, then the food has become an emotional coping mechanism.

. this is when we eat food to avoid confronting another emotion. This behavior is harmful for two reasons. One, distraction prevents you from taking care of your real needs (which is to confront the trigger). Two, this behavior is so soothing we often inadvertently teach ourselves that this is an appropriate time to eat rather than listening to our body for real hunger cues.

. at a recent support group, this reason for emotional eating was probably the most talked about. This is when you seek food to numb you, AKA the ‘food coma’. Its equivalent to the emotional numbness an alcoholic may seek from alcohol. You likely desire, whether you are conscious of it or not, to zone-out of life. You don’t want to feel anything for an extended period of time. Just like distraction, coupling food with this behavior, shatters our body’s natural sense of knowing when we are hungry or full.

. have you ever felt absolutely sick with yourself for overeating or eating a ‘bad’ food, then you go ahead and beat yourself up with negative self-talk while eating large quantities of food because you’re mad at yourself? For punishers, food becomes such a negative experience that they often begin to hate or become afraid of food. When you take a step back though, no crime was committed by eating food. If there was no crime, then you need no punishment. Food is just food. Food doesn’t deserve, nor should it have such strong emotions, like hate and fear, associated with it.


So what can you do to handle some of your triggers better? Try the following three Trigger Busters:


1. Make sure your physical and emotional needs are being met (without food). Get plenty of sleep. Don’t bottle up your thoughts, opinions, and emotions. Make sure your intellectual and creative sides are stimulated (read a book, paint a picture, write poetry, fix an old car, etc.) Make sure people are giving you love, comfort, and respect.

2. Deal with your feelings.
Call a friend, punch a pillow or punching bag, allow yourself to cry, take deep breaths, stretch or write in a journal.

3. Don’t distract yourself with food, try these things instead.
Read a good book, watch a movie, take a drive, clean the closet, listen to some music or dance.

Source: Intuitive Eating by Tribole & Resch