One aspect of my work involves teaching my clients practices that I call “listening to your body”.
As they master (or mistress) these practices, they learn to identify the foods their body is asking for, and they learn to sense how their body is responding when they eat those particular foods.
As you can imagine, this is an ideal process for anyone (ie, most of us) who gets really confused about all of the conflicting information out there regarding which foods we “should” be eating. In reality, there’s no one-size-fits-all diet, and the foods that work for you may not work for your friend. Once my clients really integrate these “listening to your body” practices, they have clarity about which foods are supportive for them and which are problematic.
In addition, this process is really helpful for deciphering cravings.
Early on, before getting clear on these practices, cravings really confuse my clients. Here are some of the responses I’m accustomed to hearing at that stage:
“Well, when I listen to my body, it asks for cake/cookies/wine/pizza! Does that mean it’s what my body really wants?”
“My body asks for oatmeal in the morning, but I heard that it’s important to focus on protein at breakfast, and don’t grains cause weight gain anyway?”
“I’m vegan, and I don’t agree with eating animals, but when I tune in this way my body is fiending for chicken! But isn’t meat bad for you?”
While sorting this out can be a process that requires guidance, you may also be able to learn it yourself from this blog post. So in hopes of that result, here are three of my best tips for determining whether your craving is a healthy one, arising from your body’s nutritional needs, or one that indicates imbalance. Remember, as I explained in my video blogs from August and September, that any food that’s hard to digest, from known “junk” foods to foods you’re allergic to, can trigger cravings.
1. How do you feel when you imagine eating the food?
A healthy, supportive craving feels different than an addictive craving. It’s slower and gentler. When you imagine eating the food, your body may feel relaxed, or warm, or calm, or simply just somehow right.
An addictive or toxic craving feels more sped up. If you and I are trying to sort out whether a food’s toxic to you, and I ask you to imagine eating it, if the food in fact is not a match for you, there’s usually a particular set of reactions. Your eyes might light up. You might have a speedy, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”, grasping response. When you feel into your body, you might notice a faster or heightened energy running through it – a bit of a “high”, in fact. It’s really common to have this sort of reaction about a food that contains sugar – don’t forget that includes alcohol and bread.
2. Is it a common allergen, or a food known to be not so healthy for you?
If the body-centered practices elude you, you can also go the intellectual route, although this won’t ultimately give you as much information. If you’re craving cake or cookies or candy or bread or beer, you can deduce that since these foods are known for creating addictive reactions, your craving is likely an imbalanced one. However, to throw a wrench in the works, there are also foods that are healthy, and that many people can digest with no problems, but which are also common allergens that are quite toxic to some people. These include eggs, dairy, nightshades, glutinous grains and corn.
Here’s an example of blending tactic #1 with tactic #2. I had a client once who asked me, “Is corn good for you?”
“Depends,” I said. “How do you feel about it?”
Her eyes started swirling like a cartoon character. She got a big smile on her face. “I LOVE grits,” she said.
“How often do you eat grits?” I asked.
“A few times a week,” she answered.
We explored her physical reaction a little more. Based on the “high” response she got when we were talking about grits, combined with the fact that corn is a common allergen, we deduced that in fact, corn was probably irritating her system, which was stimulating a craving response.
3. How do you feel after you actually consume the food?
This is a very easy one to track. Eat the food you’re craving, then notice how you feel immediately afterwards. Pay attention to any changes in energy, mood and digestion (as well as any other symptoms) for 12 hours after. Do you get a headache? Do you feel sluggish? Do you get a burst of energy and then feel irritable and tired? Do you bloat? Do you get diarrhea, or constipation? Or on the flip side, do you feel relatively stable and good?
This is not at all the definition of an allergy test. But it will give you some basic information on which foods your body likes, and which ones it doesn’t.
4. How would you feel if you could never eat the food again?
This one’s a question we therapists use when diagnosing addiction. Personally, I enjoy a drink or two sometimes. And if someone told me I could never drink again, I’d be bummed, no doubt, but my life would certainly go on.
If I told you you could never again have the food you’re craving, do you feel the same way – slightly bummed? Or do you feel outraged, or crushed, or like life would lose so much of its color?
You can probably sense where I’m going with this. If your response falls in the “outraged and crushed” category, the food has more power over you than it should, and that’s a red flag.
What did you think of these tips? Did you find them helpful? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.