How to Understand the Difference Between General Food Cravings and Emotional Food Cravings
Food cravings can be simple and they can be complicated. One way they can be simple is, you see an ad for chocolate and think, “that sounds so tasty,” and an hour later you are still thinking about it—still craving the chocolate. Food cravings can be complicated when they are linked to emotions, for example when you are kinda bored and lonely and you find yourself checking the fridge just to see what’s there… where food becomes a comfort, a friend and a way to pass the time. These are two common examples of cravings, and yet they are very different in nature and therefore need to be understood and managed in different ways.
A general food craving can occur for many reasons, one being that it is a response to a sensory stimuli: seeing—talking about—smelling a food—which then causes a craving for that food. It can also be a message from your body about what it needs. Food cravings can seem to come out of nowhere. These cravings are often a signal that your body is out of balance nutritionally and the last time it received that nutrient it came from the very (seemingly random) food that you are craving.
General food cravings may also signal that you are dehydrated, and your body really just needs you to drink some water. Restricting certain foods can trigger cravings as well because you really want to eat the foods that now you’ve categorized as “off limits.” Lastly, a general food craving can be triggered by a having repetitive and boring meals that do not feel satisfying after you’ve eaten, leaving you craving something more.
One of the most effective ways to manage general food cravings more effectively is to eat a wide array of nutrient dense foods. Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables as well as healthy protein and fat sources will give your body the whole foods nutrition it needs in order to remain in balance and functioning well for you. Another way to stave off general cravings—that is super simple—is to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of filtered water all day to keep food cravings at bay!
Another important way to reduce general food cravings is to NOT live in a restrictive space with food. If you choose not to eat certain foods for a particular (and valid) reason, such as they make you feel bad, zap your energy, they aren’t in alignment with your long-term health goals, sure, you may crave those foods from time to time. However, if you are restricting foods because you view them as “bad”, this will cause you to crave them even more and may swing you into an overeating phase (aka the roller coaster dieting cycle).
Viewing food as “bad” may cause you to internalize that feeling which creates a negative belief about yourself—that you are now bad because you’ve eaten this “bad” food. This leads to triggering emotional eating and is a very dangerous mindset. Evaluate the why behind your choices and make decisions about food from a space of empowerment and Inner Strength. If you choose not to eat a particular food, make the reason valid and important to you, which helps you active your Inner Strength.
If your daily diet is boring and repetitive, start experimenting with herbs and spices to create more flavor. Find new recipes that sound delicious to you and make you feel excited to eat them. Make sure you have a full nutrient profile in each meal (fiber, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fat, protein). This will help to reduce general cravings because you will not only derive pleasure from your meals because of how delicious they are, you will feel satisfied and satiated because of the nourishment provided by the food and flavor.
Try these tools to keep general food cravings to a minimum. Notice how these shifts can impact your choices as well as how you feel about yourself.
Emotional cravings are different than a general food craving, they are driven solely by emotions. Emotions are the driving force behind emotional eating which then often triggers other emotions causing a frustrating cycle. Most often, emotional eating is caused by an emotion that you find uncomfortable. However, celebrations and rewards can be triggers for emotional eating as well.
One of the most difficult elements of emotional eating is that the emotion is often first experienced unconsciously—you find yourself mindlessly eating before you knew what hit you. There wasn’t the time you needed to become aware of the emotion so you could make a choice. The tendency to escape from uncomfortable emotions is human nature. Numbing them out, so as not feel the discomfort, can often cause the food craving. The numbing, of course, is only temporary, it’ll be back, along with all of the other emotions you have been eating away.
Emotional food cravings come with a host of negative side effects including a lack of emotional awareness, weight gain, hopelessness, anxiety and frustration. These often trigger self-defeating thoughts like “why bother,” triggering more emotional eating. This furthers the negative feelings about yourself and keeps you stuck in a vicious and seemingly never ending cycle where food is the problem, food is the solution…
Understanding the difference between the two types of food cravings, general or emotional, allows you to begin to understand the direction to take in order to manage each of them more effectively. Becoming empowered by awareness will create the opportunity to feel more confident and decisive surrounding food choices.
Once you begin to build awareness and you are more able to tease out the difference based on your particular craving in the moment, you can make a choice about how to respond. Because emotional food cravings initially happen unconsciously, they can be more difficult to manage. Getting a handle on general food cravings first and to be aware of the difference is where to begin.
Building self-awareness through emotional intelligence and growing your Inner Strength will help as you begin this journey of understanding the type of craving you are experiencing. Once you feel confident about identifying them, then you can learn how to manage the craving from there.
I am here to support your journey. You can sign up for my 7-Day Kick Your Cravings to the Curb Challenge to begin to take charge of your food cravings today!