I recently listened to a podcast on cravings, overeating, emotional eating from Food Matters. It's something that is affecting or has affected majority of the people at some point of their lives. Whether we are under chronic stress, whether we go through a breakup, whether we are struggling with anxiety, whether we are not getting enough sleep- all these make our bodies to go out of balance and we are chemically wired to reach for a food or drink to bring us back to balance.
Below I would first like to share some strategies you can use to become more mindful about your cravings for trigger foods and then cover a few of them to help you find better alternatives.
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Be curious about your cravings, your overeating of trigger foods.
Ask yourself why are you craving the particular food? Why are your overeating it? Is there an underlying emotional issue you are trying to heal, patch up with food, which is impossible to do. Here is my more in depth article about cravings I have written in the past.
Get more present with your craving and trigger food.
Rather than fighting the craving, then overeating, then having the regrets, get more present with the food you are craving or over-indulging. When we crave something and we get that food, we tend to eat it fast, unconsciously and often overeat it. Instead try and get very present in that moment, notice how your body is feeling when you eat that food or drink that drink. Does your body feel good when you eat it, has your body felt good after last time you ate this food? By bringing your conscious and awareness to present moment, you are able to overtime be more mindful and make better choices.
Give your body, mind what it actually needs, be loving and attentive towards it.
Could it be, that you need a walk, need a glass of water, need a cup of warm and soothing tea, a talk with a close person, a hug from a friend, a relaxing bath, an uplifting favourite song etc.
Now I would like to bring attention to some of the most common trigger foods and how can you make better healthier choices around them.
It's a topic I have covered in various articles in the past, one of them being this one- Why to quit sugar?
We humans love sweet things. Our tastes have evolved from thousands of years, where in the nature sweet means that it's edible and good for us and bitter often means either it's a medicine or poison and if the last, should be spitted out.
Sugar is an addictive substance for two reasons: eating small amounts creates a desire for more and if quitting suddenly, it can cause withdrawal symptoms like fatigue, cravings, headaches, mood swings. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate in foods like grains, beans, vegetables and fruits- when not processed these foods are good for us filled with also vitamins, minerals, proteins etc. Refined table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, artificial sweeteners- these however are different. Having them in frequently and in higher amounts cause inflammation in the body, imbalance in the gut and blood sugar issues that contribute to various chronic illnesses over time. And these sweeteners are often hidden in foods where you would not expect them- salad dressings, sauces, protein powders, energy bars, protein bars, even in baby food.
To tamper down your sugar cravings, experiment with healthier sugar alternatives, in smaller quantities, by sweetening your foods and drinks with the below natural sweeteners. Over time you should see a decline in your need for sugar and sweet taste. I personally quit refined sugar in 2017 and have become very sensitive to sweet foods. One date is enough to curb my craving for something sweet, fruits and berries do the trick and an occasional spoon of honey is all I need. Of course I am making sure I eat balanced meals with protein, fat and fibre from carbohydrates, so that my body feels satiated.
Dates or date sugar
Dairy is another addictive food, especially cheese as it stimulates the reward system in the brain as per scientists. Casein, the protein in dairy, releases opiates when it breaks down in our digestive system. Some people are more sensitive than others and can really become addicted to dairy products.
We humans are the only mammals who continue to consume milk into adulthood, though we don't have to. Many people, especially with East Asian, West African, Arab, Jewish descent lack the enzyme in their body to break down and digest dairy properly. If you are someone who has skin issues, asthma, chronic sinuses, frequent diarrhoea, testing yourself for lactose intolerance and giving yourself a break from dairy could relieve your symptoms.
People also say that dairy is needed for calcium in the body. Do know that there are non-dairy foods that are also high in calcium, like sesame seeds, sardines, almonds, collard greens, soybeans, dandelion greens, dried figs, amaranth, kale, fresh parsley, mustard greens, beet greens, pistachio nuts, spinach etc. Healthy bones need calcium, magnesium, boron, copper, phosphorus, zinc, manganese and many vitamins. Having too much calcium without the other important minerals and vitamins can actually increase the likelihood of bone fractures.
When choosing to consume dairy, firstly choose organic. This way you avoid the antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, that the animals get through their diet or through medication. Organic milk products are also higher in vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. Also, goat and sheep dairy is often easier to digest than cow dairy- so you can try and experiment with goat milk products. Secondly, try and consume fermented dairy as in that way you feed your body with good bacteria- kefir, plain yoghurt, sour milk, sour cream, cottage cheese, cheddar cheese, mozzarella etc.
For some people dairy could be linked to the emotional nourishment, early memories from the childhood, maybe something they lacked, like closeness or maybe they lack the closeness and intimate connection in present life and having dairy feels like fulfilling that need.
If you are looking to try to eliminate or reduce dairy and want to know what alternatives you can use. Below are several nut and seed products that can be found in liquid form (these milks can also be made at home):
If you do purchase the above milk products from the store, always read the product labels so that they don't contain added sugars, emulsifiers, stabilisers, preservatives.
I have made cheese from cashew nuts, you can find the recipe here.
While meat is often not a trigger food, some people tend to consume it too much, and eat too little vegetables or other plant-based foods to get the necessary fibre, vitamins, antioxidants, polyphenols in the body.
When choosing meat products, opt for organic, grass-fed, pasture raised, free-range, wild where possible. That way you avoid the toxins, antibiotics and other drugs that are fed to animals, birds and fish in factories and farms.
With meat we need to focus on choosing quality over quantity.
This is one of the most popular, most used mood-altering substances in the world. Caffeine is naturally present in coffee, black tea, green tea, cacao, but also added to sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks. It's an adrenaline delivery system that shakes the body's central nervous system to enhance alertness, mental and physical performance and better concentration. Short term it helps to wake us up but with long term consistent overuse, it stimulates our adrenal glands, create stress levels in the body that damage our immune system.
And while coffee for example has health benefits as well, like containing anti-oxidants, it's important not to use it as a crutch to make up for lack of adequate sleep or the need to hustle through your day regardless how much energy you have. If not changing the underlying issues, this behaviour could lead to adrenal fatigue and burnout.
Energy drinks and sodas is a topic that has come up with quite a few of my clients when I coach them. Those drinks often contain not only caffeine, but sugar, fructose and/or artificial sweeteners, artificial flavours and colourants- therefore not only affecting your adrenals, but digestive tract, blood sugar, causing potentially several health issues if consumed frequently and for a long period of time.
If you didn't know some people are better caffeine metabolisers than others, which means caffeine can have moderate effects on one person, but could be overwhelming to another person creating jittery feelings and even nausea. It's possible to test how well your body is metabolising caffeine.
Here are strategies you can try to practice to bring more natural energy to your life without caffeine in the mornings after waking:
1. Drink a big glass of warm water, with added lemon, pinch of salt or with apple cider vinegar. Learn more about the importance of water here.
2. Get outside in the natural light, take a walk, get moving, expose yourself to the morning sun.
3. If the temperature and season allows, get yourself grounded with earth. Take your shoes off, walk on the grass, walk on the beach in the water, on the sand and realign your electrical energy with earth.
4. Get exposure to cold, for a short period of time, like having 10-30 seconds of cold shower after your morning shower.
5. Practice breath holding exercises for a short period of time, for example 4-7-8 breathing technique from Dr. Andrew Weil. Learn more about it and how to do it from my breathing exercises article.
I know very few people who don't like chocolate. It helps to release serotonin, a feel good hormone in the brain, so no wonder we like it. Chocolate gives a feeling of comfort, relaxation and expansiveness. In this article I share more about chocolate, it's benefits, how to choose the healthiest version and also a recipe of banana bread for chocoholics. Chocolate, whether it's good for you or bad for you, really depends on the person. For someone, who is struggling with heartburn, chocolate can aggravate the symptoms, so it's best to avoid it. But for someone who is healthy, indulging in a small amount of dark chocolate can be really good and sooth the soul.
If you choose a chocolate, try and find organic with more than 70% cocoa content. In that way you avoid the unnecessary sugar highs and get more healthy benefits from the chocolate.
Our bodies need fat to nourish our brains, nerves, heart, hormones and every single cell. It's also good for our skin, hair and nails. But there are different types of fats, but certain fats like trans fats found in many processed foods, junk foods, french fries, baked goods, frozen processed foods, margarines are the fats we definitely want to avoid. Work on substituting good fats for bad fats. In this article I go into detail about different types of healthy fats and from which foods to find them as well as which fats it's best to avoid or definitely limit your consumption.
We have used salt throughout our history to season and preserve our food. A good quality salt, like Himalayan salt, contains 84 different minerals and is good for you in moderation. The problem we have is that people consume more processed, more packaged foods, more junk foods and therefore get more sodium than is recommended.
The best solution is to start to cook more at home from scratch if you are not doing it already. In that way you can control what goes into the food and ultimately what goes into your body.
There are more trigger foods out there. Important is that you discover yours and learn to understand why you grave them.
Below is an exercise you can try to help to reduce your trigger foods over time.
Think what are your triggering foods within your life?
What role do they play in your diet?
If you were to reduce one of the trigger foods, which one would you reduce? Why did you choose this particular food?
Try and reduce during one week the consumption of this one food and write down how you feel.
What feels difficult about reducing this food?
How does your body feel? Does it feel different? Do you have more energy?
Did reducing one particular food have an influence for your cravings for other foods?
Moderation means balance. If you enjoy having something sweet now and again, have it. Choose the highest-quality version of it or prepare it yourself at home with love and enjoy it with full heart. If you want to drink coffee, have it in moderation, a cup or two a day and ideally before lunch. If your overall diet is wholesome, consisting of unprocessed whole foods and you don't overeat any particular food group, then it's ok to indulge now and again. It's ok to have a cookie or a glass of wine from time to time if you desire it, as long as you take care of yourself and your body 80%-90% of the time.
If the above feels overwhelming and you are not sure where to start, and you think you need a health coach to help to guide and support you along the way, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.