What do you crave? Sugar, caffeine, alcohol? Indulging in any of these can provide a quick fix to feel at ease, engaged or excited. They light up the “reward centers” in the brain by releasing dopamine, according to Dr. Robert Cloninger, a geneticist and psychiatrist noted for his research on mental health.
It only makes sense that we use food, drugs and other means to combat the stress we feel through out the day. But if your cravings leave you plagued by a sense of powerlessness and frustration, I have good news: It doesn’t have to be that way. It starts with creating a paradigm shift around cravings. Instead of calling them bad, call them useful information or clues to what’s going on in your
mind, body and environment. They are your brain’s way of telling you that something in your life is out of balance. What you crave is not the problem, but instead, the answer to a problem. For example, suppose it’s 4 p.m. on Monday and I have a strong craving for sugar and caffeine. I ask myself, “Why?” “What information are these cravings giving me?”
My answers: After a long weekend, I’m tired. I ate lunch four hours ago, and I’m hungry. My day was stressful, and I’m grumpy. The sugar and caffeine are not the problem; instead they’re obvious and easy answers to my problem. They’ll give me an emotional pick-me-up, suppress my appetite and provide a burst of energy. But here’s the rub: They’re temporary fixes that will leave me worse off than I was. Drinking caffeine at 4 p.m. will disrupt my sleep, creating a new level of tiredness and grumpiness tomorrow. Eating sugar to fuel my body is like put ting a nearly dead battery in my headlamp before a camping trip – it offers a flickering promise of light and then dies out just when I need it most.
After deconstructing this craving, I realize that sugar and caffeine are not good solutions to my problem. In fact, they are detrimental. What my body and mind really need at this time of day is nutritious whole food and hydration. So what should I do? How do I get quick convenient energy and create the dopamine release my brain is seeking? Instead of a caffeinated, sugary or diet drink, I’ll start by enjoying a tall glass of cold lemon water, along with an affirmation like, “Yummm, this water is so refreshing.” (For more on this, check out “Your Body’s Many Cries for Water” by Dr. F. Batmaghelidj ). Then, I will snack on foods like almonds, avocados, bananas, dairy or pumpkin seeds that help my body make and release dopamine. This will take the edge off of my hunger and cranky mood and give me the energy I need until I can sit down for dinner.
The next time you have a craving, get curious and consider it an opportunity to learn more about yourself and your lifestyle. Take a moment to ask yourself, “Why am I craving this?” Do you need nutrition, hydration, a nap, self-love, a hug, entertainment, movement or a reward? Once you find your answers, it opens up new, more sustainable ways that you can meet your own needs, leaving you feeling rejuvenated, empowered and satisfied.