How to Reduce Two Common Food Cravings

How to Reduce Two Common Food Cravings

Written by Dr. M. Ling, 3 April 2017

Do you ever find yourself going through cycles of particular food cravings? Like if you’re a woman, maybe you crave more sweets around your menstrual cycle? Or when you’re adrenaline’s pumping, you want something spicy? Or maybe you just have certain food cravings on a regular basis?

Every food craving has a meaning, and in this brief article we’ll look at two very common ones: cravings for SWEETS and SPICY, and what to do with them.

If you find yourself craving sweets, pastries, carbs or chocolate, i.e. if your ‘go-to’ food falls in any of these categories, then you are likely not getting enough PROTEIN. I have found clinically there is such a strong correlation between these two, that when a person gets their recommended daily dose of healthy protein, the sweets and bread cravings voila, disappear!

Rationale:   a. Sweets are a fast sugar fix. And carbs like bread, pita and rice break down into sugars. Not ideal for diabetic or pre-diabetic conditions, or for keeping healthy weight or energy levels. Sugary foods also create increased acidity in the body, leading to more pronounced joint pains, inflammation, and digestive issues. But protein is the basic building block for ALL tissue in the body, whether for tissue repair, generating more blood cells, or for raising and sustaining energy levels.

b. Quality of protein is important and doesn’t just entail meat or fish! Almond or other nut butters (except peanut butter due to high uric acid content), eggs, lentils, beans, quinoa, chickpeas, hummus and vegan-based (i.e. non-whey), non-soy protein powders, and collagen are great options to increase nutritional value per caloric intake.

Now if you find yourself craving SPICY foods, especially green and red chili peppers, sriracha or tabasco hot sauces, what’s the common theme? Check your adrenaline levels and the EMOTION(s) you are experiencing underneath the craving.

Do you tend to reach for these capsaicin-filled fiery foods when you’re over-excited, upset or stressed? I’ve found a clinical correlation between people who are ‘hyper’ or whose stress levels are high, or they are often frustrated, upset or angry, and their tendency to reach for that intensely hot spicy sauce, or chilis.

Rationale:   a. When adrenaline and cortisol hormones are already high in the body, spicy foods – particularly the capsaicin-filled chilis and hot sauces – further keep these hormones high by activating certain neurons responsible for the perception of pain. This in turn keeps people from genuinely acknowledging possible deeper levels of emotional pain that they are likely avoiding.

b. Getting chilis in the diet needs to vary with climate. Believe it or not, tropical places are the best locations to get your spicy hot sauce fix. In a hot-humid climate, perspiration is the body’s natural means to cool down, and eating chilis here causes sweating in order to actually stay cool. And chilis kill off germs and bad bacteria that often tend to propagate faster in tropical climates.

Whereas in temperate, cool climates like Vancouver, Canada, it never really gets hot enough that we need to cool down via sweating. So eating excessive amounts of chilis and hot sauces in cooler climates only increases the body’s internal fire. As this fire accumulates, if this internal fire is not steamed off sufficiently through sweating from exercise or sauna, then it accumulates in the body, and turns the natural fireplace in the house of our body into an out-of-control fire that’s now burning down the house!

This can lead to any of the following symptoms: hives, scalp acne, rosacea, easy to anger, acid reflux (heartburn), burning on bowel movement, dry/hard stools, dehydration, joint pains, arthritis, dry mouth, thirstiness, burning tongue/mouth.

So the next time you reach for that bottle of hot sauce, or raw jalapeño pepper, ask yourself a series of questions:

“What’s the emotion behind my desire for spicy food?”
“Am I willing to look at and acknowledge what that emotion is? Why or why not?”

If the answer is “No”, have your spicy food, and then pay attention to how your body responds and ‘talks’ to you afterward through any possible symptoms that come up over the next 24-36 hours.

If the answer is “Yes”, then great, you’re ready to change a pattern and you can ask yourself, “What healthy option can I choose to replace this spicy fix?” Maybe it’s meditation, or exercise, a fun hobby, or simply a healthier food choice.

HINT: SOUR flavours like those found in lemon, lime or grapefruit often tend to reduce cravings for both sweet and spicy.

Whatever you do, proceed without judgment about you or your food cravings. While they are not ‘bad’ per se, when they are consistent, or present a particular pattern, they can point to certain deficiencies we might be experiencing, whether physically or emotionally. And first step is simply to pay attention and observe these patterns.

Dr. Mee Lain Ling