Are you an emotional eater? Discover the meanings behind your cravings, and apply these healthy ways to deal with the binge attacks. Cravings are almost always emotional.
Some of you skinny people… you won’t get this,” comedian Louis CK says in his famed hilarious stand-up special Shameless, in which he describes what happens to him when he sees a plate of biscuits at a party. Louis walks by it a few times, pretending to be casual. “Like, oh hey, so who brought those? That’s cool,” he says, circling the table. “I totally could not eat them, but I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings…” He keeps coming back to the plate, pretending to rediscover it, adding, “If people start noticing, you have to say something like, ‘These are crazy. I don’t know what it is about them!’”
The truth is, every kind of person – slim or curvy, young or old – can experience food cravings. And a craving is separate from simply just being hungry: it’s a desire for a specific taste, which often has little to do with actual hunger. Long thought to signal a need for particular nutrients, cravings are now understood in many cases as emotional responses to boredom, stress, sadness and more.
“My roommate and I will go to the garage at 11 at night, when we’re up late doing homework, to get cheese popcorn,” shares student Miranda, 18. Minahil, 19, says that she often needs chocolate. “In high school, I wanted it so badly that I would just leave class!”
Cravings are almost always emotional, according to nutritionist Kimberly Snyder, whose clients include Amanda Seyfried, Kate and Rooney Mara, Fergie and Chris Hemsworth. “Check in with yourself when you’re having a craving, ask yourself, ‘How am I feeling? Why am I so drawn to this particular food?’” By becoming aware of what you chronically reach for, you are able to take charge of not only what you are eating, but also how you are feeling.
Eating disorders involve a similar lack of control over your emotional state, Kimberly points out. But understanding the unmet needs that can drive particular cravings gives any person more power over them. Kimberly’s technique, detailed in her recent book The Beauty Detox Power (Harlequin; R369), is to combine that concept with diet switch-outs that exchange the less-healthy craved food for similar, better-for-you options. “In high school, I was addicted to pretzels – it started when I was 13 and lasted a decade,” Kimberly admits. The issue a crunchy craving can be trying to resolve is tension, she explains. “It can come on when you’re anxious or angry and not facing it; chomping down on something can provide a temporary cathartic release.” Think about Are you upset about something? The simplest way to decompress in the moment is to focus on your breath; one do-it-anywhere trick is to imagine the word ‘let’ as you breathe in and the word ‘go’ as you breathe out. Exercise is also a great mood-booster, especially for quelling worry or anger. Eat Keep washed, chopped ready-toeat veggies – plus healthy dips like hummus – handy.