Addiction or restriction? The truth behind your food cravings

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Let’s talk food cravings. Sugar addictions and withdrawals. Food addictions.

Do you ever:

  •  Feel out of control when you eat certain foods?
  • Feel like you can’t stop eating some foods no matter how much you’ve already eaten
  • Feel like the only way to not overeat some foods is to avoid them altogether?
  • Think you might be addicted to food?

There’s not much evidence to support food addictions. Some mice studies have shown that mice prefer sugar over cocaine, but this does not prove that sugar is addictive or that we should liken food or sugar to drug addiction. Importantly, none of these studies control for food deprivation.

If food was truly addictive why is yoghurt not as addictive as a mars bar? They both contain sugar. So does a banana, and M&Ms. I know which ones people are going to tell me they’re addiction to and it sure ain’t the banana.

It’s the naughty ones. Those ‘bad’ foods. The off limit foods.

While a true addiction is unlikely, what you are going through is real, and not something to be brushed off or taken lightly.

How restriction fuels your cravings

What does tend to happen, especially when we go on diets is we have lists. Lists of foods. And it usually gets divided into “good” or allowed foods and “bad” or forbidden foods. These lists will have different names, depending on what diet you’re following, but by the very nature of the diet, there will be a list of foods that are meant to be eaten often, and a list that’s meant to be eaten seldom, if at all.

On one level, it makes sense. If we just focus on eating the “good” foods, we’ll forget the bad ones and we won’t eat them because they’re “bad” and we know how “bad” they are for our health and our figures so we won’t touch them.

But. Lets take a moment to think about what foods are typically on the “bad” lists. Chips, chocolate, lollies, cookies, ice-cream, white bread, cakes, slices, milkshakes, pastries, pies, pizza.

I could go on.

Notice something? I do. These also happen to be foods that people typically identify as being addictive.

So what often happens when we classify foods as “good” or “bad” we see the “good” foods as boring, a chore. We also see the “bad” foods as exciting, naughty, forbidden. And this actually makes us want to eat more of the “bad” foods and less of the good ones.

What also tends to happen is, because we have identified these foods as “bad”, by eating them we, by extension, become bad. This is why after eating “bad” food we often feel guilty and ashamed. This is also why we often scoff down these foods when no-one else is around. Which is so sad! Food is designed to be enjoyed!

Break the cycle

 Let go of good and bad labels

Food is morally neutral. You might like to check out this article that I wrote for The Nutrition Press or this one that Emma from broccoli and blueberries wrote.

 Approach cravings with a sense of curiosity, not tyranny 

I find that a lot of people want to squash food cravings. They want to knock them on the head and bury them. But as Fiona from Body positive Australia points out, food cravings are a chance to be curious.

You may like to read this article that I wrote about dealing with cravings in a non-derivational way. I also wrote a whole article on why sugar isn’t addictive – you can read it here.

I want you to be able to enjoy food, all foods, without feeling guilty or ashamed afterwards. After all, food is there to be enjoyed!

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