Why do we desire and choose to eat the foods we eat? Perhaps this seems like a very silly question! The answer is obvious, right? As I observe our culture, I note a variety of characters--six “protagonists”--influencing our cravings or desires for food. While some of them are necessary for health; others, I believe, are the result of imbalance or dysfunction.
First, let me explain the various roles of macro and micro nutrients that compose our food. For one, they meet our caloric (energy) need. When we are hungry, we eat food. In addition, our digestive systems break down these nutrients and convert them into building blocks that compose our body. For example, proteins are used to build organs, nerves, muscles, antibodies, enzymes, hemoglobin (red blood cells,) and hormones. Thus, the first two protagonists that cause cravings are caloric and specific nutrient needs--when we eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods, our body is supplied with nutrition which energizes and strengthens. In a perfect world, without processed foods, disease, or deficiencies, that would conclude the drama of cravings--as well as this article. However, because of the blemishes in our food industry (and health as a result) there are other reasons we choose to consume the foods we do. We have all either experienced or observed others who’ve expressed a lack of satisfaction after eating plenty of food. Sometimes there is still this unquenchable craving for a specific food to “satisfy.” This brings us to the remaining four protagonists, spotlighted below:
1) Pathogens. Our body is designed to have a beautiful balance of healthy microbes. However, too many toxins, medications, stress, sugar, etc. result in an overgrowth of yeast and other harmful bacteria. Skin rashes, irritability, inflammation, and those strong cravings (often for sugar and other refined carbohydrates) are signs of that imbalance. Understand that those processed foods we crave actually feed the pathogens. However, when we discipline ourselves and don’t eat those foods, we starve the unhealthy microbes and naturally detoxify. Often, a specific healing protocol is necessary to follow this purifying process.
2) Sensitivities. As ironic as this sounds, it is common to crave a food to which we are sensitive. This is because when we eat such a food, our body produces antibodies, antihistamines or endorphins to combat the negative effects. These proteins then cause us to desire more of the offending food.
3) Traditions. Sometimes we crave a certain food because we associate it with a specific place or people: like Thanksgiving desserts or popcorn at the movies.
4) Feelings. Often we reach for food when food is not the solution. If we have a rough day, are disappointed, or depressed, we may consciously or unconsciously turn to food to soothe us. Or perhaps every time we celebrate a victory, we feel the need to incorporate “a treat.”
The first two characters are very biological and require specific nutritional therapy. The second two reach out to the holistic realm of health, encompassing our emotional health.
Next week, I will dig a little deeper into the last two protagonists and discuss practical tips for finding victory over emotional eating. May this truth encourage and discipline us to purposefully choose foods that will supply the true needs of our bodies.