When we reach for a treat or crave a certain food, what do we really need?
Try to stop, take a breath, and ask yourself this question before you eat. Sometimes, we might need water, exercise, fresh air, a hug, a conversation with a friend, or the fragrance of a flower.
What constitutes true nourishment? We must eat to live. Because this is true, it might seem that cooking and eating would be a priority in our lives. Yet, our culture has provided us with packaged and prepared foods for purchase so that we can spend time doing other things. Do we gain the same satisfaction from eating foods prepared by factory machines as we do from cooking a meal and sharing it with friends?
When we do not slow down enough to enjoy our meals, we may start snacking needlessly and confusing our bodies’ signals for nourishment. Snacks often contain carbohydrates or sugars, which trigger the body to release serotonin, the “feel-good” hormone. If serotonin is low, we feel sad or depressed. Hormonal imbalance or weak digestion can lead to low serotonin. Unfortunately, sugars and simple carbohydrates release a short burst of serotonin — we feel good for a moment, but soon return to our low-serotonin state — then crave more sugar and simple carbohydrates. It’s a downward spiral.
Food cravings mean that the body has its signals mixed up. When we are exhausted or have not taken the time to sit and eat a complete meal, we have low blood sugar and/or low serotonin, and the body signals the brain that it needs energy. This signal causes a sugar craving or carbohydrate craving.
Low-fat diets unintentionally exacerbate this craving by developing insulin resistance in the body. Insulin is responsible for maintaining stable blood sugar levels. It tells the body’s cells when to absorb glucose from the bloodstream. When the body stops responding to insulin, it stores calories as fat, which means that food is no longer available to fuel us throughout the day.
When our cells cannot absorb the glucose they need because they lack the insulin trigger, they signal the brain to eat more carbohydrates or sugars. This mixed signal results in food cravings. The taste of sugar also releases endorphins that calm and relax us. However, the body does not get the nourishment it needs and, over time, can develop chronic health conditions.
The problem comes not when we indulge in a sweet treat occasionally, but when we over-consume. This is easy to do when sugar is added to many processed foods, including breads, yogurt, juices, and sauces. Americans average about 22 teaspoons of added sugars per day, according to the American Heart Association, which recommends limiting added sugars to 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 for men.
Take time to cook a meal once this week. Before you decide what to prepare, stop, sit down, and take a deep breath. Ask your body what it needs to find harmony.
For example, do you feel:
excitable like a hot fire? Choose a watery, cooling food, like blueberries, to soothe you; emotional like flowing water? Choose a warming food, such as sweet potato, to find ease; scattered and anxious like a gust of wind? Choose an earthy, grounding food, like millet; heavy and stuck like stone? Choose an airy, crunchy food, such as apples, to refresh you.
After you have cooked a meal, sit down to savor it. Try to eat in silence for the first few minutes of your meal. Chew, feel your senses awakening and your muscles working. Notice the textures and flavors of the food. Put down your fork between bites. Breathe. Look at your food. Appreciate the colors, smells, and shapes. Feel its capacity to nourish you. Take another bite.
Apples: contain polyphenols and fiber to help prevent blood sugar spikes; provide pre-biotic compounds that support intestinal flora and ease gas and bloating; contain antioxidants that help to digest fat in the cell membranes and reduce the risk of cardiovascular difficulties.
Millet: alkaline enough to balance body’s pH; nutrient dense, hypo-allergenic, complex carbohydrate; offers a balance of B vitamins to support digestion and balance blood sugar; provides consistent energy.
Blueberries: strengthen them immunity and enhance overall health with power-packed antioxidants; support brain function and offer acid-alkaline balance in intestines.
Sweet Potatoes: high in omega 3 essential fatty acids to tonify the internal organs and strengthen immunity; rich in carotenoids and omega-3s, whose anti-oxidant content offers anti-inflammatory support; high in vitamin C to boost immunity; can block the formation of cholesterol in arteries; rich in B vitamins to reduce stress.