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Managing Stress-Related Cravings

Updated: Aug 4, 2022

We’ve all had those days—you know the ones—when our strongest convictions and commitments to our higher path disintegrate and we slip into old habits.

Can you guess the number one reason?

(Hint: It’s in the title of this post.)

That’s right. STRESS.

High stress levels can undermine the best of intentions. Once we feel we cannot cope with problems, we often revert to old patterning. This often manifests in the form of cravings, generally of comfortable and familiar substances and activities.

Cravings come in different forms—tobacco, alcohol, drugs, sex—but food is among the most common go-to comfort for people coping with high stress levels. Ever find yourself staring into the refrigerator or cupboards, not really knowing what you want but feeling like you need something?

That, my friend, is a craving—the second event after overstimulation.

Our brains are constantly monitoring our emotions and physiology, trying to predict what course of action or choice will best suit our needs. Our brains did not evolve to crave a cigarette or a cookie.

What cravings are attempting to do is relieve anxiety and reduce uncertainty. They are designed to meet ancient needs and improve chances of survival.

In other words, a craving is a strong message from our unconscious mind that something is missing. When the blood sugar levels drop too low, there is a gap between what the body needs—more glucose—and what it currently has available.

This gap between the current state and needed or desired state creates an impulse to react. When we reach for the chips or ice cream, we are really trying to close that gap, to feel differently—to feel better.

We could say to ourselves, “Don’t get stressed, and just avoid the whole craving thing,” but that is unrealistic. Life happens and stressful situations arise in the real world.

However, there are ways to mitigate the overwhelming desire to indulge our less-healthy reactions to stress.

For food-related cravings, we don’t want to reach for the wrong foods. The challenge is that during times of over-stress, the emotional mind overpowers the logical mind and certain foods trigger emotional needs.

· Do you have childhood memories of freshly baked cookies?

· Maybe pancakes with butter and maple syrup?

· Or do you go for the salty snacks?

· Potato chips?

Mine was dark chocolate. If I was having a hard day, a chocolate bar would do the trick. Having a great time? Hey, let’s celebrate with, yep, dark chocolate.

After I did indulge, I often felt worse not only physically but also emotionally—guilt, shame, and regret arose after a chocolate indulgence. These negative feelings can deeply embed themselves into our emotional body and create havoc in our physiology.

So, how can we deal with our stress-related cravings differently?

Here are some simple suggestions to get you started:

1. Try to identify what is missing in your life that is creating the sense that something you value is not being met. For example:

a. What is the gap between what is and what is desired?

b. Is there a lack of love in your life?

c. Is your job not in alignment with your values and goals?

d. Are you not being heard in your relationship?

2. If possible, stop buying the foods that you reach for when you are stressed.

a. This only works to a point, so start with baby steps if necessary.

b. Try not to grocery shop when you are feeling stressed of have low blood-sugar.

c. Full disclosure: I have been known to drive to the store for the sole purpose of buying…dark chocolate. It happens.

3. If you crave sweet:

a. Have on hand organic fruits, dried figs, and dates.

b. Keep a stash of dried fruit in your cupboards, your work desk, vehicle (if you drive frequently), and anywhere else you spend a lot of time.

4. If your thing is salty:

a. Find snacks made with quality oils like sunflower, olive, and avocado.

b. Lightly salted nuts can help satiate a craving and substitute sodium with healthy fats.

c. Grass-fed dried beef jerky is a healthier alternative to other processed snack foods.

One thing to keep in mind while shifting habits, particularly around food cravings, is something I learned from James Clear’s book Atomic Habits.

Do not set a goal of becoming healthier. Instead create simple daily habits that give you the experience of being a healthy person. One step, one day at a time.

So, the next time you feel stressed and react with a craving, reach for the food that a healthy person would eat. Then look in the mirror and say hello to that healthy person. You’re on your way.

Cameron Moffatt DOMP

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