You're having a good food day, eating right and feeling satisfied with yourself, but the minute the sun goes down, it hits you: The urge to splurge. Throwing discipline out the window, you give in, eating not just a normal portion of the cookies, ice cream, or chocolate you crave, but the whole she-bang. Less than an hour later, before the taste has left your mouth, you're regretting your weakness and wondering why you have no willpower.
Well, give yourself a break. No matter how strong your psychological commitment, biology may be working against you. If you take a moment to understand how cravings work, you'll be able to arm yourself against future temptation.
Food behaviorists say there are two types of hunger -- physical hunger and emotional hunger. When you are physically hungry, your stomach sends a signal to the brain, saying it's time to eat. This signal, known as an internal hunger cue, is accompanied by physical symptoms, such as a feeling of emptiness in the stomach, stomach rumblings and grumblings, and even a feeling of light-headedness. If time passes and you don't answer the hunger cues, you may find yourself feeling irritable and fatigued.
Emotional hunger is not accompanied by these physical cues. How many times have you found yourself eating because you are bored, angry, sad, happy, depressed, anxious or stressed? When you do so, you are answering emotional huger cues. Why are you answering an emotional need with a physical response? It's a common cycle that may have started in childhood, with a parent or grandparent calming your tears or brushing away your complaints with food. As an adult, you still associate the sensation of eating or of fullness with the release of stress and pain. Are some of the foods you crave the same foods that comforted you in childhood? It wouldn't be surprising. That's where the notion of "comfort foods" comes from.
If you often find yourself eating for emotional comfort, you have a challenge ahead. The simple fact is, it is easier and psychologically safer to satiate yourself with food than it is to get at the root cause of your anger, boredom, anxiety, or depression and deal with it. Luckily, there are strategies that may help you.