Understanding – and beating – food cravings

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

Food cravings – those bouts of intense, seemingly uncontrollable desire to get hold of and eat a particular food, are one of the most distressing roadblocks encountered by people who want to lose weight and maintain healthy eating habits.

According to US research, nearly 100% of women and 70% of men report experiencing food cravings (1). Women tend to crave sweets, with chocolate topping the ‘crave list’, while men more often crave savoury foods such as chips. What’s virtually universal, though, is that cravings centre on high-fat and/or high-kilojoule foods (2).

(In over 20 years of clinical practice, I have NEVER had a client confess to me that they get totally out of control around alfalfa sprouts or broccoli!)

Contrary to popular myth, cravings do not indicate a need for particular nutrients (3); in fact, they have virtually nothing to do with the normal hunger drive, which is triggered by the body’s need to secure nutrients. Instead, food cravings involve brain chemicals that are also central to drug addiction: opioids and dopamine.

When we eat fatty and/or sugary foods, opioids – which are the body’s own morphine-type substances – are released into our bloodstream. They then bind to opioid receptors in our brains, giving us a ‘hit’ of pleasure. Intense opioid stimulation, such as from extremely fatty and sweet foods like chocolate, can produce mild euphoria (4).

Release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter that also floods our system during sex and in response to drug-taking, is linked in with the activation of certain memories involving the craved food, suggesting that what we are really going for when we develop a craving for a food, is the positive emotion or mood that is associated, in our memory, with an earlier experience of that food (1).

This goes a long way toward explaining 2 things:

  1. Why will-power doesn’t work when it comes to defying food cravings; and
  2. Why EFT does.

Poor old will-power really doesn’t stand a chance when your ’emotional brain’ is compelling you to get relief from your current emotional state, by eating a food that will trigger a psycho-physiological shift to a happier state associated with a food experience.

For example, as a young child, one of my clients, whom I’ll call Cherie, had a favourite uncle who would shower her with the love and affection she rarely got from her stern parents – not to mention with sweet treats like cakes and pastries – whenever he visited.

The sugary, fatty taste and luscious mouth-feel of these treats became inextricably linked in Cherie’s mind with feeling loved and valued. No great surprise then, that as an adult she found herself craving cakes and pastries whenever she felt lonely!

Using EFT, we were able to access and re-process her early memories of the love and approval Cherie felt from her uncle, and literally disconnect these positive, desirable emotional states from the food. Subsequently, she was able to induce these wonderful feelings whenever she wanted to, by tapping on the memory of her uncle’s face, voice and words – and lo and behold, the food cravings disappeared.

EFT works directly with our emotions and memories, allowing rapid relief from seemingly intractable food cravings, and smoothing the path to healthy eating and weight loss.