Growing up I ate like your average American. Chicken fingers and fish sticks for dinner, pop tarts for breakfast and the occasional McDonald’s drive-thru happy meal. One of my favorite memories from my pre-teen and teen years was our weekly Friday night dinner at a little diner in walking distance from my house.
In the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills a little place on the corner called Leo’s Coney Island was known for its delicious Greek salads with extra feta cheese, gyros that were to die for, and the extra rice pudding you got to take home at the end of the night because you frequented the place so often.
The owner knew how to do business. A very friendly man with a strong accent, he knew us well and gave my sister and I free chocolate mints (normally 50 cents), extra pita and rice pudding for the road every so often. (Our weekly dinners were paying off!)
My family and I would regularly meet our friends there for Friday night Greek salads (dressing on the side, extra feta), lemon rice soup and some fun and laughter.
The soup was warming, and sent my taste buds and imagination to a warm camp fire surrounded by friends giggling and reminiscing of good times had. The Greek salads made me forget about my chemistry homework for a while, and of course the rice pudding satisfied my sweet tooth and gave me a warm fuzzy feeling, like that of Christmas Eve night with excitement and anticipation of Santa’s treasures the next morning.
Every time we went to Leo’s, I never wanted it to end. And if you are one of my dear friends who engaged in this cozy weekly event and are reading this right now, you know exactly what I mean. These were the best of times, the moments when time just seemed to stop, and you could really nurture your tummy and your soul.
Fast forward to today, I have been having a serious craving for some Leo’s Coney Island food! And I’m not just talking about the famous Greek salad. I’m talking about fried pita loaded with butter, hash browns with a side of OMG-THIS-IS-HEAVEN omelet, and a greasy grilled cheese with a side of chili cheese fries to-go. I mean, it’s been a really rough month!
Because I am so dedicated to my new healthy lifestyle and because I ultimately know that if I did indulge I would feel like “H-E double hockey sticks” for days, I have avoided giving in.
But the real question is, WHY was I having these cravings? Where on earth did this come from? I mean, I have not eaten this food in years and I haven’t thought about it in forever. And when I have thought about it in the past, it was a fleeting thought…it came and went. This stuck around for a month or more, and I just couldn’t seem to get it out of my mind. WHY? Why now?
From a physical standpoint, it could be argued that my body was craving salt. Craving salt is a sign of an imbalance in the body, and also a sign of weak kidneys.
The only problem with this theory is that I was not craving salty food itself. I was craving diner food. I could care less about pizza, or potato chips, or blah blah blah. I just wanted greasy, filthy diner food, straight off that skillet. Bring it on, Leo’s!
And as I contemplated possible reasons for this craving, it dawned on me. I wasn’t craving the actual food itself. Instead, I was craving the emotion it brings with it.
Those warm fuzzy feelings of Friday night dinners, laughing and reminiscing with friends, Mom and Dad still married, all of us together sharing good old fashioned fun and food. That was it…I was craving moments in time.
So obviously I had to deal with the realization that I cannot go back in time, that I have to keep moving forward toward my destiny, that nothing can bring my past back to me no matter what I do, and yadda yadda (let’s just say life is better with therapy).
But enough about me, let’s talk about the correlation between emotions and food. The feelings we get when we eat certain foods are incredibly powerful. And this is an actual, scientifically proven physiological response in the body.
When we eat something delicious (comfort food), it sends signals to the brain and feel-good hormones (like dopamine) are released. Now, our food is no longer nourishment and nutrition. Our food has become family, Christmas morning, game night at the Millers, that time when we went sledding and then warmed up with some hot cocoa, Dad’s birthday party in 1996, the high school dance, and obviously, Friday night dinners at Leo’s.
Comfort food creates patterns. We taste the food, we feel good, we associate it with events, our cells remember how that feels, we are triggered by a certain smell, sight, sound or thought, and now we want more of that food.
The cravings you are feeling are normal, valid and very common. Emotional eating is real. We want those experiences back. We want to feel good. We want the warm fuzzies. And the only thing that is tangible is the food we associate with those experiences.
Next time you’re having a craving and you don’t know why, perhaps try and explore how that food makes you feel. What emotions come up when you taste it? What past experiences can you recall that might trigger you to want this food or flavor on your taste buds?
Remember, it’s not about being perfect. It’s about exploring, asking the questions, and most of all gaining a better understanding of the WHY behind it all. Once we can understand why, we are automatically educating ourselves and therefore becoming empowered to move forward and make the best decisions for ourselves. Understanding the emotions behind the craving will create a great change in perspective. A change in perspective can help us move forward with more self-awareness and ultimately, new healthy lifestyle patterns.
What will you do the next time you are having a craving?
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