Updated: Jan 4, 2021
By Kacey Legnitto, MS, RD, CEDRD
You may be thinking, what do cravings have anything to do with healing my relationship with food and body? The answer is: everything. I would even venture to say it really isn’t possible to fully heal your relationship with food if you do not allow your cravings to surface and be satisfied.
Cravings are a desire for something. This can be food or non-food related. Often a craving fulfills a desire for something pleasurable and pleasure is a human need. We need to feel and allow pleasure into our life to live a long and fulfilling life. How boring would it be if we never experienced pleasure?
How you experience pleasure is unique to you and your needs. Your cravings will give you direct insight into how you experience pleasure and how to better meet your needs, both nutritionally and in life.
If pleasure is a human need, then why has it become difficult for so, so many of us to allow food cravings? Why does allowing pleasure into our eating sometimes feel like it comes with strings attached? Well, there are many reasons, but a major one is diet culture. Diet culture tries to convince us that we need to control or ignore our cravings because “we cannot be trusted”. Diet culture pushes an idea that cravings are “glutinous” and if you satisfy them you “have no willpower”. This is all a big lie. We actually see that the more someone tries to “control” a food craving, the more likely they are to eventually feel out of control when they allow themselves to satisfy a craving and/or they are likely to feel much worse about themselves for eating this food. The thing is eating is meant to be pleasurable! Food is meant to be tasty. This is how we meet our needs.
Here is the thing, when you allow yourself to honor your cravings and pleasurably eat again, you are giving yourself the permission to feel pleasure. This is an act of self-care. The more you can connect to your cravings and allow them, the more satisfied you will feel when eating. Feeling satisfied after eating is necessary to be able to nourish yourself completely. There is a big difference between feeling satisfied after eating and feeling full. You can feel full without feeling satisfied. If you leave a meal full, but not satisfied, you are not meeting your needs completely. Feeling satisfied after eating means you met both your physical and emotional need in that given meal. It means you felt a craving internally, listened to it, and honored it. Remember, cravings are there for a reason. They give you insight into what your own, unique body needs, both emotionally and physically. When you feel a food craving and incorporate it into a meal or snack, you are essentially telling your body you hear its need and care about meeting it. The more you practice this, the easier it gets and the more intuitive your eating starts to become. A huge piece of becoming an intuitive eater once again is attunement, or connecting with your internal world. Honoring your cravings is a way of once again connecting to and strengthening your internal world and wisdom. It further unifies your mind and body connection.
One thing I will caution you on when working through this journey of listening to and honoring your cravings is to watch out for food rules or subtle forms of restrictions associated with honoring your cravings. You will need to work to a place of fully allowing your cravings to come and be able to honor them as they surface. This can feel scary, so if it helps to take incremental steps with your treatment team in doing this, that is more than okay and encouraged! Note, you will not always be able to leave a meal or snack perfectly satisfied (and that’s normal), but the more often you are able to with time, the more you are able to meet both your emotional and physical needs. When you allow pleasure into your eating regularly, without guilt or shame (this takes time and practice), you will truly start to heal your relationship with food and body.