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How to Honor Your Cravings and Release Food Restrictions

Today I’m talking about food restrictions and honoring your cravings, and what that means with Intuitive Eating. If you’re new to Intuitive Eating, start here with the resources section!

We’ve all had those nights where all we can think about is pizza. Or fried chicken. Or chocolate chip cookie dough. Even, a hearty butternut squash salad!

There’s nothing wrong with having these cravings or even acting on them. 

girl wearing orange tank top and eating ice cream

Or maybe you’ve been “good” all week, but you’re really craving a burger and fries for the weekend. You justify this by reminding yourself that you’ve saved up your calories all week, but then you feel like you’re binge eating on the weekend.

Only to start over again on Monday. 

You struggle with challenging the food police. 

Do these food restrictions sound familiar?

Why Do We Have Cravings?

Cravings are completely normal, and I think it is important to normalize them – especially in this diet culture we live in. 

Cravings come in many forms. Here are some of the common reasons for cravings:

So, now let’s talk about each one. 

What Food Cravings Mean Emotionally

Emotional cravings are very common. While it’s cliche to think about eating a pint of ice cream in bed after a breakup, that may be our best way to cope with our feelings in the moment.

Using food to cope is a normal coping mechanism. Diet culture makes it seem problematic, but it’s entirely normal. When it’s our ONLY mechanism for coping, then it’s worth exploring some other areas of stress relief and coping. But, you shouldn’t feel bad or guilty about eating when you’re upset, angry, confused or hurt. 

Eating is emotional. Emotional eating is normal. Food cravings and emotions go hand in hand. 

Food is more than fuel. We’re excited to try new foods, or nervous or scared for cooking with others. It’s virtually impossible to completely dissociate any type of emotion with food, so I think we have to be careful when we label ourselves as “emotional eaters.”

I have so many clients who use this term about themselves, and while part of me understands what he/she is trying to say, the other part of me is screaming, “yes we are all emotional eaters!”

It’s so important that you honor your hunger and give yourself permission to eat all foods. 

This is how you can make peace with food

Food And Nostaglia

I think that nostalgic cravings can play into emotional cravings at times. Maybe you’re homesick and all you want is your mom’s homemade brownie recipe.

Or, you’re going to an Italian restaurant, which makes you think of your meme’s third-generation lasagna recipe, and now that’s all you can think about. Or a cozy bowl of pasta, like this veggie pasta bake

Pasta Bake in Casserole Dish, a vegetarian healthy meal for athletes

Food and memories are very interlinked.

Feeling nostalgic about something you miss, or something that you no longer have access to can bring up a variety of emotions. Which may lead to certain food choices. That’s okay and normal. 

Food is nostalgic, and it reminds us of memories, both good and bad. It brings us happiness when it tastes good, and sometimes frustration when it doesn’t.

Taste Hunger

Taste hunger refers to the notion of not feeling physically hungry, but wanting to taste something. 

I like to use the example of a smell that stimulates your taste buds or salivary glands. A new product you want to try. 

Or, you’re out celebrating a friend’s birthday and maybe you ate dinner beforehand, but the frosting on that cupcake looks SO GOOD. And you really want to try it. 

You may not feel biologically hungry, but you still want to eat it. 

chocolate cupcakes with vanilla icing

This is an important concept because it’s okay to eat when we aren’t physically hungry. That’s a normal relationship with food.

Intuitive eating is not black and white – there’s a lot of gray and nuance and this is one example. 

Food Deficiencies

You may have heard this in relation to meat in that you may be low in iron or zinc. This is true.

But also, think about when you have low blood sugar or you’re cranky. Or you’ve gone too long without eating. You probably want a high carbohydrate/sugar food (ice cream, french fries, cheeseburger, milkshake, etc) to increase your blood sugar.

overhead shot of burger and fries

Or, maybe you’re sick and you’re craving warm tea, full of antioxidants to help with immunity.

Perhaps, maybe you just crave more sugar or calories if you’re undereating in relation to your activity level. If you’re craving peanut butter at every meal, perhaps you need more fat in your diet.

If you can’t think of life without cheese, maybe you need more calcium (and/or fat).

Sometimes, there’s a reason to the madness. Sometimes you have to give your body a little credit.

Food Restrictions

In general, restriction doesn’t work. As the authors of Intuitive Eating explain, when you tell yourself you can’t have something, you just want it more.

I’m fairly certain we’ve all been here. Whether you’ve struggled with disordered eating or not, I think we can all relate to putting some sort of restriction on ourselves, whether it’s a loose restriction or not.

Physical vs. Mental Restriction

Restriction can be physical and/or mental. For example, maybe you’re letting yourself enjoy an ice cream cone physically, but mentally, all you can think about is how many calories you’re consuming and how much you need to cut back on food tomorrow.

Or, how much you have to exercise (compulsive exercise can be linked to disordered eating). 

Here are some examples of restriction.

  • “I’m not eating ice cream tonight….I’ve had it 4 times this week.”
  • “That pasta dish sounds good, but I think I’ll go with the salad.”
  • “Should I really eat another tablespoon of peanut butter at this one sitting?”
  • “I’m thinking about chocolate again…but I ate it with breakfast – I should probably wait until dinner, or maybe wait until tomorrow.”
  • “I didn’t run today so I need to cut out a snack.”

Simply put, restriction is denying ourselves something that we want. If you’re not eating wheat bread because you’re gluten intolerant or have celiac disease, well then that isn’t really restriction.

That can actually be a form of gentle nutrition (the last principle in intuitive eating). Often times, when we tell ourselves we can’t have something, we want it more.

Questions To Ask Yourself About Restriction 

  • Why are you implementing this restriction in the first place?
  • Are you trying to monitor and support self-control?
  • Do you feel out of control when we eat something?
  • Do you feel bad if you eat a certain food or food group?

The answers to these questions may lead you to a different principle of intuitive eating, or a differing reason for your restriction, which may often stem back to wanting to change your body aesthetically, or wanting to eat super “clean.”

sarah schlichter eating peanut butter

A New Way to Look at Cravings 

What if a craving was just a craving? Just that. Nothing more or less.

One of those things where you eat it and move on.

What I’m trying to portray is that acting on cravings isn’t always a bad thing.

When we set this expectation that craving something is bad, we’re setting ourselves up to feel bad about ourselves if we act on that craving.

ground turkey with green beans on plate

Foods aren’t good or bad. Foods are inherently neutral. 

You deserve grace, and if you really want that food, eat it. And don’t feel bad about it. Move on.

Would you make someone else feel bad about their choices?

Things You Can Control To Help With Cravings

  • Eat regularly and eat enough (See a dietitian if you don’t know what enough is for you and your lifestyle)
  • Get enough sleep and drink enough water
  • Show yourself some patience and compassion
  • Get to the root of the problem (99% of the time, it’s not food) – How can you remove stressors from your life?
  • Get outside! Exercise and fresh air can help with dopamine and feel-good chemicals.
  • Surround yourself with positive people and role models. Are you only looking at photos of thin, white women on social media?
  • Keep a cravings journal – Are you noticing any patterns of what you crave and when?
    • When was the last time you ate before your craving?
    • What did you eat? Did you eat all of the macronutrients? 
    • Have you skipped a meal or snack?
  • And the obvious….give yourself what you’re craving!

overhead shot of sprinkled donuts with text overlay

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

How do you motivate yourself, or pump yourself up, to accomplish something you didn’t think you could do?

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  1. LOVE this!! I’ve seen a few posts in a fitness group I’m in on Facebook about people wondering how to “stop” cravings and I cannot wait to comment with the link to this post.