Cravings vs What Your Body (and mind) Actually Need
cravings vs what your body (and mind) actually need
Food affects not only your body, but your mind as well.
If you really start to pay attention, you will notice how the foods you eat impact both your mental state and how your body physically feels.
For me, I look forward to my morning smoothie bowl. It brings me SO much joy combining different fruits, arranging toppings like cacao nibs, coconut shreds, and granola on top, and of course eating it all! I mentally feel blissful and physically energized for the rest of my day.
But say you have a sugary pastry for breakfast. Your mind feels bliss with every bite, but pretty soon you feel lethargic and still hungry. Then you find yourself craving more “unhealthy”, sugary foods all throughout the day.
Sound familiar? Yep, it’s happened to me too.
What really is a “craving”?
Well to start, it’s important to understand the connection between the mind and body. Both are in constant communication with one another, being affected by the food we eat, the experiences we live through, emotions felt, our physical environment, lifestyle choices… everything.
When you are leading 100% with the mind, and neglecting the messages sent by the body, THAT is when you are experiencing a craving. It’s all in your mind, really.
Research has even shown that three regions of the brain, the hippocampus, insula, and caudate, are activated when we are craving certain foods (Monell Chemical Sense Center). Emotional states such as feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress can also cause cravings. And then hormones. If there is an imbalance in leptin (hunger hormone) and serotonin (neurotransmitter that relays messages through brain, also elevating mood) you can also experience food cravings.
Everything starts with the mind. Think about how you have a thought before taking a given action. The body follows what the mind tells it. So, every time you “give in” to a craving, you reaffirm a pattern to your subconscious mind. This then creates a habit, as you are essentially giving your desire a “reward” to then become satisfied.
If you are only eating a particular food to satisfy a craving that is elicited by the mind, you are falling victim to food. Remember, YOU have the power to honor your mind and body. Don’t give the power to the food itself!
Balancing the elements
Different from the Western approach that looks at hormones, vitamins and minerals, and brain activity, Ayurveda looks at the five elements and subtle energies.
Ayurveda is the world’s oldest and longest standing health system, that originated in ancient India 5,000 years ago. The main goal of Ayurveda is to restore balance to the body and mind, so that one can reach their full potential and become their highest self.
Our bodies, the foods we eat, and the entire world around us, are composed of the five elements: Ether (Space), Air, Fire, Water, Earth.
Ayurveda combines the five elements into three basic types of subtle energy bodies (not physical), known as the three doshas.
V A T T A = S P A C E + A I R
PITTA = FIRE + WATER
KAPHA = WATER + EARTH
While we have all three doshas, one or two dominant our being. In order to feel like our absolute best self, both mentally and physically, we need to be in balance with our natural dosha constitution.
One way to restore balance is by consuming certain foods that help level out the elements in our minds and bodies. Ayurveda classifies foods into six “Rasas”, or tastes: sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent. Depending on which dosha is out of balance, certain tastes are recommended.
Ayurveda to understand food cravings
Instead of unconsciously reaching for a cookie because our mind is telling us to, we should instead strive to develop mental awareness and tap into our body wisdom.
When we are out of balance, our minds and bodies will show signs and symptoms that something is off. Having an excess in one of the five elements can cause an imbalance in the doshas, manifesting as “disease” in the mind and body (i.e. stress, anxiety, skin rashes, bloating, excessive weight gain, etc.).
Signs of a Vata imbalance:
Mental - Excessive worrying, too many thoughts, inability to concentrate, overly sensitive, anxiety, insomnia, rapid shifts in mood
Physical - Cold hands/feet, dry skin, brittle hair and nails, cracking joints, unhealthy weight loss, bloating or gas
Signs of a Pitta imbalance:
Mental - Anger, aggression, self-centeredness, overly critical, competitive, perfectionism
Physical - Excess sweating, burning sensations in the body, headaches, skin rashes or discolorations (includes acne breakouts), acid reflux, heartburn, urinary tract infection
Signs of a Kapha imbalance:
Mental - Lack of drive and motivation, brain fog, laziness, depression, mental stagnation, clinginess
Physical - Lethargic, excessive sleep, feeling of heaviness, excessive mucus, thick white coat on the tongue, weight gain
Replace your craving with the elements you need
If you have a Vata imbalance (excess Air and/or Ether elements), it is recommended that you eat foods that are sweet, salty, and sour in taste, warm and slightly oily.
Before you go thinking “oh, sweets! I can eat chocolate and ice cream then, right?”
Not quite. Foods should be unprocessed, nourishing foods that make you feel mentally clear headed and peaceful, and physically well-digested and energized. Often times, foods high in sugar that are processed leave us feeling groggy, lethargic, and just wanting more.
Instead, try eating ripe, sweet fruits such as bananas, dates, grapes, kiwi, mango, melon, papaya, peaches, or pineapple. If you choose to eat vegetables, try adding a bit of sea salt. Or, opt for salted nuts and seeds. For sour taste, try eating cheese or yogurt (if vegetarian), or fermented food such as tofu or tempeh.
If you have a Pitta imbalance (excess Fire and/or Water elements), it is recommended that you eat foods that are sweet, bitter, and astringent. It is best to avoid spicy foods as that may increase the fire element.
Try sweet foods like berries, dried fruits, coconut, cantaloupe, or avocado. For a bitter taste, try eggplant, leafy greens, jicama, barley, or add spice to your food such as basil and turmeric. Astringent foods include apples, pears, tofu, beans, and lentils.
If you have a Kapha imbalance (excess Earth and/or Water elements), it is recommended that you eat foods that are bitter, pungent, and astringent.
Out of all three dosha constitutions, Kaphas are most likely to experience weight gain from lack of physical activity and overconsumption of food. It’s best to avoid sweet and salty foods, as those tastes can trigger overeating (and cravings).
If you feel a Kapha imbalance, try eating a leafy green salad (bitter taste), or vegetables such as eggplant and zucchini. You can also add spices such as basil and turmeric to your meals. For a pungent taste, try adding onion, ginger, or chili peppers to your food. Astringent foods recommended for kaphas include apples, pomegranates, broccoli, brussel sprouts, green beans, peas, and most raw vegetables.
Simple method to know a craving vs. what your mind-body NEEDS
The mind can be your greatest tool, or your enemy. Instead of fighting your cravings, take them as opportunities to recenter, and listen to your mind and body. You can think of your cravings as little messengers that something is OFF!
Try this method when you feel a craving come on…
1. Ask yourself… Am I ACTUALLY hungry? Or is my mind just wanting some form of stimulation and feeling of “reward”?
Be honest with yourself. When we lead completely with the mind, we neglect the body. Feel the connection between the two, as if they are one.
2. Before you give into the initial food craving ask yourself: How do I feel? Mentally? Physically?
Example: Craving chocolate covered almonds.
How do I feel mentally? → Unmotivated and totally bored at work
How do I feel physically? → Lethargic. It’s 3pm and I could so go for a nap right now.
3. Which dosha is my symptom related to?
Feeling unmotivated and lethargic indicates a Kapha imbalance.
4. Make a conscious decision to select a food that is right for you.
Best to eat bitter, pungent, and astringent food. Not sweet.
Consciously decide to make beautiful little snack platter of raw carrots, snap peas, and bell peppers, plus an apple.
5. Meditate with your food before eating.
Close your eyes, and tell yourself that this food is going to nourish both your mind and body, to help you feel like your highest self.
Form a loving, kind relationship with food and it’s connection to you. After all, you are quite literally what you eat! It’s all just a transfer of the elements and energy.
Foods for Every Dosha
The Ayurvedic diet is all about eating foods that balance your mind-body type.
Get a quick cheatsheet of recommended foods for balancing the doshas.