Here’s What I’d Alert You About Food Cravings

I had three people share their stories with me last week. Different people at different ages, distinctly different situations and one common thread. Read it for yourself to see what I mean.

I’ll call this newly minted PhD, new-to-workforce girl in her late 20 s, Rima. She had taken special effort to get her eating in place over the two month gap she had, before joining for work. It had gone wonky during her student days, when she was seriously time-strapped and overwhelmed with the number of things she had to get done. Her doctoral thesis, teaching assignment, stressful relationships at college – with all this and more, there was very little time and energy to even eat. Let alone cook! If and when she ate, it was veggie puff, chips, samosa and some aerated drink – pretty much the kinda stuff one finds in a not so well stocked canteen. Over the two months, she had brought it to breakfast, lunch and dinner – all on time, loaded with vegetable and fruit. She had lost up to ten kilos already, by way of eating healthy (and letting go of stress and catching up on sleep, in her words). She had to attend this five day conference shortly after joining work. On her first day at the venue, when she saw platters of all the familiar college food – now beautifully arranged in a star-hotel banquet, she was drawn to it. Next five days were all about Dahi vadas with sev and boondhi garnished with coriander and grated carrot, samosas with an assortment of gourmet fruit chutneys, colorful vegetable chips – not just boring potato wafers – she was pleased! She finished her presentations, made new friends and got home feeling accomplished. When she routinely checked her weight on the following day, she had gained five kilos in just a week.

Ann (not her real name) is a woman in her fifties. At this point in life, she is big on her hobbies and socializing outside of her work. And she is also very careful about her health, eating right, exercising and all that. She has a big love for sweets and desserts but she has kept it out entirely, and successfully so for over six months now. She ran into an old friend who runs a pastry shop recently. This friend lovingly cut a very very tiny piece of a pastry at her birthday party, just about a spoonful – and fed Ann, just like she did with others in her little circle of friends. However, this little spoonful has wreaked a havoc as far as Ann is concerned. She is gripped by this sugar fiend and wants her sweet fix at the end of every meal, like before. She had not had it in six months! But the recent experience has renewed her earlier association with sweets and she’s stunned with how strongly she craves sweets at every meal now, all over again.

Lakshmi (not her real name) is a photographer. Until recently she was mostly into baby pictures. Given how much she loves books in her spare time, a friend asked her if she would be interested in food photography for her new cook book. Lakshmi happily agreed. Now, Lakshmi is extremely surprised how she has fallen in love – not just with food photography, but with the food itself. She was not big into eating, cooking or anything to do with food earlier. So, I asked her what this new cookbook was all about, that led her to fall so hopelessly in love. It was all about cheese based cooking for home chefs. What was surprising to Lakshmi was that, the assignment is long over now, but all she has to do is just recollect that experience or see one of the many pictures she clicked of the pizzas, cheesecakes or cheese dosa – that’s it. It will be a full blown urge to eat a pizza! She finds herself ordering for home delivery several times a week and she laughs how her spending on pizzas and pastas have even exceeded the fee she received for the assignment already.

Now, have you identified the common thread? Cravings!

Certain foods are definitely addictive by nature.

Much like any other addiction, just one time of eating these foods, why – just even thinking of them, seeing them in pictures, talking about them, watching television shows of cooking them – is enough to trigger a strong urge to eat, inside your head. Given how slippery and slope-y this terrain is, even one time of indulging, even in moderation or just one teeny weeny mouthful can undo your efforts of several months and take you back to square one.

It helps to figure out what kind of cues trigger you the most. And then, come up with creative solutions to eliminate them altogether.

For instance, if seeing food pictures cause you a temptation, stop bringing such items into your space. Be sure not to see them anywhere – not even on your smartphone, news feed or computer.

I tend to get triggered by aromas of food. So, I carry an essential oil inhaler, much like a tube of Vicks inhaler, only difference being, mine is a lemony citrussy fragrance that calms my nerves and centers me. So, I excuse myself from the place and often this alone does the trick. Sometimes I may use my handy aromatherapy inhaler. Roll on perfumes made of essential oil blends and smelling salts made with herbs and/or essential oils work fabulously too.

Another very effective fix would be to find something creative to do with your hands. Like coloring, for instance. Have you observed the boom in adult coloring books in recent times? A similar outcome is reported by people who do the zentangles. It takes your mind away from eating for wrong reasons and addictive foods. Carrying a small sketch pad and pen in your bag is all it takes.

Now, this is what I’d like to know from you – how does your craving show up for you and what do you do about it?

Is it like, you’ll be thumbing through a magazine food column and suddenly you get up and get started with cooking a “sinfully good” recipe. Or aromas from your next door neighbor’s kitchen hit your nose and out of no where you have the urge to eat something that you’re trying to avoid. Or just the memory of a pastry is enough to get you started ?!

Share away in the comments.


Fix This ONE Thing To Get A Handle On Your Cravings

This woman who got on the Mumbai train had an unusually large bag for a work commute. The last stop at VT was about an hour away, maximum. Thankfully, the train wasn’t as full and she found place for herself and the bag. She quickly opened a box and hurriedly ate up a vada-pav neatly packed in a steel box. I was speaking on my phone all along as I observed all this. As soon as I was done with the phone call, I got chatting with her as that little steel box had caught my attention.

The lady loved that I appreciated her box and meticulous packing – definitely not a norm for a regular commuter – and showed me her other boxes. She then casually mentioned her efforts to eat home cooked food. She did not want to end up diabetic like her siblings who eat most meals outside. So, she had employed a cook who, in her words “makes everything from chips, sev-mixture, puris for chaat, at home – healthily”.  And she carries two snacks and two larger meals so she doesn’t feel tempted to eat outside. ‘How lovely’, I remarked and before I could say another word, she broke into an impish smile and said, ‘I still buy a quarter kilo of cake and some chocolates from my colleague every week – she’s also just like me, likes to make everything at home and we work in the same office – it’s a great arrangement!’

Well, well well! 🙂 How many assumptions did you count already?

Everything/anything home cooked = healthy

Vada pav, cake, chocolates, made at home – therefore healthy = okay to eat several times a day

If one is eating homemade parathas for breakfast, vada pav for a mid-morning snack, some roti-sabji for lunch, vada pav again at tea time and roti-sabji for a quick dinner – part 1, with several rounds of chai and small tiny helpings of cake and chocolates in between to keep the cravings at bay – one is certainly eating a good quantity of food. And if it’s all homemade, it certainly hygienic in some sense. I am not disputing that at all.

Craving for food is not entirely taken care of by quantity and or frequent eating. This is a huge assumption and a flawed one at that.

Our bodies are designed to keep track of quality and quantity of the food we put in our mouths. This means that both conditions must be satisfied for the body to register satiety. This is why eating stuff like vada pav and sev mixture, cakes, chocolate and bhel puri will cause cravings. Why, you may ask. Though they all contain some healthy ingredients in them, but their overall quality as the final product does not add up to anything much – even though it was all made at home. Our body craves for nourishment in the form of vitamins and minerals, it’s not asking us to fill up some empty space with edible things. Paying attention to fix the nutritive quality of food we eat, is absolutely critical! It’s not about buying organic vegetables to make veggie chips or vadas out them.

Eating a boiled or steamed or baked potato is not the same as eating a deep fried vada.

Whole wheat is not the same nutritionally, as wheat flour used in roti or all purpose flour used in cake.

A sprinkling of grated carrot, cucumber and tomato et al in bhel puri will not make up for all the oily sev and puris.

Do you see what I’m saying?

All the sugar, oil and salt in these foods plus the processing involved, and the cooking method – makes the vada cause more craving! The very food that we eat to battle our craving causes more of it.

With what you know now, from reading this post, what would you suggest to the train lady if she were to ask you? Share away in the comments.