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by Doreen Virtue, Ph.D.
Some people's food cravings remain constant;
for example, they always crave ice cream. Other people go through "food
kicks," craving peanut butter one week, blue cheese dressing the next week,
and chocolate bars the following week. Neither situation is accidental nor
If your emotional issues remain unaddressed,
your food craving will remain constant. If your emotional issues change, so will
your food cravings. The only parallel between both the constant and the changing
food cravings is this: There is some underlying emotional issue crying out for
By "emotional issues" I don't
necessarily mean deep psychological matters requiring therapy. Food cravings
often stem from basic unmet needs for fun, excitement, or love — issues most
would consider "normal" and within our power to self-heal.
Emotional issues connected to food cravings
usually fall into one of these categories:
Stress, tension, anxiety, fear, or
Depression or feeling blue
Feeling tired, having low energy
Unmet needs for fun, play, excitement, or
recreation; too much work and not enough play
A desire for love, selection,
appreciation, romance, or sexual satisfaction
Anger, resentment, bitterness, or
Emptiness, insecurity, or a desire for
Four emotions form the core of emotional
overeating: (fear, anger, tension, and shame (FATS). Fear is the root emotion in
the FATS feelings. Anger, tension, and shame are all extensions of fear. We feel
angry because we fear losing love in the form of something or someone valuable
to us; we feel tension because we are afraid of trusting or because we've walked
away from our Divine path; we feel shame because we fear we are inadequate.
These "FATS feelings" are the
primary triggers for emotional overeating. Overwhelming desires to eat stem from
one of these four emotions.
As a psychotherapist, I feel it's important
to be honest with ourselves about our emotions. We need to face the emotion and
then move on. I never recommend overanalyzing one's life or viewing oneself as a
victim. Yet, the source of so much needless emotional pain is the unwillingness
to face an unpleasant feeling. No one enjoys admitting, "Oh, yes, I feel
insecure." But the alternative — not admitting it — is so much worse!
When we deny our strong emotions, they grow
even stronger. As they gain strength, they also seek outlets. Denied emotions
manifest themselves in many unpleasant ways, including food cravings, physical
aches or illnesses, depression, anxiety, phobias, and sleep disorders.
The bottom line is this: As unpleasant as it
is to face a negative emotion, the alternative is even more unpleasant. Everyone
gets angry, upset, or jealous at some time —
there's no question about
it. Sometimes life circumstances
or our personal choices make it tough to stay centered in peace of mind. In
fact, the only question about these
emotions is whether we choose to deal with them now or later.
THE FOUR PRIMARY EMOTIONS
Insecurity, walking on eggshells, generalized fears, abandonment fears,
existential fears, control issues, sexual fears, worry, anxiety, depression,
At another person, toward an injustice, toward self, feeling betrayed,
feeling ripped off, feeling
Stress, frustration, old anger turned into bitterness, old anger turned into
resentment, jealousy, impatience,
overwork without an emotional release such as fun.
Self-blame, low self-esteem, self-loathing, lack of trust in one's own
competence or goodness, assuming
other people won't like you, feeling less than other, feeling like you don't
When we bottle up our strong emotions, it's
akin to putting a cork on a vinegar-and-baking soda combination. The ignored
emotion doesn't go away — it intensifies. The more we try to ignore a feeling,
the stronger it grows. It's so much easier to face the music while the emotion
is still in a "fixable" stage.
That's why I really like food-craving
analysis. You start by identifying the food you crave and work backward, like a
detective. Once you've identified the food you crave, say, rocky road ice cream,
the underlying emotion stares you plainly in the face: "Resentment toward
others and self. Feeling used or pressured, and desiring fun and comfort.
The truth of that underlying emotion,
following a food-craving interpretation, hits most of us between the eyes. We
instantly recognize, "Yes, that is the emotional issue I've been struggling
with." This recognition may propel you to investigate further and take the
healthy second step of asking yourself, "What makes me so frustrated or
angry?" "What do I feel I'm missing out on?" and "Why am I
taking my anger out on myself? " Usually the answers appear right away.
Our denial system is incredibly effective in
shielding us from honestly facing ourselves. Denial stems from a fear of
admitting, "Yes, this bothers me." The consequences of this admission
are even scarier "Now I must take responsibility for making changes to
correct the situation." Change is frightening, because we fear that our
situation might worsen instead of improve.
Inertia and fears keep us from looking at
underlying issues that create food cravings. Since this denial keeps us from
seeing these seemingly obvious underlying issues, we often need to have them
pointed out to us. It's relatively easy to see other people's issues; it's much
tougher to be objective with ourselves. By learning to interpret your food
cravings, you will be able to more readily discover these issues yourself.
Just honestly admitting to ourselves,
"Yes, this is the emotion underneath my food craving" is such a
tremendous relief! It feels so good to come clean with yourself, doesn't it?
That emotional relief then reduces, or even eliminates, the urge to
Physically Based Cravings
Sometimes, we'll crave a food because our
body is screaming out for nutrients, such as vitamins or protein. Our body is
depleted, and cravings ensure that its needs are met. These are physically based
Yet, on close examination, even these
cravings are rooted in emotions. Tension, the fourth Fats feelings, is the
physical manifestation of stress in our lives. Stress leads to lifestyle choices
that in turn lead to nutritional deprivation. Three of my clients discovered how
stress-filled lifestyles robbed their body of energy and nutrients, which in
turn triggered food cravings:
Dianna's hectic schedule convinced her
that she had "no time to exercise". Without regular physical
activity, Dianna always felt sluggish and tired. Instead of solving the
problem with a brisk walk or a bike ride, Dianna would eat foods to feel
Marcia's high-pressure job contributed to
her overall feeling of tension and inability to relax. Marcia craved and ate
bags of potato chips and pretzels to gnaw away her anxiety and tension. Junk
foods rob our bodies of B vitamins, because empty calories require nutrients
for digestion. When you use nutrients for digestion, without replacing them,
you become nutrient deficient. Marcia was continually vitamin deficient and,
therefore, continually hungry!
Brenda used alcohol to calm her nerves.
Excessive alcohol consumption contributes to lowered levels of the brain
chemical serotonin. When serotonin is low, the usual result is carbohydrate
cravings which are exactly what Brenda struggled with. Her appetite for
breads and pasta was out of control, and Brenda was very unhappy with her
Yes, Dianna, Marcia, and Brenda all suffered
from physically based food cravings. But the root of their nutrient deficiency
was the FATS feeling, tension.
Tension also increases brain chemicals that
lead to overeating. Dr. Sarah Leibowitz of Rockefeller University found that the
hormone cortisol stimulates production of a brain chemical called "neuropeptide
Y". This brain chemical is a
chief factor in turning our carbohydrate cravings on and
off. Here's the tension link: We produce
more cortisol when we are tense!
Even worse, Leibowitz also reports that
neuropeptide Y also makes the body hang on to the new body fat we produce
(apparently this is some ancient biological throwback to the cave days). In
other words, tension not only triggers carbohydrate cravings, it also makes it
more difficult to lose any additional weight.
article was excerpted with permission from
the book "Constant Craving A-Z", by Doreen
Virtue, Ph.D. ©1999. Published by Hay
More books by this author.
Virtue's has written
numerous books, among
Change My Life if I Had More Time;
Losing Your Pounds of Pain; and
The Yo-Yo Diet Syndrome. Dr.
Virtue is a frequent guest on such
talk shows such as Oprah, Geraldo,
and Sally Jessy Raphael. Her articles
have appeared in dozens of popular magazines
and she is a contributing editor for Complete
Woman. Her website is www.angeltherapy.com.
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