Nutrition: Hunger versus Cravings, by Julie Daniluk

[Editor’s note: We feel this article is appropriate for the holiday season in which many of us may be tempted to consume more cakes, chocolate and other foods than we usually would.]

Are you eating to heal your body, or eating for comfort? You may need to address a tendency to eat extra food for comfort or out of boredom. Some foods can have quasi-addictive qualities. For example, when you eat tempting foods like chocolate, your body releases trace amounts of mood- and satisfaction-elevating hormones. This may reinforce a preference for foods that are closely associated with specific feelings. The pleasure of eating also briefly allows us to escape feelings of negativity.

Emotional eating is an acquired habit. If you’re angry, sad, happy, bored, or anxious, then food is not the answer. It brings you temporary comfort and pleasure because this is how you’ve trained your brain to feel rewarded and soothed. With many other addictions, recovery programs focus on helping you eliminate the substance or behaviour from your life. With food, you have no choice but to keep eating, so it becomes a difficult challenge to strike a balance.

If you eat when you’re feeling stressed, your body will be in a state of “fight-or-flight.” It is not getting ready to digest food; it is getting ready to possi­bly flee from danger or to protect itself from a physical attack. The food you eat will remain in your gut, largely ignored by your body, until the stress has passed. In the meantime, your gut flora starts to have a feast on whatever you’ve eaten. If you’re like most people who eat for comfort, chances are you reach for sweet and fatty refined foods, which is a perfect buffet for the not-so-friendly yeasts (such as candida) and bacteria that reside in your gut. These unfriendly yeasts and bacteria start to multiply as a result, and if you repeat this way of eating and of dealing with your problems, their numbers will in­crease exponentially. They will also damage your gut tissue.

How do you avoid this vicious cycle?

As I mentioned earlier, you must be able to distinguish between true physical hunger and a need for comfort. One way to do this is to keep track of how often you eat. If you ate a full meal a few hours ago and your stomach isn’t rumbling, you are probably not hungry. Give the craving a few minutes to pass. This also means you need to know your triggers. Keep a food journal to record what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, how you’re feeling before, during, and after you eat, as well as how hungry you are. Over time, you’ll learn about your eating patterns, which will help you to avoid triggers. If you feel blue and hungry, then munch on a protein-rich, healthy treat, such as a cup of edamame (young soybeans) or a trail mix combining 1 ounce each of hemp seeds, hazelnuts, and some apple-juice-infused cranberries to sweet­en the mix.

Quick Tip: The fastest way to derail this program is to let yourself go hungry for a long period of time. The minute your brain is starving, it will start craving a quick fix to raise your blood sugar levels. When this hap­pens, make sure to snack on healthy choices. If you feel the urge to eat between meals, choose fresh fruit, vegetables with bean dip, or a natural nut and seed bar. Also keep in mind that every meal should contain unrefined proteins, fats, and carbohydrates to ensure you maintain a balance in your body chemistry. If you’re not getting enough calories to meet your energy needs, you may be more likely to give in to emotional eating. Try to eat at fairly regular times, and never skip breakfast.

Julie Daniluk, RHN, hosts Healthy Gourmet, a reality cooking show that highlights the ongoing battle between taste and nutrition by using unique groups such as bikers, dragon boat racers and ballroom dancers to challenge their taste buds with nutritious foods. Julie is excited that her show was chosen to be part of OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network). Similar to Oprah’s book club, programs on OWN explore stories of strength and transformation. Television viewers also recognize Julie from her “busted” segments on The Right Fit (W Network) and The Marilyn Dennis Show (CTV) where she examines the foods people need to stay healthy, acting as a nutrition encyclopedia. Her fun and engaging style comes in handy when she creates a recipe a week that is packed with health tips for