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The Ayurveda Perspective on Food Cravings

Note: The information in this post is largely the work of Dr. John Douillard, complimented by my studies in Ayurveda Nutrition

Symptoms tell us a story

Avoid diets, lifestyles & herbs that aggravate the adverse symptoms you are having

The first step to healing is observing the patterns that result from your symptoms. Symptoms are clues that reveal underlying imbalances, showing you where your body is weak. Specifically, they reveal the Doshas & qualities (i.e. dry, soft, subtle, gross, moist, etc.) that may have become aggravated. If you notice a quality or Dosha appears next to many of your symptoms, it helps you establish a pattern that may be systemic.

With strong food cravings, one or more of the Doshas and qualities may be aggravated. If you have an imbalance of one of these Doshas or qualities, Ayurveda recommends avoiding foods and lifestyle habits that aggravate that quality and/or Dosha. These imbalanced Doshas and qualities may need to be brought back into balance before this condition can be healed.

By eating according to your Dosha recommendations, you will soon find your body is able to live comfortably without excessive food cravings. Why is this? Because you are optimizing your nutritional habits in a way that suits your individual needs.

Ayurveda is a very simple, yet complex medical system that works with the individual. While there is no quick fix to overall health and well-being, the key is to find balance.

According to Ayurveda, a craving is the body sending an urgent message to the brain requesting a specific nutrient, chemical constituent, or hormone to turn off an alarm somewhere in the body. To deal with cravings before they arise, we must deal with the reasons the body sounds the alarm. Here are the top five reasons the body sounds the “Craving Alarm.”

1. Low Sugar

Cravings often start out with low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. This happens when we do not eat enough, skip meals, or eat foods that do not deliver lasting energy. Eating on the run typically leads to the similar damaging effects of eating while stressed, not eating enough, or ingesting and/or craving quick-energy foods. All of the above deliver a short-lived surge in energy, followed by a drop in energy or a crash in blood sugar. When the blood sugar crashes, the brain begins to crave to get the blood sugar back up into the comfort zone.

2. High Sugar

After years of battling hypoglycemia, the body’s ability to maintain stable energy in the form of blood sugar becomes a challenge. When the blood sugar is low, we crave stimulants of some sort to dig ourselves out of that hole. As the stimulant raises the sugar levels you feel the sense that you are on the way to feeling good. Then when the blood sugar peaks, you feel great, but only for a moment. As soon as the sugar peaks the body rushes to get the sugar out of the blood and you get the sense that you are on the way to feeling bad again. Once the blood sugar crashes, the brain chooses another stimulant to start the process all over again.

Those who crave spend much of their day on the way to feeling good or on the way to feeling bad. During the blood sugar high, the “feeling really good” part only lasts for a few moments!

3. Stress

The amount of stress put on the nervous system from these high and low swings is high. Every time the blood sugar crashes, the emergency alarms goes off in the body, triggering a fat-storing, sugar-burning, disease-producing chemistry.

The major stress-fighting hormone released that responds to the “Craving Alarm” is cortisol, and cortisol is directly linked to degenerative health issues. Insulin is also produced at high levels in an effort to get the excess sugar out of the blood.

Both of these hormones are toxic and store fat around the belly four times faster than anywhere else in the body. This fat is metabolically active and linked to a variety of degenerative health issues.

4. Fat Burning

When the body becomes habituated to a life with excessive stress hormones like cortisol and insulin, the ability to burn fat is replaced with strong desires and incessant cravings for sweets, breads, comfort foods or stimulants. Satisfying these cravings only spikes and drops the blood sugar, forcing the body to become more dependent on different forms of sugar or stimulants for energy. Continually bouts of spiking and dropping the blood sugar delivers only short bursts of energy, and this rewires the body to not burn fat as a source of fuel. Once we rewire this, we begin to see the difference and also that fat burning is the best antidote for the food cravings.

The place we are looking for

Fat burning is less about weight loss and more about the benefits of being a good fat burner. Becoming a good fat burner delivers long-lasting, sleep-through-the-night energy that does not crash. It is a stable, non-emergency fuel that supports the ability to cope with stress and the repair and rebuilding of the nervous system.

Fat burning offers the cells, and particularly the brain, a new source of fuel to replace the dangerous highs and lows of sugar.

5. Snacking vs. Meals

The craving chemistry is related to hypoglycemia and many believe that its cure is to eat six small meals a day as a medicinal diet.

Over the past several decades, the “six meals a day” concept has attempted to solve the problems relating to unstable blood sugar such as cravings, highs and lows in blood sugar, fatigue and mood-related issues. And it does help.

When blood sugars are rising and falling, eating six small meals can help keep the blood sugar crashes and the surges to a minimum, and help stabilize the symptoms of hypoglycemia.

While it offers temporary relief, it rarely delivers a permanent solution. It never resets the ability to be a good fat burner. For example, if you eat a small meal every 2-3 hours, why would the body burn any of its fat stores? The body chemistry becomes accustomed to being fed every 2-3 hours – burning the small meals as fuel, leaving the body’s fat stores alone.

It you want to become a better fat burner, you must give the body a reason to change!

The Three Season Diet

(some now refer to it as the four season diet)

Although this is a full science in itself, here’s a simple way to start.

To begin, eat three relaxing meals a day, foods in season in the climate you live in. Foods that are compatible with your dominant Dosha. If you eat nothing in-between each meal, and particularly between supper and breakfast, the body will be forced to burn its fat between mealtimes. Even a small snack breaks the between-meal fast and replaces fat burning with the burning of the snack as fuel (energy).

It may take some time to re-educate the body to feel satisfied with just three meals a day, but it is the first step to permanently resolving the craving chemistry!

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