Changing my diet form a standard western diet to a raw vegan has been quite a journey for me. At any given time there has been a specific challenge that I have been struggling with. First it was giving up gluten and dairy. Then it was quitting meat and shortly after fish and eggs. Then processed foods, especially sugar. Then coffee, tea and alcohol. And now more recently, cooked foods, and even more recently on the raw vegan diet, overt fats and salt.
Moving away from foods and substances that trigger cravings has been quite interesting indeed. When we remove foods that we have been taking for granted, it suddenly becomes evident how depended and even addicted we are to so many things. Yes, I believe that if you feel that you cannot live without a specific kind of food, that you must have it, or otherwise you feel miserable, that’s an addiction.
Removing all these craving inducing foods has led me to ask myself: what is a craving actually? How can it be that my body is craving something so badly that I completely lose my ability to choose NOT to eat it? Through my experience I have come to believe that there is something more behind cravings than the mere chemical reactions in the body.
Going through the process of wanting something and consistently denying it from myself has exposed something beneath each craving and addiction: emotions. Let’s say I have a craving for chocolate. If instead of giving into it or trying to distract myself from it, I tune into my body pay close attention to the craving, asking myself where I feel it and what it feels like, I come to the conclusion that the craving is actually an emotion. It’s usually a so called “negative” emotion that we subconsciously avoid feeling, and are in the habit of either suppressing with food or avoiding with distractions. This feeling could be loneliness, sadness, guilt, self-pity, disappointment, regret, anxiety and so forth.
Most of us have learned to suppress unpleasant emotions with food. This becomes most obvious when we are going through a break up or something else that causes emotional havoc in our lives, and we treat ourselves with comfort food (it’s called that way for a reason).
When you no longer suppress the emotion with food, it has to come up. You actually have to FEEL it, and this can be uncomfortable. But then an interesting thing happens: once you surrender to the feeling and acknowledge it, you overcome the craving. This is why detox so often involves emotional purging. It is very common that during fasting people go through all kinds of buried emotions that they didn’t even know were there.
I suggest the following practice whenever you are battling with a craving:
- Close your eyes and direct your attention inward. Pay attention to your breath like in meditation.
- Ask yourself where in your body you feel the craving and observe exactly how it feels like physically.
- See if you can identify an emotion. Breath into that emotion and allow it to be there.
- See if you can name the emotion. Allow yourself to feel it completely.
- Tell yourself that it’s OK to feel this emotion and take your time to sit with it.
- When you are ready, come out and observe how the feeling in your body has changed. Do you still have the craving?
Becoming aware of the underlying emotion changes the dynamic. When we give into cravings and indulge, we are eating unconsciously, which often results in overeating, regret and numbness. Even if you still experience the craving after the above practice and decide to give into it, you are no longer doing it unconsciously. Don’t be surprised if half way through binging you decide that you actually no longer want it.
My raw food journey has clearly shown me that the biggest addiction we have is to cooked food. That’s why going raw is so completely inconceivable for most people. They cannot imagine being able to live without cooked foods.
Whenever I have slipped during my raw food journey, I have felt the sedating power of cooked foods, especially that of complex carbohydrates such as rice and potatoes. I still get the desire sometimes to knock myself out and I try to do it with raw foods, but it doesn’t quite work. I try to do it with nuts, dates, avocado with salt, or just by generally over eating, but it doesn’t really do the trick. Regardless of what I eat, the raw foods leave me feeling uncomfortably aware of all my emotions, which can feel quite vulnerable and overwhelming.
The good news is that the more you go through the underlying emotions, the easier it gets. The cravings diminish and you no longer feel like a slave to the whims of your mind and body. You naturally stop wanting certain things. You might still have them out of habit, and then realize that you are not even enjoying it. This happened to me with coffee especially. I still think freshly ground coffee smells divine, I just don’t like the taste, and cannot handle the effect anymore.
So if you want to get control of your eating habits, forget about the idea of willing yourself into it. Instead, it’s time to dive deep into your emotions. Ask yourself, what am I avoiding to feel? And by the way, the benefits of doing that reach far beyond overcoming cravings.