Home #ScaleFreeBaby Q&A Wednesday: All About Cravings – Pregnancy, Hormonal, Emotional – and How to Fight Them

Q&A Wednesday: All About Cravings – Pregnancy, Hormonal, Emotional – and How to Fight Them

by Erika Nicole Kendall
Q&A Wednesday: All About Cravings - Pregnancy, Hormonal, Emotional - and How to Fight Them

Q: Hey girl,

I would love to know what you recommend for surviving hormonal cravings. Drinking more water just doesn’t do it. last week I was doing great – oatmeal for breakfast, salads for lunch , fresh corn on the cob with a little pork tenderloin for dinner. Then my hormonal cravings & work exhaustion kicked in. I’m on the depo shot and when it wears off after 12 weeks – I want to eat everything in sight until my next injection kicks in. I ordered 2 medium pizzas with BBQ drizzle Fri night for my weekend meal prep.

I know I will not go further than my current 15 lb weight loss if I keep sabotaging my healthy choices. However my hormones are louder than my internal voice that I know is right.

Did you have any unhealthy pregnancy cravings you had to deny yourself??

So, I’ve written a bit about cravings before. You can find those blog posts here, here, and here.

However, I have to admit – aside from a few random cravings for things like blue cheese or onion rings or corn chowder that linger non-stop, I haven’t had any out of the ordinary cravings that I fixate on.

It’s weird, because when I was pregnant with my first child – nine… whole… long… years ago, and just thinking about it is giving me a headache – I had cravings out the wazoo. I ate those little Totinos pizzas – the one that are like a dollar a piece in the frozen dinner aisle – and I’d pour mustard and Kraft singles all over the top of them. I’d eat sour cream and salsa…with a spoon. I was an emotional eater, and pregnancy turned me into someone who was literally enabled by everyone around me to eat and eat and eat with no second thought. For a happily greedy pregnant person, this was heaven; for someone who quite possibly needed to pull back the reins a bit, this was a catastrophe waiting to happen.

From what I see, cravings are related to three primary things:

1) Pure hunger. Hunger will drive you to crave the very first thing you see, the very first thing you hear, the very first thing that presents itself as available to you, and the very first thing that triggers your olfactory senses (in other words, “smell”) to go haywire. This isn’t the kind of initial hunger that could also be thirst, it’s “I haven’t eaten all day”/”I haven’t eaten enough today”/”I ate iceberg lettuce and shredded carrots at noon and it’s 4 and I’m gnawing my arm off” hunger. You’re likely to crave anything in this state.

2) Pure emotion. When you feel stress, anxiety, a deep sense of sadness, anger that you’re certain you can’t calm, or any other number of emotions so powerful that they can disturb your sense of your life and surroundings, you can feel a compulsion to eat. If something is overwhelming you to the point where the only thing you think will calm you is to eat, meaning that you couldn’t just sit and let the craving subside, it’s likely triggered by something emotional. We don’t always know what that thing might be that’s triggering the issue, but that’s less important than monitoring how we handle the feelings.

3) Nutritional deficiency. In the beginning of my pregnancy, I had an insane craving for oranges. I mean, I was eating four, five, six a day, several in a row at times. Part of that was because I was hungry and oranges were plentiful, but much of that was the fact that I was suffering from a nutritional deficiency that neither my diet nor my pre-natal vitamins were accounting for. In a lot of pregnant people, nutritional deficiencies they were experiencing prior to the pregnancy will really show up and show out once they’re actually carrying. I had an appetite for nothing but oranges, wanted for nothing but oranges, and – in some cases – could eat nothing but oranges. This all changed once I switched my pre-natal vitamin to something that better suited my needs.

Hormonal cravings, while they can be medically-related and that’s an entirely different post, quite often have a tendency to trigger emotional cravings, largely because the hormones trigger feelings that feel almost overwhelming. And, in the midst of that overwhelm, comes the pressing challenge of returning to your own personal sense of “normal,” for lack of a better phrase. For many of us, the quickest and fastest way to do that is through food.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find a healthy way to work with these emotions sans food.

Luckily, almost all of these situations are easily fixable. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:

1) Eat regularly, eat on a schedule, and take it seriously. Eat like you are paid to eat regularly. If your cravings are hunger-centered, take a long hard look at your schedule – not just when you eat, but what you’re doing between meals. If the bulk of your taxing work is taking place around noon, perhaps your breakfast should be heftier or you should have something energy-boosting prior to going into battle. If the second half of your day is more rough than your first, then seek to pad more of your calories around the time before you have to get down and dirty. Either way, eating according to a schedule helps you target your meals around the times you’re most likely to develop that starving feeling.

2) Eat before you eat. It’s one thing to feel a subconscious compulsion to eat – it’s another thing, entirely, to be able to control how much you eat.I’m not going to fool you – or myself – into believing that all cravings are equally overcome. They’re not. So, if you believe you’re losing your ability to fight it, give in. A little bit.

In my first trimester, I had this insane craving for onion rings from this place in the city. And I knew I was going to set out to get some, so I set myself up smartly – I ate before I left. Once I finally reached the restaurant, my eyes were much larger than my stomach. I wound up ordering the largest batch of onion rings they had… and only ate maybe three of ’em. The rest went to Mini-me, who happily ate what she wanted and “saved the rest for later after dinner.” I satisfied my craving, without overdoing it. And, eventually, the cravings for onion rings stopped.

3) Portion control is important. Not just for the sake of calories, but for the sake of your sanity – part of what perpetuates cravings is the fact that – get this – we give in to them.

That sounds like I’m being a smarty pants, but I’m not.

There’s a cycle to cravings – you develop a craving, it compels you to seek out what you need to satisfy it, you satisfy it – often to the point of bingeing, and receiving the benefit of fulfilling the craving actually makes it harder to resist the next time. The cycle is known as “incentive salience,” something very familiar to those in the business of supporting addicts through their habit.

From AlcoholRehab.com, edited for clarity:

Incentive salience is a type of motivation created in the brain because it has developed an association between a certain stimuli and reward. In the case of addiction this stimuli will be whatever [item] the individual is using. Incentive salience is a far greater incentive than merely liking something. In fact it can happen that the individual no longer likes the [item] but feels compelled to take it due to incentive salience. This compulsion to use is driven by unconscious forces. This association between the [item] and reward can last even though the individual has been in recovery for many years.

We have to be mindful when it comes to hormone-related cravings, because the consequence isn’t merely calories. It’s perpetuation of a habit that can extend beyond hormonal challenges.

If you’re going to indulge, pay attention to the amount you’re considering eating – less is always better when it comes to a craving and, if you’re still hungry, make your craving a side to an otherwise healthy meal.

4) Pay attention to when you feel, and why. I remember, once upon a time, having a client who gave me a deep sense of anxiety whenever his e-mail address appeared in my inbox. He was just a very demanding client who tried to find any and every reason he could to stall on paying me, nitpicking me down to the last minor detail. After engaging with him, I’d experience these severe drains on my energy – it took so much of me to still be pleasant to someone who relished in treating me like a dog – and I’d feel outright depressed. Soon, I learned that I was paying a penalty for working with this client, and I needed to do what I could to take care of myself while having to deal with him. I wrote out the things I really wanted to say, then ripped them to shreds – both equally cathartic – and felt like I didn’t have to carry that 25lb bag on my shoulders anymore. Problem. Solved.

Learning what you feel and why is so important. It helps you reorganize and restructure your day – I had to learn that, some times or the day are not for e-mail answering or reading at all – so that self-care is present in all.

5) Develop healthier coping mechanisms for emotion-based cravings. As the great prophet Vivica Fox said one in Two Can Play That Game, “Occupy ya damn time. Stay busy!” This goes for break ups, of course, but also for emotion-based cravings. Idle hands are the enemy’s playground, and there’s nothing worse than sitting around and zoning out to leave you susceptible to an emotion-based craving. Stay busy! Develop a craft – knitting, sewing, scrapbooking, quilting; take up a sport – tennis, volleyball, running, cycling; start reading about something that matters to you – culture, money, the Zombie Apocalypse. Anything that will occupy your time and give you something to do will make a huge difference.

6) Therapy. I’m a firm believer in people having a professional to talk to that can help them find healthy ways to address stressful feelings when they arise, and – for many of us – a therapist can be a saving grace. It’s not easy to muddle through these things alone, and having someone who studied this field exclusively – as opposed to a loved one who may or may not give great advice – can make a world of difference.

7) Lastly, if you’re pregnant, consider seeing a nutritionist. Sometimes, cravings that are centered around specific items – or even inedible objects or things that offer no nutritional value – can be considered pica, which can sometimes be related to nutritional deficiencies that can easily be addressed. At any rate, if you’re intending to carry the pregnancy to term, you’ll want guidance that is specific to you and your particular condition to help you through. You should feel absolutely comfortable sharing this with your doctor, who can either put you in contact with a nutritionist to help guide you, or a social worker who can connect you with services in your metro area to make sure you get what you need.

It seems complicated, but it isn’t – it’s simple, not easy. Cravings can be a true nightmare, but with this little bit of information, you should at least have a running head start towards breaking free!

What kinds of tips do you have for beating cravings?

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