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Question from AH:
Hi Brandy, why could I be craving fast-food like burgers or chicken nuggets? I feel so gross for eating them because people say they’re bad for you. I’m worried if I keep eating them I’ll get addicted, at least that is what my co-workers seem to believe.
Thank you for your great question! Many of my patients experience cravings for foods they deem as “unhealthy” or “bad for you.” They might try to eat something else to satisfy the craving or maybe just push through the day and hope the craving goes away. Often they end up eating what they were craving in the first place (and usually a big amount!) and then feel guilty or ashamed of themselves for eating it.
This response to cravings is most often the result of restriction. This can take form as a physical restriction (for example, you keep all the “bad” foods out of the house) or as a mental restriction (you tell yourself “I shouldn’t have those foods, they are bad for me”). I want you to think of a giant pendulum. Restriction is on one side of the pendulum, and bingeing and out of control feelings are on the other side. The more you pull to the restriction side, the harder you will swing to the bingeing side when you finally lift the restriction.
AH you might be having strong cravings because you are trying to restrict these foods. You described feeling “gross” when you eat fast food. I think the underlying feeling you have is guilt or shame for eating this because you have internalized the idea that these foods are bad for you. All foods fit when we practice intuitive eating and no one food or group of foods is healthier or “better” for us than another.
I would encourage you to broaden your perspective about food. Try to avoid classifying food as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, and so on. This is black and white thinking. Aim to be in the gray. The truth is, no one food, no one meal, no one day of eating is going to make you healthy or unhealthy. Your body will tell you what it needs and be able to get adequate nutrition over time. Eating a variety of foods helps your body get a range of nutrients, and that variety can include fast food and sugar.
I want to briefly talk about your comment regarding food addiction but you can read more in depth about this topic in my December blog post. While there is research on food addiction, there is no definitive conclusion that food addiction is real. There isn’t even a formal definition of what food addiction is at this point. What we do know is that sometimes people do feel that they are addicted to food. Many of my patients have told me they feel out of control with food and feel addicted to sugar, carbs, or other specific foods.
When these same patients finally let go of their food restrictions and give themselves permission to eat all foods without guilt, the feeling of addiction fades away. If the pendulum isn’t being pulled to the restriction side, there is no swinging to the “out of control” side. Therefore, if you don’t restrict, you don’t have to be scared of developing an addiction to fast food. Try to stay in the middle!
If you’re not sure how to start lifting your restrictions, I’d encourage you to work with a dietitian trained in intuitive eating for some support. Hope this helps!