"I don't know why, but I feel like ice cream," said my husband this evening. "I can't be hungry. We just ate."
Depending on which raw food teacher you ask, the reason for my husband's sudden craving would be different. Most would fall into one of three camps. There is the "you haven't eaten enough" camp, the "junk food is addictive" camp, and the "emotional eating" camp.
When I ate exclusively lowfat raw vegan for four months, I underate the entire time. I thought it was really no problem, because I was overweight and overfat. According to traditional dieting advice, I was doing great calorie-wise. I ate an average of 1500 calories a day and was probably burning more like 2200. Mainstream diet sites and articles suggested that my suggested calorie range was 1200-1600, and as long as I didn't eat less than 1200, I was not undereating according to them. This fit my preferences--I was having financial difficulties and sometimes resorted to dumpster diving to get enough food. Also, I was finding it difficult to stretch my stomach to the increased volume of food I was eating. And of course, I wanted rapid weight loss results. I lost about 40 pounds in those four months, the first time I had ever successfully lost a significant amount of weight. I was so proud!
Then I got tremendous cravings. I began fantasizing about nachos, a former favorite food that had become repulsive to me in the preceding months. Now they were looking mighty good to me. I was struggling emotionally and socially, and trying to work through all of my "issues," but this was nothing new to me. If anything, I was feeling increasingly empowered and happy as I experienced increasing physical health and success in losing weight. I realized that most of the reason I was fantasizing about nachos was that I was just plain hungry and made plans to eat more.
But, before I had fully implemented my new eating plan, there was the fateful binge. After a party where everyone around me ate a lot of junk food that was "off limits" to me and an argument with a family member, I ate a whole lot of junk food and got really violently ill.
I felt horrible and defeated and out of control. It was like a switch had been turned inside. In the next four months, I would fast in the morning, eat fruit and salad during the afternoon and dinner meal, and then after everyone else was in bed, I would indulge in what Taco Bell likes to call the "fourthmeal." I gained 40 pounds in 4 months.
Was it hunger, the addictive power of salt, grain or casomorphein, or was it my lack of emotional poise?
I have read several success stories out who claim that sticking to a lowfat raw vegan diet brought them out of their mental and emotional funk, all they had to do was stay the course, and learn to eat enough fruit. There are a couple of teachers who continually beg raw foodists to eat until true satiation. They stress that overeating on fruit is "impossible" because when your body has had enough, the food will no longer taste good.
There are others who decry this as overeating. Humans need much less food than they think, these teachers argue, and most overeating is emotional. Some say that raw foodists should ease themselves through the emotions of transition by overeating, even overeating fat, in the beginning. Many of these teachers claim that they need less and less food as time goes on.
Then others use the language of addiction or other therapies. Some argue that a 12-step approach is best, while others suggest taking the time to develop the emotional and social skills needed to cope without turning to food to numb one's feelings.
After hearing all of the conflicting arguments, I have come to believe that none can stand alone as the "correct" answer.
I have watched the "eat more" group loudly cheerleading people who really need empathy and emotional support. I have watched the "eat less" group fall off the wagon repeatedly because they just haven't figured out that they're hungry. I have watched loads of people, including me, eat ourselves into oblivion, using fat, starch, and salt as a shield against feeling pain and panic.
We'd all like a quick fix, a magic bullet. We'd like life to be simple. There is no simple. We chose this path because we realized just "going with the flow" and eating what our culture says to eat has painful consequences. We want vibrant health and happiness. And that means we have to explore all aspects of our health. Listening to the teachers who have blazed the trail before us can be helpful on the journey. But it is no substitute for listening to ourselves.
So, next time you find yourself craving nachos or ice cream take time to really listen. Is it the food or the feelings?