We often associate being tempted by food as a sign of weakness, greed or lack of willpower. We might even see it as harmful to our health. Being tempted to eat a food is seen as something to be fought, resist or overcome and, with practice, something that we can tame. But can any good come out of “giving in” to food temptations?
A food craving is often described as a yearning for a food that comes from within. For example, if someone were to ask what I feel like eating today, I would say I feel like an orange. They are delicious at the moment and I can’t wait for a meal/snack so I can eat one!
A food temptation is often described as wanting to eat something that you didn’t necessarily want to eat until an external trigger (seeing it, smelling it) made you think of it. You might walk past a bakery and see some gorgeous cupcakes in the window and suddenly want one. Or, you may be watching TV, a chocolate ad comes on and suddenly you feel like chocolate!
Consider the following scenario. You have had a cheese and salad sandwich for lunch all week and again today. Each day you take your sandwich and eat it in a nearby park. There is a Take Away shop across the road from the park. Today, you look down at your sandwich and find yourself yearning for a warm, meaty hamburger from the Take Away shop instead of your sandwich. You look at the people going into the Take Away shop. You find yourself dwelling on eating a hamburger. Why was the sandwich met with relish the other days and suddenly today it seems second best? Is it a lack of willpower? Would you get frustrated that you have been “good all week” and suddenly you can’t summon enough willpower to resist the hamburger?
In this case, is wanting the hamburger a craving or a temptation? If it were a craving, it would have been on your mind before sitting down for lunch or before seeing the Take Away shop. You wouldn’t have bought the sandwich to the park and instead you would have gone straight to the Take Away shop and bought a hamburger. If it were a temptation, then why as soon as you sit and look down at your sandwich, does it look and feel uninspiring? And there were no external triggers to make you want the hamburger. There appears to be more to temptation than wanting it just because you saw it or smelt it. You have seen people buying a hamburger for lunch all week and it didn’t bother you. Why is it hard to resist now? Why is your body yearning for the hamburger today? Often, the explanation for “giving in” to temptation is a lack of willpower. But is it?
It is thought that when we crave a food, it’s our body’s way of getting something it lacks – like craving potato or bread if we aren’t getting enough carbohydrates. It can also happen when we deprive ourselves of certain foods. At times, temptation too, may be serving a purpose. It could be our body’s way of seeking different foods. Our body’s way of getting variety. Our senses direct us to a variety of colours, tastes, smells, textures. Even sounds.
When we shame food choices because we view them as a lack of will power, we move away from a sensible, balanced relationship with food. What if, instead of expecting ourselves to resist all temptations, we trust our body to decide, really listen to what it is telling us it wants, and embrace the temptation.