How many times in the past few days did you find yourself reaching for the fridge seemingly just out of boredom?
If you are getting snacks or weird cravings at odd hours (even though you ate and aren’t hungry), you’re not alone. Sugar and salt cravings, as well as food addictions, are a direct consequence of stress— and goodness knows we’re experiencing a lot of that these days.
It’s easy to give in and feed these cravings and addictions. It’s also easy to blame yourself after, creating a loop of negative feedback that doesn’t help anyone.
You don’t lack discipline. You are not flawed. Your body is simply asking you for support and you’re responding with the tools you know. These aren’t always the best, but you’ve been doing your best to soothe and regulate your system. That is great.
The important thing is, then, reframing your perceptions. Instead of seeing your food cravings or addiction as a failure and feeling bad, observe them as a mechanism for coping that has been somewhat useful.
Then, leap— believe that you can replace these previous food-linked mechanisms with healthier and more effective coping strategies to manage the stressors in your daily life.
Why do empaths and sensitives get cravings and food addictions?
Our fast-paced world is full of stress factors that alter our bodies’ natural rhythms, chemistry, and energy. This results in imbalances on every level.
And there are two groups of people whose bodies and minds are particularly vulnerable to the negative consequences of energy shifts: empaths and sensitives (HSP or Highly Sensitive Person).
Are you in one (or both) of these groups?
- You are attuned to energies around you— from people, places, and situations.
- You internalize external energies until they feel like your own.
- You often get overwhelmed by conflict, crowded places, or negative energy.
- You are deeply intuitive and can sense other people’s feelings.
- You find it difficult to establish boundaries in your relationships.
- Your senses are innately more receptive to external stimuli— this is determined by your DNA.
- You perceive subtle nuances more easily than others.
- Your mental processes are deeper and more reflective; you tend to go over the same information many times and discover new details.
- You have more mirror neurons: you experience others’ emotions and energy more readily than other people.
- You get easily overwhelmed by strong sensorial stimuli and by people’s emotions.
- Your body and mind can feel exhausted from stimulation and deep processing of input and emotions.
As you can see, both empaths and sensitives get easily overloaded when experiencing intense situations and energies. This can translate into long-term, overwhelming stress— and all its consequences, like hormonal imbalance and adrenal fatigue.
Empaths and sensitives might resort to coping strategies (like unhealthy eating habits) to manage these high levels of stress. They might also use these to construct a makeshift sense of safety and control in their bodies and energies.
What are coping strategies?
We each have learned coping mechanisms that we acquired growing up. They are not necessarily healthy— but they are what we know.
A coping mechanism can be an automatized, unconscious way of dealing with anxiety, conflict, or stress that feel threatening. It’s a learned behavior that reduces or buffers the impact of the negative energy on your mind. This kind of mechanism includes unhealthy habits and addictions like alcohol, nicotine, codependent relationships, and food addictions (including those irresistible sugar and salt cravings.)
A coping strategy or stress management strategy, however, is a healthy way of managing the same stress. It’s about replacing the unhealthy reactive mechanisms with a conscious and direct approach to the issues that cause stress.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Coping Skills
If it feels like a quick fix— a fast but short-lived type of gratification— it’s probably not healthy coping. Unhealthy coping skills are like a bandaid, easy to slap on and seemingly useful, but doing nothing to disinfect and heal the wound underneath.
Some unhealthy coping skills include: isolating yourself from relationships, abusing substances like alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs, self-harming or harming others, and even purposely disturbing your sleep patterns towards lack or excess.
Food addictions or food abuse fall in this category: they make you feel better for a minute but don’t act to solve the problem of your long-term stress and exhaustion. They can even create additional problems in the long run as well as making issues like adrenal fatigue worse.
On the other hand, a coping strategy is healthy if it takes you towards finally solving the problem that underlies the symptoms.
In this case, you need to develop conscious mechanisms to protect yourself from stress factors linked to your energy boundaries. In turn, this will help you resolve your salt and sugar cravings and unhealthy food addictions.
3 strategies to overcome salt and sugar cravings and food addictions.
What is it about food that makes it so easy to use as an unhealthy coping mechanism? Whenever we eat, our brains release dopamine, a feel-good hormone— this is an important adaptation of our bodies for survival. But when we start using food as an ‘emergency’ dopamine release in the face of negative feelings or stress, it becomes problematic.
And what about sugar and salt— why do you crave them more than other foods? Eating them gives you huge amounts of dopamine, so it’s easier for your brain to get addicted to them. These cravings are also your body’s way of asking for nutrients when it feels under stress.
If you have a food addiction— if you feel out of control and it’s taking over your life—, the best course of action is to seek professional treatment. But some strategies can help you work away from compulsive coping and towards healthier, conscious habits.
The goals we’ll work towards is a protected, balanced flow of energy through your body and mind and a mindful attitude in your everyday eating.
1. Replace the unhealthy craving with a healthy coping strategy.
When you’re stressed out or anxious and you feel that pull to grab food that’s salty, sugary, or unhealthy, there is a crucial instant of decision. You could call it ‘the point of no return’: when you’ve made up your mind, imagined the texture and taste, and maybe even put your hand out.
Timing is essential— you need to stop the craving before you get to the point of no return. Instead of continuing as usual and grabbing an unhealthy snack, you’ll redirect your attention towards a different coping mechanism that is healthy.
Healthy coping strategy alternatives: a walk in the sun, writing in a journal, listening to happy music and dancing around your room, practicing yoga for 15 minutes, sitting in nature for a little, playing with your pet, creating something artistic, making a cup of a soothing infusion (like chamomile or linden), or taking a relaxing bath.
What to do: You don’t need to apply all of these alternatives. Simply select an uplifting one and a relaxing one. Then, when you feel a craving coming up, don’t wait until it’s too late.
Close your eyes and focus on a body part other than your stomach— your beating heart is a good choice. Start breathing deeply as you pay attention to the heartbeat. Check in with yourself: what feeling is behind your craving?
If you can’t express what you feel, take a pen and journal it out. If you feel accelerated and anxious, take an adrenal support tea or a long bath. If you feel trapped or angry energy, blast your favorite song and shake it off. Afterward, you’ll be able to assess whether you’re truly hungry and choose a healthy option.
2. Daily meditation practice.
Now you know that to manage a craving problem or food addiction, you’ve got to address the root cause— unchecked energy flowing through your empath or sensitive system, causing long-term stress.
Daily meditation is an essential tool to ground and protect your energy field. In the morning, before going out, take a few minutes to sit with yourself and tend to your grounding needs.
Begin by breathing deeply and closing your eyes. Sit up straight and visualize a tree of white light growing all along your spine, its roots reaching towards the earth. Feel the light enveloping you and forming a protective shield layer. Stay like this for a few minutes.
Finish with an affirmation— ‘I am grounded, I am protected, I am enough’. You can repeat this meditation before meals, or whenever you feel you need to calm down and reset your energetic boundaries.
3. Eating mindfulness.
Grounding is a big priority for HSPs and empaths, who often feel uprooted and unsteady. This involves practicing embodiment— the practice of being in the moment, mindful of the sensations of your physical body.
You can practice embodiment mindfulness when eating (and preparing your meals) to foster a healthy relationship with food.
It’s very simple: use your meditation tool before you cook or sit down to eat. Put away your phone and all devices. Focus all your senses— the colors you see, the smells and tastes you perceive. Pay attention to detail and texture. Focus on how your body feels before, during, and after your meal.
When you’ve finished, make a few notes of your experience in your journal. You can do this for every meal or whenever you have time.
Tips for loving your sensitive self.
It’s all about creating supportive habits in all areas of life.
- Drink enough water.
- Develop a grounding meal schedule (and don’t let your blood sugar drop).
- Use physical practices to balance your body and its energy.
- Get a solid 8 hours of sleep each night— no exceptions. And go to bed early! Regularity in your sleep schedule stabilizes your hormones, supports your adrenals, and helps you control hunger and food cravings.
Remember— you are sensitive, wonderful, and worth it.