Cravings and Personal Trainers

(Originally printed in 280 Living, Birmingham, AL, January 2011)

It is the New Year, with new and renewed resolutions toward health, wellness, success, and wholeness; the time for the best of intentions and revitalized commitments, where frequent is the utterance, “This year will be different!” The answer to that statement is, “You know, you’re right. This next year will be different; but will you see the difference as positive or negative?”

Okay, time for one of my immediate yet random right turns in a seemingly different topical direction, just sooner than usual, but, after all, it is a new year.

I may have mentioned a time or two that we added a child to our family this past August. A year ago, my wife was still in her first trimester, in the throes of morning sickness and nightly cravings. It’s funny, she has had different cravings with each of our children. During her first pregnancy, the craving was for breakfast foods (syrup and bacon). During the second, the craving was for anything sweet, but mostly chocolate chip cookies. For the third, the craving was for salsa and ice cream (generally separate—I would not have been able to watch that go down together). Now, the question begs, “Can you see the cravings in the kids personalities?” but that’s not the question I want to answer right now. The question I want to ask is, “Why those cravings? Why cravings at all?” Well, I have heard before that within a craving, any craving, and not just for pregnant woman, there is something the body needs; not just wants, which is often how we define a craving, but legitimately needs, in order to function in a healthy manner. For example, perhaps my wife’s body was lacking in protein and fat, so the body made a request of the mind, which, in turn, put forth a sensory memory/image, which happened to take the form of… bacon. Now we all know that bacon is not the healthiest type of food, but being the smart husband that I am, I did not stand in the way of a pregnant woman and her bacon (nor the cookies with #2, nor the ice cream and salsa with #3—in fact, I tended to participate in the opportunity the craving afforded). And upon eating these things, her body was satisfied and the craving subsided. But she did not always eat what she craved; sometimes she ate something else, though similar, and still, satisfaction was achieved. There was something legitimate beneath the craving that she listened to and for, addressed it, and met the internal need.

Okay, right turn again (I know, I’m worse than a rickety rollercoaster), but back to our original direction—New Year’s intentions (but I’ll dovetail this one). At the end of our third pregnancy, I realized my satisfaction of my wife’s cravings had put on a few extra pounds ON ME, with no readily built-in mechanism to take it off (some of you ladies know what I mean). So I joined a fitness center. With my membership came a complimentary consultation with a personal trainer. I don’t like personal trainers—they make me hurt, because they make me work harder at something than I want to work at something. They push, and pester, hurt my feelings, and worst of all, make me sweat, which I don’t like (curse the Fall of Man). Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, they’re good for me and help me become a better me (which, come to think of it, is kind of what I do for a living). BUT IT’S NOT FUN! But listening to my personal trainer, and better yet, trusting that my personal trainer has my best interests at heart helps me to receive the challenge and participate beyond what is comfortable, to help me achieve MY goals for a healthier, more whole me (which is good for my family, my circle of community, my work, and not to mention, oh yeah, me).

One more right turn (hang in there; before long, we’ll come full circle); the holidays, as I’ve written before, makes us aware of our longings in life—of the holes that exist. People often call the holidays the loneliest time of the year. The loneliness is often expressed in feelings of melancholy, anger, fear, and sometimes depression. Often, a course of action is taken that momentarily relieves the loneliness—temporarily. Many people simply try to survive the holidays, and once they do, use the New Year resolution phenomena to be the turning point so that “this year will be different.”

Well, let’s help that to happen, but let’s make the target the real target (and now we come full circle).

First, sit down. Be still for a few moments. Second, listen to what’s motivating you as if you were listening to a craving—there is something in the craving, though movement on the actual craving may not be the healthiest move to make. What is your system really asking for? Connection? Simplicity? Quiet? Balance? Now, third, ask yourself, is the craving that I have simply to relieve the negative feeling I am experiencing in life, or can I use the negative feeling? Can I see the negative experience something akin to a personal trainer, who wants to motivate me, move me, push me, pester me, make me work in a fashion that is permanent and not a temporary relief, but movement to real and lasting change? Can I listen to my loneliness or disconnection or anger or fear be like I would consult to a personal trainer, and maybe, just maybe, perhaps trust it is working for me and not against me, if I will listen to it, rather than trying to escape it?

So I ask, what’s really beneath your resolution? Look for it; listen to it. It may be what helps you truly make this next year the different year that your system is craving.

To talk further about understanding your cravings and emotional experience, please contact LifePractical Counseling for your counseling or consultant needs. Paul Johnson is a professionally licensed marriage and family therapist and professionally licensed counselor in the state of Alabama.