Have you ever wondered why you have a sweet tooth? Sweet cravings can range from mild and harmless to out of control. Some patients in my clinic say, ‘I know it’s bad for me, but I can’t stop’. If they suddenly drop sugar, they get withdrawal symptoms like tiredness, anxiety or even depression, and ultimately a strong desire to binge.
Chinese medicine has its own explanation for sweet cravings. It involves the Spleen – spelled with a capital letter to distinguish it from the spleen as we know it from anatomy class. In Chinese medicine the Spleen system encompasses a number of energetic functions as well as the actual organ. One of its main responsibilities is to process food as well as thought. The taste associated with the Spleen is sweet, and the emotion is obsessive thought or worry.
Have you ever had sweet cravings when you were tired, been thinking too much, studying, working long hours at the office, stressing, obsessing or worrying about something? Chinese medicine says that you crave something sweet when you have a Spleen imbalance. It’s your body making an attempt to self-medicate. Something mildly sweet can be reasonable and beneficial, to aid digestion or thought processing. But it needs to be the right kind of sweet and in moderation – otherwise the Spleen system is weakened yet further.
An out of balance Spleen leaves us feeling drained, depleted, fuzzy headed, struggling to focus and easily worried. And, worst of all, we end up craving more sweets, only because we’ve had too many sweets in the first place.
Acupuncture treatment can help strengthen your Spleen, but what you do at home is equally, if not more important:
- Limit your consumption of sugar and dairy, regarded as ‘damp forming’. The Spleen system is susceptible to dampness.
- Cook your food – enjoy vegetable soups and stews. Make processing easy for your Spleen. Too much cold and raw are difficult to digest. See my article I thought raw food was good for me (includes a short video about the Spleen system). At times of illness prepare ‘congee’, a classic Chinese rice porridge which nourishes without exerting the digestive system.
- Make sure you have some protein with every meal.
- Prepare meals at home to avoid sugar in restaurants and manufactured food. Sugar and chemical sweeteners can be in almost anything, so read the labels.
- Eat sweet vegetables for healthy sweetness: sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, parsnips, beets, Jerusalem artichokes. Raw carrots can help with sugar cravings.
- Start the day with a drink of hot water with ginger. Ginger is warming and aids digestion. Add ginger to your meals where possible. Drink ginger tea when you feel your digestion needs support.
- Avoid too much thinking, worrying or stressing. When that’s impossible, find your own space to relax and recharge regularly. Bring sweetness into your life in other ways.
Over time your sweet cravings should diminish and you won’t want to grab an urgent, guilt-laden snack that has the potential to make you feel more drained and depleted.