By Jackie Rainford Corcoran EBS Health Columnist

October enticed us with free candy around every corner. Now, as November ushers in more holidays, dark days and cold weather, cravings often start going into overdrive.

Many of us begin plotting our New Year’s Day resolutions as we indulge in yet another bite of chocolate or glass of wine. But there are many good reasons to avoid falling into this pattern.

By continually giving into cravings over the next six weeks, we’re creating habits that will be harder to break come the new year. Also, eating and drinking excessive carbohydrates and sugar sets us up for mood swings that can compound the stresses of the holiday season.

Sugar causes inflammation, which disrupts our immune systems and makes us more susceptible to catching a cold or flu. Sugar can cause energy crashes, making it harder to stay focused and maintain the desire to exercise. In addition, sugar can result in rapid weight gain—belly fat in particular. And perhaps worst of all, sugar causes our blood sugar levels to spike. If this happens regularly, we can damage our metabolic system leading to Type 2 diabetes.

Sometimes what we think of as a craving is actually the body signaling hunger. It’s natural to be hungry every three to five hours, depending on your level of activity, the amount and quality of food you ate at your last meal, how much sleep you’ve had, the amount of alcohol you’ve consumed, and your stress levels.

But when real cravings hijack our brains, how do we crush them? We start with self-awareness. I can give you the usual top 10 tips on how to overcome cravings, but the rubber doesn’t hit the road until you nail down information about your personal cravings.

Here are three questions to answer if you have sugar cravings you’d like to get under control:

1. What do you crave? If it’s salty foods, ask yourself if the salt is coating a refined carbohydrate like salty chips.
2. When do you crave it? What triggers the craving?
3. What might your mind and body be trying to obtain? How might satisfying this craving make you feel more balanced?

According to Mark David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, there are three types of cravings: supportive, dispersive and associative.

A supportive craving is when the body instinctively knows it needs something. For example, a pregnant woman who craves vegetables may need more potassium. It’s the body’s innate intelligence guiding us.

A dispersive craving is caused by a yearning that can’t actually be satisfied with food or drink. When we do succumb to it, it causes feelings of lethargy, heaviness or guilt. David asks, “If the body is so naturally wise, how could it be so dumb? The bottom line here is this: just as the heart can look for love in all the wrong places, so too can the body. Both are easily seduced. No blame.”

An associative craving is a combination of the two above. It occurs when we are seeking connection with our past. We crave food that bridges us to people, places or times in our lives that have deep meaning. What we crave might not be on top of the healthy foods list but creating that emotional connection might, in turn, be healing.

What are your cravings telling you? What’s one little action step you can take to overcome your cravings this holiday season?

Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach, culture consultant
and public speaker. For a complimentary health consultation, reach her at rainfordcorcoran@gmail.com.