Ashtanga Blog

Are we doomed to crave what makes us unhealthy?

Is it true that our unhealthy cravings are inescapable and if not how can yoga practice help rewire ourselves to crave what is good for us?

Tania Kemou performing a Yoga pose in front of a sunset in Serifos, Greece

In the brilliant book “The story of the human body” there is a sentence that caught my attention: “There is no wisdom of the body that naturally guides people to select foods that are healthy in the context of today’s abundance”.

According to the author, we are wired from an evolutionary point of view to crave rich, starchy and sugary foods because back in the hunter gatherer era people needed surplus of body fat to face times of starvation. This is of course not the case anymore since at least in the developed world scarcity has been replaced by abundance. Therefore, if one still follows their body instincts to eat a lot of rich food, disease will occur at some point.

But is the author right in saying that there is no body wisdom guiding us to make the right choices when it comes to food? Is it really the body that craves junk food, alcohol etc? Or is maybe the mind tricking us once again into chasing what’s tasty and pleasurable no matter what? And if so, how can we train both the mind and the body in craving the right things?

Unfortunately knowledge alone is not enough. Everyone knows these days what is good and not good for them but still most people stick with unhealthy diets and habits following their cravings and needs for instant and short term pleasure.

What we need is a drastic change that goes beyond mere knowledge and good intentions.

Yoga practice can make a difference in showing us what is good on a visceral level. By practicing consciously and getting to really know our body, it starts telling us whenever we feed it trash. It just does not feel right. The problem is that most people are disconnected from their bodies because they are not trained in reading the signs. They have not learned to listen.

A conscious practice holds a magnifying lens allowing us to closely observe ourselves.

It teaches us to listen, respect and honour our body, it makes us aware of our sensations and the impact certain foods, as well as cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs have on our wellbeing. This does not happen on an intellectual/theoretical level. It happens on a visceral one, we literally “feel” it in our skin and in our gut. 

The body then reacts to harmful things as it always does but this time we are awake and openminded enough to listen to it and change habits.

Maybe we just end up loving ourselves a bit more through consistent practice. And when we do, the cravings are not the same.

Because what are cravings if not the reflection of our mind state?

Like all meaningful things it won’t happen overnight but over an extended period of time and daily practice. But at some point things shift and so do daily habits, priorities and life itself. 

So my point is that even if we are wired by natural selection to crave certain things, we do not have to be the victims of this and bear the consequences our whole life. We can rewire ourselves towards what’s really good for us. And when it happens it does not feel like a sacrifice, it does not create frustration because it is a conscious choice and we feel the benefits so deep in our body that we would not want to have it any other way.