I’ve spent the past few years delving deep into my psyche, exploring patterns and my brain–body connection, and deciphering my present-day emotions, mindsets, triggers, etc., in relation to my past experiences. Basically, I’ve been trying to figure out why I do what I do and use that information to make my existence on this Earth more positively effective for myself and those I care for.
I attribute my own progress over the years to a combination of chosen activities that seem to work best for me: an extensive yoga practice, regular talk therapy, self-education, appropriate supplementation, and a conscious relationship with the food I eat. And, of course, the willingness to face the ugliest parts of myself, which is challenging and certainly not always pretty. Aside from all the physical steps I take with food, exercise, and education, I have found that, of all things, my most valuable asset is to really listen to my body.
It’s a common practice in our modern world to treat symptoms with things like pharmaceutical drugs, rather than addressing root causes to actually cure, or at least manage, the underlying issues. Besides a host of side effects, the practice of masking symptoms with drugs will, frankly, shut off part of our ability to honestly hear what our body is telling us.
The reality is that our bodies are huge networks, where literally everything is interconnected. Unfortunately, this isn’t recognized as much as it should be in a lot of modern medicine. If we’re really listening, our body will usually tell us, through events as impactful as outright disease or as seemingly miniscule as a period of heightened emotions, when it needs something. It’s the same principle when considering food cravings.
When the fall equinox arrived last week, it brought with it a crisp, blustery day. I was slightly in awe, as it was the first day of such weather in a very long time, and one that I would consider the epitome of autumn weather. Within a day, it seemed we jumped from summer to fall overnight—no gradual transition, no subtle warning. And with the rain, cooler days, and darker mornings came an abrupt longing for serious personal introversion and a need for massive amounts of solitude, quiet, and rest.
It’s normal for our bodies to react to the changing seasons—it’s evolutionary and simply hardwired in our systems. We generally have more energy and vigor in the long, warm days of summer and wind down for the chilly, dark winter months to conserve our energy. So, I wasn’t terribly surprised when my energy levels dropped somewhat. However, as I turned inward, I also (almost immediately) felt much more emotional, somewhat scattered, and lethargic. I cried easily, got stuck in my head a little too much, and felt self-conscious and insecure. This was a massive departure from my normally talkative, focused, feisty, and busy self. Though I was prepared for a small emotional shift, the completeness and abruptness of this emotional shift was jarring. And I was struck with an intense food craving just as unexpected: It came on as suddenly as the weather. The food I had been regularly eating for months not only sounded unappealing, but I actually felt mild disgust thinking about some foods.
I craved coziness—I was in soup mode. But I wasn’t needing just any soup. I had a deep desire for warmth and comfort, an explicit texture and taste, spices like ginger, and a little heat. I made the soup I envisioned, and it almost instantly created a deeper sense of security and ease. I ate two bowls. The anxiety that had been toying with me dissipated. I slept like a log that night. In past days, I may have just passed this off as a simple craving and nothing more. But thanks to my ongoing self-exploration, paired with my sleuth-like curiosity and knowledge of health, I began to consider why my body was craving this exact combination of flavors and textures. I suspected I was deficient in vital nutrients and there was imbalance somewhere—likely my endocrine and nervous systems.
My understanding of food as medicine, as well as some subsequent further research, revealed that humans obtain a sense of safety from sweet flavors. Anthropologists have traced this back as far as paleolithic times, as sweetness was generally associated with “not poisonous” by hunter/gatherers (think ancient healing foods, like honey), and bitter or sour flavors were mostly associated with “poison.” Another theory is that there is a link between the sense of security from mother’s milk and the safety we felt as a babe at her breast. I’ve even thought maybe the smooth texture of the soup I craved might be linked to times when I was still too young to eat solid foods.
Furthermore, many of the vitamins and minerals in the ingredients of this soup directly support grounding and warming energy, calming and balancing amino acids, and a wealth of vitamins. Besides the expected vitamins like A (which sweet potatoes are particularly high in), it offers significant doses of B6 and magnesium—two vitamins I seem to frequently need to supplement—both of which provide emotional, hormonal, and nervous system support.
Now, I don’t claim that this soup was the sole factor in managing the unusually abrupt symptoms I was experiencing. I also increased my supplements and focused on other self-care techniques in conjunction with my changes in diet. But I do believe there is a lot more to the theory of food as medicine than is practiced by most. And I’m convinced my craving had a deeper purpose than to simply “fill my belly”—it was pulling my attention inward and snapping me back into reality to deal with my underlying needs. It was there to assist my body as a whole, not just satiate my hunger.
I’ve been eating the soup all week. While it doesn’t have the same immediate satisfaction as that first day, it’s still delicious and comforting each time. And whether your body is craving this combo to the level mine was or not, I urge you to prepare this scrumptious soup, regardless of immediate physiological needs. It’s heartwarming comfort in a bowl, and perfect for the shifts that our outside and inside worlds experience during this change of seasons.
Gingered Yam Soup with Cajun Chicken and Crème Fraiche
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes to 1 hour
¼ cup butter
1 onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 (2-inch) piece ginger, peeled and grated
1 garlic clove, minced
2 pounds garnet yams, peeled and diced
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper, to taste
Chicken stock, to cover (about 1 quart)
24 ounces chicken, boneless breast or thigh, trimmed
Cajun or blackened seasoning
- In a heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter. Sauté the onion, celery, and carrots until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic, sauté 1–2 minutes. Add the diced yam and sauté a further couple of minutes. Season with the thyme, bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Add enough stock to completely cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until very tender.
- Working in batches, carefully purée the soup in a blender (alternately, you can use an immersion blender, but I find a countertop blender makes the smoothest soup), starting on low. Only fill the blender about halfway or hot soup could explode out the top. Hold down the lid with a towel as an extra precaution. Transfer the puréed soup to another pot with each batch. Keep warm on the stovetop on low heat.
- Rub the chicken with olive oil and season liberally with Cajun or blackened seasoning (curry would work great too). Grill the chicken until cooked through, then keep warm in a low heat (200°F) oven until ready to serve.
- To serve, shred chicken and set aside. Ladle the puréed soup into bowls and add a dollop of crème fraiche. Top with the shredded chicken and chopped cilantro.
Image from Briana Goodall.