Almost all of us experience food cravings from time to time, but until now food cravings have been largely misunderstood. Recent are examining the psychology of food cravings and how to potentially control them.
Cravings are normal. Almost 100% of women and 70% of men have experienced food cravings recently. Food cravings are quite peculiar though, aren’t they? When we crave food, we don’t just want to eat something. We want something specific, such as chocolate chip cookies or French fries, and we want them now. While eating those foods can give us pleasure, it can also bring us feelings of guilt, as well as impact our health and weight.
Intense food cravings during pregnancy are also quite common. One morning I woke up with a sudden onset of PopTart Fever. Though I hadn’t eaten a Pop Tart in at least a decade, that morning no man, machine, or monster could have stopped me from finding one.
20 Facts About Food Cravings
Where do food cravings come from, and why do we get intense desires to eat certain foods? To stop food cravings or just learn more about them, here are 20 things you may want to know:
If you have cravings, you are not alone.
The common denominator of food cravings is that people are most likely to crave foods that are high in calories (not necessarily fat or carbs).
Cravings are all in your head.
Cravings make you stupid. Well, kind of.
When your brain is busy imagining eating a particular food, you will have more difficulty completing cognitive tasks. All that mental imagery uses up our brain’s cognitive resources, leaving us with less ability to focus on anything else.
Sleep habits are related to food cravings.
Do you crave more unhealthy food when you are tired? (Guilty as charged.) After a sleepless night, the part of the brain that governs our ability to make decisions is impaired. At the same time, there is increased activity in the area of the brain that responds to rewards. That awesome combo platter makes us crave unhealthy, high-calorie foods and carbohydrates when we are sleep deprived.
There is also a link between cravings and depression.
One recent study found that teenagers experiencing depression were almost three times more likely to have a strong craving for carbohydrates than those without depression.
Cravings do not go away while you are dieting.
However, people who lose a greater percentage of body weight give in to their cravings less frequently.
Habits are hard to break.
People who eat when under stress seek foods they eat out of habit, regardless of whether they are healthy or not. So if you love cookies, those are most likely to be your go to stress-release food.
Chocolate is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Chocolate really does have active constituents that enhance our mood. Additionally, if you have a magnesium deficiency, it can lead to cravings for chocolate. Magnesium is found in the emotional center of the brain, so deficiencies can trigger cravings for a chocolaty mood-enhancing treat.
How to Stop Food Cravings
Video game playing can weaken cravings by as much as 20%. In as little as just three minutes, playing a visually interesting game (such as Tetris) can interfere with the mental imagery of consuming a particular food.
Tap on it.
Tapping on pressure points while focusing on particular emotions and thoughts can significantly reduce food cravings. This technique helps over-ride emotional eating at a sub-conscious level. Its impact on food cravings is almost immediate and can be long lasting.
Remember that nothing tastes as good as healthy feels.
Considering the long-term consequences of our food choices may actually help us reduce food cravings by increasing activity in a region of the brain involved in control and self-regulation.
Remember what Popeye said.
Eating spinach can reduce hunger and cravings. Its components encourage the release of satiety hormones. Women in particular show a reduced urge for sweets after eating spinach. It can also make you strong to the finish, by the way.
Charge up your plate.
A monotonous diet increases the likelihood of food cravings, so varying your food intake may lead to eating less junk food.
It really is the most important meal of the day. You’ll have fewer cravings throughout the day when you eat breakfast, especially one that is high in protein. On the other hand, skipping breakfast increases the likelihood of having cravings throughout the day.
Walk it off.
That chocolate craving mentioned earlier can easily go from a quick fix to a habit. However, walking for as little as fifteen minutes can reduce chocolate cravings. Also make sure that you are getting enough magnesium in your diet. Chocolate cravings can disappear when magnesium deficiencies are brought back to normal.
Chewing gum in the afternoons is associated with lower snack intake. People who chewed sugar-free gum reported significantly decreased feelings of hunger and cravings for sweets. (I’m not a fan of sugar-free, so I’m just reporting the research on this one.)
Break the cycle.
If you are under stress, think about not purchasing the foods you typically eat out of habit. Also consider other ways to treat chronic stress besides food, such as exercise, yoga, meditation, baths or relaxation techniques – all of which activate regions of the brain that stimulate pleasure.
Cut out sugars.
Limiting high-glycemic foods could help us avoid overeating and giving in to cravings. Both glucose and fructose increase hunger and desire for savory foods, and eating them stimulates brain regions involved in cravings.
Dehydration can disguise itself as hunger, particularly as cravings for sugary foods. Don’t over-consume unnecessary calories when you are really just thirsty.
Take a vitamin supplement.
Nutritional deficiencies can cause food cravings. We already discussed magnesium, but cravings can also occur from a lack of calcium, vitamin B, zinc, iron and Omega-3 fatty acids. If you are having food cravings and can’t figure out why, consider adding a multivitamin to your regimen.
The moral of the story is that when you can’t stop food cravings all together, give in to them less frequently by thinking about the impact of eating those high-calorie foods.
Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post. Please consult a medical practitioner before making any changes to your routine. Photo credit – © Syda_Productions.