Part 1: Decoding
Have you ever been working or relaxing at home and suddenly get an overwhelming urge to get up and have a piece of chocolate (or an entire bar in my case)? We’ve all been there, though it may not be chocolate per se, nearly everyone deals with food cravings at some point in their lives.
Food cravings differ from regular hunger in that they don’t necessarily need a large amount of food to be satisfied; however, the food that will satisfy them is usually very specific. Cravings are usually tied to specific tastes (Sugary, salty, savory, etc.), textures (crunchy, creamy, chewy, smooth, etc.), or chemicals (caffeine, HFCS, artificial sweeteners, etc.). It used to be thought that these cravings were just mental and couldn’t be avoided, but often times the cravings serve as a way for your body to communicate with you. Many factors play roles in your cravings and figuring out what those are is the first step to understanding your body and controlling your cravings.
Factors That Play A Role In Food Cravings:
Dehydration occurs when the body does not have enough water and other fluids to function properly. Most nutrients in the body are transported through the blood, and in the body of a dehydrated person, the blood is often thicker and doesn’t transport the nutrients as well. This often causes the dehydrated person to crave foods that are sweet because traditionally, foods that have high sugar content also have high water content (ie. fruits).
Many emotions play a part in our cravings and general eating habits. Stress, sadness, frustration, shame and a myriad of other emotions can lead to us seeking comfort in foods that have been there for us in the past. This is why the cliche tub of ice cream is often eaten following a tough break up or just a tough day.
Part of the comfort we find in these foods is nostalgia; however, the glucose from high carbohydrate containing foods also work on opioid receptors in the brain. These receptors are the same ones that are activated by addictive drugs such as morphine and cocaine. They send happiness signals to the brain which provides the “comfort” that we crave. When left unchecked, this desire to feel that comfort can turn into a full blown sugar addiction, complete with withdrawal symptoms if the sugar is abruptly cut off from one’s diet.
Often we feel the 3 O’clock blood sugar crash that makes us feel sluggish and causes us to reach for the nearest sugary snack. However, the quick rise in blood sugar from the snacks that are high in refined sugar drops just as quickly, thus leading to an eventual “sugar crash”.
Sometimes our cravings occur because of something that is missing in our diet. For example, one of the most common deficiencies today is magnesium deficiencies. What delicious treat is highest in magnesium? Chocolate. People who eat restrictive diets also tend to crave the foods that they do not eat, like the vegan who has the insatiable desire to eat meat. Meat is a good source of vitamin A, fats, B12, vitamin D, protein, and zinc which are often the nutrients that vegans are most deficient in.
There are certain settings that we have built-in associations with food. This effect is most easily seen at the movies where people are much more likely to crave heavily buttered popcorn than regularly because it is part of their moviegoing memory and culture. This same effect can be seen when you visit your parent or friend, that as soon as you step into their house, you start craving the food that you are most familiar eating there.
Sometimes we simply crave foods because we are bored. Let’s face it, enjoying a delicious snack is more interesting than doing nothing at all and sometimes you just want to chew something.
The first part of beating your cravings is to figure out what they are and why they happen. In the following weeks, I’m going to teach you how to better control your cravings, and how to snack smart so that you don’t fall prey to them.
- Food Cravings Part 2 – Recoding: How do we control them?
- Food Cravings Part 3 – Healthier snacking options
Personal Trainer, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, Rehab Specialist