Food cravings are classified by nutrition experts as a strong desire for a specific food or type of food in the absence of hunger. What that means is you want it until you can have it whether you are hungry or not.
Of my own food cravings, my biggest downfall is anything salty or sweet that I can instantly access in my pantry, refrigerator or freezer that doesn’t need to be cooked, cleaned or prepared in any way.
Whether it’s a cookie, chips, nuts, pickles, olives, chocolate or even dry cereal, I’ll eat it in-between meals even though I’m generally not hungry…then I wonder why I grumble every time I stand on the scale.
How Do Researchers Sum Up Food Cravings?
Did you know that about 60% of women crave sweets and fat while men tend to crave the savory and salty like steaks, burgers and pizza. There are two schools of thought as to what actually triggers our cravings. Some researchers say that it is biology-based meaning certain chemicals in our bodies cause us to seek out sweets or carbs or proteins.
Other researchers lean more toward the psychological aspects believing that cravings are tied to fond childhood memories or long time traditions. Most researchers agree that our cravings do not stem from nutritional deficiencies because the salt, sweets, fat and protein are what we as Americans generally get too much of.
Food cravings of fat and sugar or fat and salt are all calorie dense and when our bodies are faced with big doses of calories, it releases endorphins. We all know that endorphins are the hormones that reduce the sensation of pain, and ease any anxiety or depression. In other words, it makes us feel better. We don’t reach for these because we want the calories; we reach for these because it is hardwired into our brains to trigger the release of endorphins.
Add to that equation the “feel good” chemical serotonin. When we are low on serotonin we are more likely to crave sweets and carbohydrates which raise these levels and improves our moods. Some researchers believe this may be the reason some women crave chocolate around the time of their menstrual cycles.
What About the Food Cravings in Pregnant Women?
There is research that suggests that odd food cravings as well as food aversions in pregnant women may be designed to help protect a developing fetus.
Research has shown that a lot of pregnant women may lose the desire to drink coffee and develop a distaste for fish, eggs, meat or vegetables and crave sweets, fruits and dairy.
These foods are the least likely to carry potentially harmful organisms or chemicals and may be a way the body is telling you to keep your developing baby away from anything that may be toxic or harmful.
Why Some People Get Emotional about Food
Food cravings can be difficult to explain because we are all unique in our likes and dislikes and people don’t eat nutrients, they eat food. One person may crave a food their entire lifetime while others may change their craving from one week to the next.
Some experts think that food cravings are as much a reflection of our social and psychological makeup as they are of our normal functional impulses.
Very often food cravings are tied to remembrances from childhood and the good feelings we associated with it. I can remember some dishes my mother used to make when I was a child. The taste of some of those dishes still lingers in my head as if I’d just eaten them only yesterday.
Researchers Caution Against Ignoring the Urge
Cravings that aren’t satisfied don’t go away and usually get worse. Ignoring your food craving could lead to bingeing which is certainly a road we don’t want to travel. Small indulgences may be one solution.
The first step to addressing any food cravings would be to make sure it is not really hunger or thirst.
Try eating something reasonable like a piece of fruit in lieu of downing a chocolate bar (even though the chocolate bar is the preferred options).
One thing I do is keep a bag of Hershey’s chocolate kisses in my freezer. Most times, popping a frozen chocolate kiss in my mouth and letting it melt slowly does the trick.
Another option would be to leave your food surroundings and get involved in something else doesn’t involve food.
Try doing a physical activity, hobby, talking the on phone, taking a walk or any number of options to keep your mind off popping that tasty tidbit.
Look for a lighter or healthier options to your food craving for example; drink a glass of chocolate milk in lieu of eating a piece of chocolate cake.
If all else fails and you have to indulge, make it small. If you crave potato chips, then get yourself a single serving bag instead of buying the larger bag which will only tempt you if you leave it in the house.
Keep a pint of ice cream in your freezer and only have a spoonful or two as an evening snack instead of dishing yourself a bowl full from a half gallon container. Did you know a teaspoon of peanut butter stay with you a long time and answers those sweet, salty and fat cravings…it’s also actually good for you.
Here are 6 tips to control your food cravings as offered by Dr. Daniel Amen who discusses the tie between food and your brain function.