We all get food cravings every now and then right? That undeniable need for some overly salty, sugary or fatty food that you know isn’t good for you, but you just have to have. Even if you do manage to resist the initial urge, it’ll come back to you a few days later and you know that there’s just no hope. You have to have that triple chocolate chip cookie, warm, with ice cream and hot fudge sauce on top. Mmm. Cravings.
The problem is that you never crave something that is good for you. In fact cravings are usually for foods that you probably shouldn’t eat at all right? So why would our brain tell us that we need something that our body clearly doesn’t, it makes no sense!
Luckily scientists have been looking into the mysteries of cravings for a while now and can shed some light on the situation.
Why do we have cravings?
It’s a tricky question, and there isn’t a simple answer.
Sometimes if you’re craving something unusual it might be your body telling you that you need more of a particular nutrient found in that food. This is thought to be particularly true during pregnancy when women are craving all kinds of weird and wonderful things. But usually this isn’t the case and cravings are actually all in your head.
When you eat a delicious food like say, french fries or Russian fudge, your brain releases some wonderful chemicals called dopamine and seratonin. These chemicals make you feel good and are your body’s way of rewarding you for eating a high energy food like sugar or fat. This response dates back to cave man days when these foods were hard to come by and essential for survival. However these days it is much easier to load up on these energy dense foods, so much so that they are a health risk. But your body hasn’t caught up with the times yet and is still busy rewarding you every time you indulge.
Cravings are a product of this reward system. Your body feels sooo good when it gets a dose of dopamine or seratonin that it remembers that good feeling and gives you cravings to convince you to eat the foods that will make it happen again. Scumbag brain.
Can we resist them?
Probably, but it won’t be easy.
A French study in 2007 found that super sweet things like sugar and artificial sweeteners, are more appealing to lab rats than cocaine, even if the rats are already addicted! Then a study at the University of Florida found that commonly craved foods had the same effect on the brain as alcohol and other addictive substances. Eek.
So the happy juice that our brain feeds us when we eat delicious fatty and sugary foods is pretty strong and while the cravings might be all in our heads, there’s no doubt that they are there.
Is there any way to avoid cravings?
Not really, no, but there are ways to manage them.
The first tactic is simple; plan to give in every now and then. If you try to resist every craving you have you could end up pretty miserable and the more miserable you are the more cravings you will have.
The next tactic is sensible; make it healthier. If you’re craving french fries, don’t head straight to Burger King, bake your own hand cut oven fries for dinner instead.
The last tactic is super important; limit yourself. By all means give in every now and then, but don’t go overboard. Take three cookies out of the pack and put it back in the pantry, don’t sit on the couch with the entire packet while you watch Gossip Girl or you’ll have finished it before the first ad break.
So science hasn’t succeeded yet in finding a way to trick your brain into craving carrots not caramel, but it has taught us one thing; it’s okay to give in. In fact, it’s pretty hard not to, but if you have some tactics up your sleeve you should be able to curb your food enthusiasm, but still have a fair amount of fun.