It’s 3 p.m. For the past 10 minutes, you’ve had one thing on your mind. Now it’s all you can think about. You can see it so clearly, it’s all you can do not to jump from your desk, lunge across the hall and embrace the object of your affection — a bag of salty chips.
Food cravings can be very powerful, and if you find yourself daydreaming about a bowl of popcorn during an afternoon lull, or craving a sweet dessert even though you’re full from dinner, you may need to discover the real reasons behind your cravings.
Cravings may bombard your mind for many reasons, but hunger usually isn’t one of them. Once you figure out why you’re craving the foods you do, you can try to control your cravings, and hopefully, get through the day without gorging yourself.
What is a craving?
Being hungry is one thing; you’ll eat almost anything when you’re hungry. A craving, on the other hand, is the desire for a specific food or taste, even if you aren’t hungry. Most people experience food cravings at one time or another, but if your craving becomes an addiction, it’s time to stop biting off more than you can chew and worry.
A food addiction is a type of eating disorder, and involves an uncontrollable urge to consume a specific food. This craving usually leads to recurrent binging on the desired food, and is often followed by feelings of guilt and depression.
Most cravings, however, are not signs of a food addiction, but have simple physiological or psychological causes, and can be easily controlled by eating a diet that emphasizes all foods in moderation.
5 common causes of cravings
If someone told you not to think about pink zebras, your mind would be filled with images of galloping pink zebras. The same goes for dieting — when you ban certain foods from your diet, you are going to crave the very foods you are trying to avoid, and may end up binging on these outlawed morsels. Which, of course, defeats the whole point of a diet.
Your body could be lacking something, or your mom may have caused your cravings…
2- Bodily Needs
It’s possible that you may be craving nutrients your body is deficient in. Low blood sugar can cause carbohydrate cravings, since low glucose levels indicate that the body’s glycogen stores have become depleted (often due to heavy exercise or going long periods without eating).
Brain chemistry may also be involved in food cravings. Low serotonin levels (a hormone responsible for feelings of pleasure and relaxation) may lead to carbohydrate cravings, since carbohydrates supply the body with tryptophan, which helps to increase serotonin levels.
Some cravings exist due to habit. For instance, your family may have eaten dessert every night after dinner while you were growing up. Now, if dessert doesn’t appear every night after dinner, you crave something sweet.
Or maybe the cravings are all in your head. The mind is a very powerful tool, and mental associations can often trigger cravings. Passing a bakery on your way home may elicit a craving for donuts, or a billboard ad for McDonald’s may trigger a craving for french fries. Certain activities are also linked to cravings. Watching movies, for example, is heavily associated with eating popcorn and candy, so just the mention of a movie can drum up a craving for junk food.
4- Comfort eating
Emotions can also lurk at the root of food cravings, especially if you consider certain foods “comfort” foods. If you continually reach for beef jerky every time you’re stressed out or upset, you may begin to associate the taste of beef jerky with feeling better.
For early humans, high-calorie foods were scarce, and the human brain became programmed to crave these types of foods since they boosted the body’s calorie count. Now, when we go a long time without eating, the first thing most people crave is fatty food because high fat foods have more calories than protein- or carbohydrate-rich food, and will quickly make up for lost calories.
When cravings hit, most people don’t imagine themselves consuming celery sticks. Most people crave high fat foods, in the form of sugary carbohydrates (cookies) or fats (a chocolate bar) or both (french fries). Men crave salty foods more often than sweets, and, according to a new survey performed by the Directions Data Research of Knoxville, Tennessee, the number one food men crave is pizza.
Nevertheless, if you want to curb your cravings, or at least keep them in check, here are a few ways to do so…
Eat meals regularly
Eating meals regularly will ensure that your blood sugar stays at a fairly constant level, and ensures that your body doesn’t become starved for calories. Regular meals high in complex carbohydrates will also help provide a continual supply of serotonin to your brain.
Have smart snacks
If you know that you have to go several hours without a meal, keep healthy snacks nearby, so that you don’t jump on the first slice of pizza that catches your eye. Good snack choices include carrots, whole-wheat crackers and peanut butter, almonds, and some fruit.
Master the art of distraction
Most food cravings last no longer than 20 minutes, so if you can distract yourself for that long after your cravings hit, it will likely pass and leave you in peace. Try engaging yourself in an activity that requires intense focus — walk your dog, write down all the knock-knock jokes you can think of, or call up a friend — and get your mind off the craving.
Turn off the TV
Television commercials are oozing with mouth-watering images of forbidden foods, designed to get you off your butt and into the kitchen. To avoid being brainwashed during the commercials, read the paper, leave the room, or rebel against consumer culture altogether and turn the TV off.
Drink plenty of water
Water, besides being necessary for survival, can help curb hunger pangs and make you feel full, in effect, eliminating cravings. Your body needs 8-10 8-ounce glasses of H2O per day for optimal functioning, and more if you exercise.
Don’t deprive yourself
Banning certain foods from your diet will only make you want them more. Rather than blacklisting certain foods from your diet, try the 90/10 diet — eat healthy foods 90% of the time and indulge yourself 10% of the time. A diet that includes all foods in moderation is one that’s likely to keep you from gorging on pizza and Twinkies at 2 a.m.
Put the sugar down
Now that you have an idea about what causes your cravings, you can learn to just say no — sometimes. If you can just discipline yourself, then you can curb your food cravings. Figure out what’s causing your cravings, and outwit your cravings until they pass, or give your body a healthy alternative to fatty food.
Of course, occasional indulging is okay; it’s better to eat one slice of pizza now than to let the craving build to a point where you’re buying out all the pizza places on your block.