We all crave food in general and it’s called hunger. But what we label a food craving is more than that- it’s an insistent and insanely intense desire for a specific type of food.
If you are a person who grabs a bar of indulgent chocolate when stressed or disheartened or perhaps orders a cheesy pizza when overjoyed, then you surely relate your feelings to food. The good news however is that you are not alone in this fight against food cravings! And that there are indeed simple ways to redirect these emotional cues towards healthier options and slowly ward the uncontrollable urge off through healthy eating habits. Awareness and acceptance is of course the first line of defense. Being able to identify the real reason behind our cravings will help us to understand what can be done about it.
WHY DO WE GET CRAVINGS?
Most researchers agree that food cravings are due to a triad of emotional, hormonal and physiological factors. In very rare cases cravings can be due to food allergies and some medications like anti-depressants that stimulate appetite.
• Emotional Turmoil: Four emotions are the mainstay of emotional overeating: fear, anger, tension, and shame (FATS). These “FATS feelings” are the primary triggers for emotional overeating. Apart from these four, depression, boredom and need for love or comfort may also be triggers. People who over eat under stress are constantly seeking satisfaction and relief from food and one never overeats vegetables or salads in such situations. No wonder the word S-T-R-E-S-S-E-D is D-E-S-S-E-R-T-S spelled backwards.
• Lethal Cocktail of Hormones and Chemicals: It would not be an exaggeration to say that ‘we are controlled by our hormones!’ What we eat has an impact on release of certain hormones and these hormones then drive our cravings. Serotonin is one such important body chemical (a neurotransmitter) which if low, may leave us with a feeling of melancholy. We start craving for high GI, refined, sweet foods as they lead to instant release of serotonin and eating these foods do aid in elevating our moods momentarily. But as soon as these serotonin loaded carbohydrates get used up, we again plunge down to a low serotonin state, triggering an increased craving for more sweet foods. Needless to add, the cycle of feeling‘good’ and ‘bad’ keeps repeating.
• Menstruation Blues– The hormones play truant when PMS hits women. They suddenly feel miserable, irritable and depressed and often experience strong cravings for sweet and salty snacks. Studies show that these are partially due to estrogen imbalances and partly due to nutrient deficiencies. Giving in to the sugar cravings may lift up the moods fleetingly but as the blood sugar levels drops (due to increased insulin activity), they are left asking for more.
• The Physiological Angle or Body Signals:
When it comes to food cravings, psychological reasons may outweigh the physiological ones but we must not completely ignore them. The irresistible craving for a specific food often indicates that our bodies are lacking in certain essential nutrients or minerals. Going on a crash slim down diet, being on a diet with poor nutritive value, over indulgence in junk foods or alcoholic beverages may adversely impact our nutritional status and trigger off food cravings.
a) Nutritional deficiencies– A factor which we may sometimes fail to recognize is that when a person’s body is deficient in a particular nutrient, the body will crave for foods that contain the particular nutrient. The poorer the diet is, the more will be our cravings. For instance, when the body is deficient in magnesium, one may crave for chocolates/cocoa too often or a craving for coffee may point at an underlying need for phosphorus. Craving for salty foods such as French fries, wafers and spicy foods may signal the body’s cravings for sodium and zinc or sulphur respectively. Strenuous workouts without adequate rehydration may trigger sodium deficiency in some while thyroid imbalances may activate the urge to eat hot foods and sweat to bring down the body temperature.
b) Low or Imbalanced Blood Sugar- Yet another physiological trigger for food cravings is low blood sugar levels. This condition is typically a result of unhealthy eating habits like skipping meals, keeping long gaps in between meals or being on a very low carb diet. Energy deprived people experience drastic fluctuations in their blood sugar levels, leading to irrational mood swings and sweet cravings.
Read about How to Conquer your Cravings in the next article, 5 Best Ways to Control Cravings.
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