Is it all In Your Head or are your body’s needs real?
Last week, I attended the Expo West and experienced another grant exhibition of natural foods, drinks and beauty products. While I had the chance to walk around the floor to discover interesting newbies, I started to try samples from different booths. Some tasted clean and yummy, some I just felt regretted to put into my mouth. You know as much I do, not all “healthy” products are created to be healthy. At the end of my walk, I simply felt overstuffed. I have to confess in addition to satisfying my curiosity, there were moments I just felt I needed something to chew or swallow, maybe I was stressed out or I was indeed hungry.
Food cravings happen to all of us, have you heard of chocoholism? No, this isn't a new word. It's simply an intense craving for chocolate and its derivatives. Chocolate ranks as one of the most common food cravings. What's yours right now? Do you know what caudate, insula and hippocampus mean? They're areas of the brain that become stimulated when you're looking at pictures of food. Some experts believe that food cravings are like drug addictions. Whenever a drug addict sees his drug of choice, these areas of the brain light up. They have also observed this among people craving for their favorite foods. The same areas of their brains are stimulated. The three weird terms you read are also concerned with pleasure and memory. That's the reason why the same areas are activated. Your brain remembers that this food gives you a lot of pleasure and comfort.
Causes of Food Cravings
To state that there's only one cause for your food craving is like saying you found a cure for cancer. Food cravings have puzzled scientists and nutritionists for decades. Only until recently, are they beginning to accept that there's no one cause of cravings. You crave food for a variety of causes.
One of the explanations indicate that low levels of serotonin may be responsible for food craving. Low levels are linked to feelings of sadness. When you go after the food you're craving, the levels of serotonin rise and you feel happy again.
Consumption of carbohydrates and fat bring about the release of endorphins. If you're stressed, you yearn for a sense of well-being and relaxation. Excitement, exercise and love are other things which stimulate the release of this endogenous morphine.
Have you met someone who craves spinach? Maybe rarely but I am sure you have met someone who craves for something sweet, especially after eating a meal. Or is that you? The opioid system in your brain loves to interact with sugar. When they meet, this triggers the release of hormones which make you happy and feel relaxed.
This discovery might surprise you a little bit. If analyzed closely, the food craving described next may be a discrete way of saying your body lacks a nutrient. Weird huh? Judge for yourself. During the time of menses, some women crave chocolate. Chocolate contains a lot of iron. We know that during menses, the concentration of iron in women's bodies drop a little because of menstruation. The food craving for chocolate may be a signal for women to increase iron intake. Chocolate also contains phenylethylamine aka the ‘love drug’ which is the same chemical released when you feel ‘in love’. So here’s another reason why we love and crave chocolate so much.
Do you crave salt from time to time? It may be your body telling you that you're dehydrated. When you're dehydrated, you lose water and electrolytes. Water has no particular taste in contrast to salt. This is the reason why you crave salt and not water. When you feed your craving with salt, you follow it up with water. Your craving stops. Under some specific circumstances, food craving may be a signal for a nutrient missing from your current diet. Experts are reluctant to commit and call it a deficiency, because most deficiencies develop over time.
During nighttime, when you're comfortably watching your favorite TV show, you feel relaxed and happy. You want to sustain this happiness and think about food which brings you more happiness. Here comes your comfort food.
How is the food craving during pregnancy different from ordinary food craving? Some studies point out that food craving when you're pregnant is related to hormonal status. The high levels of hormones can have an impact on the centers of your brain which control the secretion of happy hormones. This makes you look for foods which will bring comfort and relaxation. This could trigger the release of those happy hormones (again). Certain cravings during pregnancy also indicate nutrients the body needs more of, such as the term ‘pica’ given to the strange cravings to eat dirt or ice that pregnant women get when they need more iron.
When you're trying to lose weight, your body undergoes a tremendous amount of stress. Under stressful conditions, either consciously (you’re concerned with your physical appearance) or unconsciously (your body is struggling with your new over-the-top diet regimen), your body still strives to release hormones which will make you happy, stress-free and relaxed. One way of accomplishing that is by stimulating you to crave for food.
If you wait too long before your next meal or snack your blood sugar can drop. This makes you crave foods that will raise your blood sugar quickly such as sweet foods and even refined carbohydrates like white bread (it turns to glucose in the blood just as quickly as eating sugar). But because these foods flood your blood with glucose all in one go, your blood sugar drops again quickly once the insulin as moved the glucose out of your blood. So you end up back where you started - craving sweets again.
Put A Leash On That Food Craving
Are you interested in taming your food craving? Do you want to place it under your control so it doesn't ruin your diet? If you have a goal to lose weight, giving in to your cravings may not be a good idea.
It's all in your head.
Well, they're right. Majority of research points out that areas in your brain are stimulated during food cravings. Make an effort to convince yourself that you will overcome your cravings. Not by succumbing to them, but by knowing the consequences if you give in.
Channel your stress.
Eating isn't the only way to relieve stress. Go to the gym and lift weights. Learn relaxation exercises such as yoga. Or simply go get a foot spa and massage.
Choose the lesser evil.
When craving for French fries, try going for the smallest size available. When craving for a KitKat, get the smallest one which offers only two bars. Advertisements will always keep on taunting your food cravings. It will be a challenge worth winning.
Avoid visual cues.
Consider this scenario, you're craving for a burger, and you're watching the cooking channel about some chef trying to whip up the perfect burger.
Don’t be scared of fat and complex carbs.
Food rich in healthy fats and fiber, such as avocado, flaxseeds, sesames, coconut cream, quinoa, soybeans (my favorite one is the black soybean as it is also rich in antioxidants) help to make you feel full and satiated. Unlike sugary foods and refined carbohydrates, unprocessed fat and fiber do not spike your blood sugar. So your blood sugar levels remain balanced and your body no longer needs to crave sweets to bring it up again.
To conclude, food cravings have many causes. Identifying the ones which contribute to yours will enable you to handle your cravings a lot better. The causes are always related to something that will bring you comfort, a sense of happiness or improved well-being. Learn when to listen to them. They might be telling you something.