A craving goes much deeper than just feeling a sudden need for a particular food: it’s an insistent desire that you can’t ignore. We’ll explore the causes of cravings and provide some tips on how to fight them.
Understand the science of cravings
- Occasional cravings may be in response to stress, hormonal changes, or excessive hunger. However, more obsessive cravings can stem from a specific illness, an addiction, or a deep-seated psychological problem.
- Recent research suggests that hormonal changes are responsible for many food cravings, especially those that develop during periods of stress, pregnancy, or different phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Following this theory, fluctuating hormonal levels may influence the brain’s production of serotonin and other chemicals, which can trigger an intense desire for specific foods.
- Under these circumstances, a person usually craves chocolate or other sweets, and researchers think this is because sugars are a quick source of glucose, which the brain needs for energy.
- Eating a diet high in whole grain and starchy foods along with moderate amounts of protein may prevent the craving for sweets because these complex carbohydrates and protein are metabolized more slowly than sugars, thus providing a steady supply of glucose.
Should you give in or deny?
- Some experts believe that food cravings reflect the “wisdom of the body,” and that we feel an urge to eat particular foods to fulfill a nutritional need. In general though, we tend to crave foods that aren’t particularly nutritious, and in such instances psychological factors are probably more influential than physical needs.
- For some people, food may fill an emotional void, leading a person turning to certain foods during periods of stress or sadness. The power of suggestion is another possible trigger, which is why just a brief whiff of a favourite food can provoke an intense desire for it.
- People often make the mistake of trying to deny a craving. Some may succeed, but more often than not, denial fosters an even stronger desire for the food. Unless the object of the craving poses a serious health risk (for instance, a person with high blood pressure craving salty foods), experts say it’s better to satisfy the longing, but to do so in moderation.
- A healthier approach is to anticipate the craving and to satisfy it in advance. For example, if a woman invariably develops a strong craving for sweets during her premenstrual phase, she can lessen it somewhat by increasing her intake of starchy foods, which raise blood glucose levels. Eating more fruits (which are high in natural sugars) may also satisfy the desire for sweets.
- Some medications (particularly steroids and other hormonal preparations) can promote food cravings. However, these drug-related cravings are usually non-specific; the person may simply feel ravenously hungry and crave eating in general instead of a particular food.
- Avoiding becoming overly hungry can also forestall cravings for sweets or fatty foods. Hunger is the body’s way of letting you know that it’s running short of fuel; it’s a powerful instinct that is almost impossible to deny for any length of time. This is one reason why dieters often find it so hard to adhere to an overly restrictive regimen: their resolve may be strong, but it’s almost impossible to deny the body’s instinct for self-preservation.
- Eating small, frequent meals is how to avert hunger and reduce the subsequent strong cravings that can often arise.
Experiencing cravings is normal, but there are good and bad ways to respond to them. Use this guide to understand them better and to learn the most adaptive ways of dealing with persistent cravings.