We’ve all been there. It’s the middle of the afternoon and all of a sudden you are hit with the sudden urge for something sweet or salty. Do you regretfully cave and head right into Snack City 🍿🍪🍬 or you quickly flee the scene 🏃🏻♀️ so that your senses have no chance in hell for being triggered by food?
🙋🏻♀️ Personally, I have been a slave to food more times than I’d like to admit. But that’s real life and thus I stress the importance of why we have cravings. Cravings can sabotage our efforts to maintain healthy eating habits, no matter the time of year. So being mindful of them allows us to control how we respond to them via our habits and behaviours.
💰So the million dollar question is, why do we experience this extreme desire for food?
🤤 Why do we have Cravings?
The intense desire for chocolate, a warm slice of bread or deep-fried anything isn’t so straightforward. Food cravings can be caused by a multitude of factors including diet restriction, gut health, hormonal shifts, stress, depression, lack of sleep, nutrient deficiencies, weight loss, genetics and more. Here are a few common factors leading to cravings that you may recognize:
- 🥑 Fat Nutrient deficiencies can lead you straight the Peanut Butter isle. Did you know that Peanut Butter contains many nutrients including unsaturated fat, antioxidants, amino acids, iron, magnesium, folate, niacin, vitamin E and calcium? So that almighty “low-fat” diet on your own may actually be working against you.
- 🤯 Chronic stress can result in the production and elevation of cortisol from the adrenal glands. This response can manifest an increase in appetite and set you off for all sorts of cravings. Not to mention that it can trigger the “hunger” hormone, Ghrelin. Numerous studies — granted, many of them in animals — have shown that physical or emotional distress increases the intake of food high in fat, sugar, or both. We find “comfort” in foods that are laced with sugar or drenched in fat – and we wonder why we have an obesity epidemic.
- ❌💤 Lack of sleep can often lead to sweet cravings such as desserts and pastries.
💡A 2012 University of Colorado study found that when participants were sleep deprived, they not only ate more food, but they also chose foods or poor quality, particularly higher in fat and carbohydrates. They also ate smaller breakfasts and had a greater tendency to snack after dinner.
🤔 Is it Hunger or a Craving?
According to the article “The Science Behind Cravings”, hunger is our body’s natural reaction to needing nutrients. The signs of hunger typically include stomach rumbling, mild headache, or feelings of weakness. True hunger does not go away as time passes whereas cravings will eventually pass.
Unlike hunger, cravings are typically psychological 🧠 and not physiological and can be triggered by external influences, such as a fight with your significant other, work troubles, and even social settings. We can also elicit an emotional response to food photos and smells 👃🏼. Do you ever find yourself feeling ravenous after watching the Food Network or after scrolling your #foodie feed on IG?
Giving in to certain food cravings often leaves us in a state of euphoria. Case in point – when you eat a delicious slice of pizza 🍕, the “reward” system in your brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. (Dopamine is a hormone that triggers feelings of pleasure 😍). So once you finish your meal and feel “rewarded”, your brain will remember this behaviour and make sure you repeat it in the future. It’s a vicious cycle 🌀.
💡In a 2012 NeuroImage study, women volunteers were shown images of household objects and different types of food, with varying levels of delectability. Using an MRI, researchers scanned their brains and concluded the following:
The # of potato chips the women consumed after the scan directly corresponded with the activity in their nucleus accumbens — which commonly referred to as the “captain of the reward and motivation ship”.
✅ How to Keep Cravings in Check
You can let cravings overpower you to consume copious amounts of food, or you can equip yourself with the right frame of mind and healthier alternatives 💪🏼. Here are some tips:
🔑 Remember that you’re human. Biologically, “cravings” are normal so don’t beat yourself up. It’s absolutely ok to give in on occasion especially if the snack is worth it or you had a great gym session that day!
🔑 Do not give in right away. If you know that you had a well-balanced breakfast and/or lunch, give yourself a few minutes and drink some liquids first (aka water). It’s highly likely that you are not truly hungry and this urge to eat is more of a midday snack habit.
🔑 Be a detective. Use these questions to dive into the WHY behind your cravings.
What time did they occur and what did you crave?
What was your 1st meal that day?
How well did you sleep the night before?
Are you buried under a pile of stress?
🔑 Have healthier alternatives available. No sense in undoing all of your hard work with conveniently poor choices.
🥨 For the salty fix – try individual packs of unsalted roasted nuts or chickpea flour crackers or pretzels such as these.
🍫 For the sweet tooth – try a handful of fresh fruit or this low-carb chocolate alternative.
👩🏻🍳 And if you’re on a mission, make your own no-guilt treats like these:
- Or you can visit my Amazon page to check out “Nina-approved” smart snacks like these:
🔑 Remove yourself from the environment. Willpower is not going to get you through this. But you can make a choice to go for a no-food alternative.
- Walk out of the doughnut-filled room and b-line it to the closest door for some fresh air.
- Call your bestie who shares your same weakness for freshly baked croissants. Talk about how you are turning them down and you will celebrate with a glass of wine over the weekend.
🌟 And last but not least, text your 4U Fitness Trainer a pic of your temptations and ask them for some positive vibes! Because we are here to support you day in and day out.
, , , , , , and “Impact of insufficient sleep on total daily energy expenditure, food intake, and weight gain”. PNAS. 2 April 2013.
Nora D. Volkow, Gene-Jack Wang, Ruben D. Baler. “Reward, dopamine and the control of food intake: implications for obesity”. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 29 November 2010.
Sachan, Dina. “The Science Behind Cravings”. Brain World. 20 Oct 2018
“The Psychology of Food Cravings”. Journal of the Association for Psychological Science. 17 May 2010