Have you ever just sat down at home and out of nowhere had an unquenching desire to eat a certain food? Eating anything else does not help, the desire only ends when you have that certain food. This is what we call food cravings. A craving is defined as an intense desire to consume a particular food or food type that is difficult to resist. Food cravings are unexpected and are sometimes weird. When we say they are unexpected we mean they come at any time and anywhere. When we say they are sometimes weird we mean sometimes you might find yourself craving weird foods like bananas dipped in vinegar or fruit pizza (did we hit a nerve there?) and so on. Weird cravings are often experienced by expectant mothers and that is a normal effect of pregnancy. In this read, we shall look at what causes food cravings and how to reduce and or replace food cravings.
When many people crave something, they are told that it is all in their head. Well, several studies show this to actually be true. Certain areas in our brains, especially the areas that are responsible for pleasure and memory are partly to blame. There are 3 regions of the brain that usually appear to be very active during food cravings. These 3 regions are the insula, the hippocampus and the caudate (3).
When you are craving a certain food, the memory part of your brain which mostly associates a certain food with a reward is more active and involved, compared to the reward part of the brain.
You should know that food cravings are normal and you should not go around blaming yourself. Surveys show that 97% of women have food cravings compared to 68% of men (4). This shows that most people in the world experience food cravings at some point of their lives. It also shows that women get food cravings more than men.
Is It Important To Find The Source Of Your Food Craving
Since we now know that the majority of the people experience food cravings, do you think it is important to find the source of your craving ? You can’t deal with a problem unless you know the origin of the problem and the same applies in this case. Knowing what is causing you to have food cravings can help you understand how to better deal with the craving.
Learning how to control your cravings helps you avoid certain things like gaining weight. Most people are slaves to their cravings and this means that when the craving comes, they end up overeating and this is likely to lead to weight gain. Cravings can also cost you a lot of money especially if you have bourgeois craving where you crave things like caviar, saffron, moose cheese and so on.
Although there are different things that can cause food cravings as you will see in the next section of this read, there is an easy way you can use to find the source of your cravings. This simple yet effective tool is the use of a food-mood journal.
Using a food-mood journal simply means keeping records either on a notebook, your phone or anywhere about what you craved, how you were feeling at that particular time of your craving, the time of the day you had your food craving, what you did about the craving and how you felt afterwards (2). If you are able to do this for 2 weeks or a month, you will be able to start to see patterns and it will be easier for you to identify the source of your food cravings. Once you know the source of your food cravings, it will be easier to deal with the issue.
What Causes Food Cravings?
There are different things that cause food cravings. Knowing these triggers helps you know the actual reason you are craving certain foods. With that said, here are the main causes of food cravings:
Stress And Anxiety
Food cravings go beyond physiological reasons. What you are feeling may be the reason you are craving certain foods in your life. Some food cravings arise so that they can satisfy some of your emotional needs. Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘stress-eating’? Why do you think these people feel better after they eat? Stress and anxiety are some of the major causes of food cravings.
For people with stress and anxiety, food cravings happen so that they can help calm the person and reduce their stress. When a person has stress, the levels of hormone cortisol increase. This particular hormone is known to increase our appetite (2). It does not just increase appetite in general but it increases appetite for specific foods especially sweet carbs.
The reason the body mostly craves carbohydrates when you are feeling sad is because carbohydrates increase the levels of hormone serotonin. Serotonin has a calming effect that usually helps us to relax (3). Sometimes you might also find yourself craving fats. The combination of fats and sugar also helps reduce your stress levels and anxiety. This was demonstrated when researchers from the University of California, put rats in a high stress environment. It was noted that the rats preferred to eat sugar and fat while they were in the high stress environment. Once the rats ate sugar and fats, their brains were able to produce less stress-related hormones.
This may show that the reason why you might be experiencing those 2 am chocolate cravings might be due to the fact that you are stressed. If this is the case, you should look for other ways to deal with your stress like attending therapy, talking to your friends, or exercising as that also produces the feel-good hormone.
We know most of you are wondering what good marketing has to do with you waking up at 4 am feeling like you want to eat a full packet of gummy bears. Well, it is all about what you feed your brain. Being totally straightforward, we have to acknowledge that the marketing teams in different industries have taken their game to the next level and the same applies to the food industry. For instance, think about the last KFC or Popeyes advertisement you just saw, did it make you feel like you just wanted to order their chicken buckets?
Sometimes food cravings are not all about your emotions and anxiety, but what your brain has been exposed to the whole day (1). You would be busy doing something and out of nowhere you start thinking how crispy that drumstick looked or how juicy it was or how spicy it looked and just like that you will have this deep desire to buy the chicken just to quench your curiosity. This is one of the causes of food cravings that is hard to control as you cannot dictate what different television stations will show all day or the numerous YouTube ads that come when you are listening to your favourite music.
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Most of the time we think of cravings as the bad guys. Have you ever thought of food cravings as a reminder? We all eat to get nutrients. We need different types of nutrients to stay healthy as different nutrients have different functions and hence none is more important than the other. What if we told you that sometimes you get cravings of the nutrients your body is lacking (1)? That makes you look at cravings in a different light, doesn’t it?
Well, taking young ladies as an example, there are some ladies that crave iron-rich red meat around their periods as they have higher iron needs while there are others that crave chocolate because they have a magnesium deficiency. Although sometimes our cravings don’t make sense as you can’t say you are depleted of the nutrients found in french fries and all. Before you start bashing and blaming your cravings for detering your weight loss journey, you should first check if your cravings are there to remind you of important nutrients that you need in your body that you are lacking (1). A good way of dealing with this cause of food cravings is to first identify what you are always craving, the nutrients that particular food is likely to be providing and look for healthier sources of that nutrient. Cravings can also be a result of food restriction in general, or diets that eliminate certain foods or food groups. You can speak to a health practitioner for a better analysis and solution.
Read More: Is Craving Fish A Sign Of Pregnancy?
Bad Eating Habits
Human beings are creatures of habit. The habits we cultivate determine a lot in our lives and the same applies to food cravings. When it comes to habits, there are two ways they cause food cravings. One way is the association of food and an activity. A good example is where we all know that movies should be watched with popcorn hence anytime you want to watch a movie you will not feel like you are doing it correctly and this makes you crave popcorn every time you put on a movie. This also applies to associating watching basketball and eating nachos or hotdogs and so on (1).
The second way habits cause food cravings is from the fact that we usually manage to change habits and cravings. Let’s say you are used to eating chocolate every night before you sleep. On that one night where you won’t have chocolate to eat before you sleep, you will feel like you are missing something because you already created a habit of eating chocolate and out of that habit, the chocolate craving arises. A better way of dealing with this is by creating healthy habits (1) . If you make sure you eat apples everyday before you sleep, you will have apple craving and we are sure people don’t don’t say an apple a day keeps the doctor away for fun.
Those are some of the most common causes of food cravings.
The Bottom Line
Now since you know what causes cravings then you are in a better situation to deal with cravings than you were before. Most people wonder if cravings should be a cause for concern. Well, that depends on how frequent your cravings are. If your cravings come once in a long time then there is no need for concern as that is normal. The problem arises if your cravings come often, accompanied by other symptoms and they are persistent. If this is the case then there may be cause for concern and you should consult a health practitioner as soon as possible (4). After all is said and done, you need to remember that sometimes cravings are a reminder of nutrients you are lacking and so they should not always be looked at as the enemy.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 5 Unexpected Causes of Your Intense Food Cravings (2020, camillestyles.com)
- 6 Common Causes of Food Cravings (2019, thorne.com)
- The Facts About Food Cravings (n.d., webmd.com)
- What Do Your Food Cravings Reveal About Your Health? (2020, rightasrein.uwmedicine.org)