What's Your Vice?
Maybe it's the smooth, melt-in-your-mouth taste that comes from chocolate, perhaps it's the salty crunch from a crisp potato chip, could be sweet sugary confection that you crave -- all you know is that you really REALLY want it BAD! The question becomes do you give in or fight it? Do you truly want whatever the objection of your taste bud's affection or is your mind tricking you into believing if you don't give in to indulging "just a little bit," the craving will become so bad that the "little bit" will turn into a pig out fest of epic proportions!
If you have ever wondered why you crave certain foods at certain times, there has been a recent surge of research on the subject of the how's, and why's of food cravings as well as what to do about them.
According to a recent blog post on WSJ.com, research has found the following:
- Food cravings activate the same reward circuits in the brain as cravings for drugs or alcohol, according to functional MRI scans, tests that measure brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow.
- Nearly everyone has food cravings occasionally, but women report having them more often than men, and younger people crave sweets more than older people do.
- In one study, 85% of men said they found giving in to food craving satisfying; of women, only 57% said they did.
- While many women report craving salt, fat or bizarre combinations of food during pregnancy, researchers can't find much scientific validation. They suspect folklore and the power of suggestion instead.
Why? Why? Why?
For a long time, it has been the belief of researchers that what we crave has something to do with the body's efforts to correct a dietary deficiency of some sort. For example, those who salivate over the thoughts of a big juicy steak might be low or missing iron in their diet. chocolate lovers might be missing magnesium or the mood-boosting chemical phenylethylamine, a chemical humans produce naturally when they are in love.
Health Journal writer, Melinda Beck, says no way, "...a growing body of research casts doubt on the nutritional-deficiency notion. After all, few people crave vitamin-rich green leafy vegetables and many other foods contain more phenylalanine than chocolate—including salami and cheddar cheese."
Current research has revealed the following as the most likely reasons why we experience food cravings:
Learned behaviors and experiences - As a child, you may have been consistently rewarded with a sweet treat when you had a bad day. The learned behavior of having something sweet to lift your spirits became a habit that is very hard to break.
Hormonal fluctuations - Certain hormones in your body help control appetite. Ghrelin is the hormone you produce that drives you to eat, while leptin is the hormone that signals satiety. Normally, these hormones act as a checks and balances system to keep your appetite in check. However, under certain physiological conditions, such as sleep deprivation, this system is thrown off because the hormones are not produced in proper proportion to one another. Estrogen, cortisol, and serotonin can also play a role in food craving frenzies, and whether due to stress, sleep deprivation, or the normal hormonal fluctuations of a woman’s menstrual cycle, these hormones can drive you to seek out nutrient-dense, fatty, sugary foods.
Environmental factors and sensory stimulation - Studies have found that the sight, smell, taste, or even just the thought of favorite foods can lead to intense cravings. Experiences, like seeing food advertisements on TV or passing a bakery and smelling the aroma of fresh-baked bread, can also initiate food cravings. Certain social settings, like a party or environmental factors, such as dim lighting in a restaurant, can fuel our drive to indulge.
Because It Makes Us Feel Good- In the U.S., about 50% of women who crave chocolate say their cravings peak around the onset of their monthly period. But researchers haven't found any correlation between food cravings and hormone levels, and postmenopausal women don't report a big drop in chocolate cravings, a 2009 survey found. Some psychologists suspect that women may be "self-medicating," because sweets and carbohydrates spur the release of serotonin and other feel-good brain chemicals.
How the Heck Do I Fight Food Cravings and Win?
- Stay well hydrated - Very often when you feel “hungry” it’s your body's way of telling you to drink more. Water also acts as a natural appetite suppressant because it keeps your stomach full, and this is why it’s our number one way to fight food cravings!
- Wait a few minutes - Have you ever noticed that cravings don’t last long? If you give them a few minutes you may just find you actually don’t need anything after all. Try doing something else to take your mind off the craving for 15 minutes, such as washing the dishes, calling a friend, or walking the dog, etc.
- Avoid your trigger foods - Marcia Pelchat, of the Monell Center, reasons that you can only crave what you eat so if you switch up what you are eating you can lessen your current food cravings and even build new ones for healthier options. In her study, volunteers were asked to drink a bland dietary-supplement drink for five days. Participants noticed that during this time they craved fewer of their trigger foods. So, if you’re trying to avoid your food triggers, remember that the first few days are always going to be the most difficult. Again, it may not be possible to completely eliminate your old cravings, but if you can avoid your trigger foods for a while you may notice you begin to crave them less.
- Choose a healthy snack instead - Sometimes ignoring your cravings or drinking water simply won’t cut it! On these occasions make a healthier choice instead. I’d suggest drinking a big glass of water and eating around 1 1/2 ounces of mixed unsalted nuts and seeds to help satisfy those cravings.
- Indulge once in a while - Allowing yourself a treat on occasion can be a really helpful strategy for most people in fighting food cravings. The thing to remember is portion control. So, if you feel like eating chocolate, have a few small squares and go for a high cocoa version – as a general rule of thumb, aim for 70 percent (or higher) cocoa for the most disease-fighting antioxidants. (Source: DietBlog.com)
All is NOT Lost, Friends
As women, we can sometimes feel incredibly guilty when we are not able to fight off food cravings. We are quick to resign ourselves to despair and then figure, "I have already started so I might as well finish" and that is how a scoop of ice cream swiftly can become us staring at a spoon in the bottom of an empty carton. While it's never easy to fend them off altogether, you will find over time when you employ some of our suggestions to keep those cravings at bay, the actual craving will diminish on its own over time. Remember folks...slow and steady wins the race!
How do fight food cravings? Drop your favorite suggestion in our comments section. We'd love to hear from ya!