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.
- 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?