A craving can be best described as an urge to have a particular food item, and the foods that people most generally crave for are those with high calories and fat, which they would otherwise restrict themselves against.
So, is there a scientific reason for craving food apart from the usual hunger?
Well, studies seem to say yes.
Take a look at the different causes for food cravings:
1. Body’s need for certain nutrients
It is believed that a food craving stems from the body’s need to supply some nutrients that could be missing from the person’s routine diet. A lack of certain food element could signal the brain about foods that could provide it, and hence a person’s tendency to crave it.
For example, heavy workouts deplete glycogen reserves that cause cravings for carbohydrate post intense exercise. Similar is the case for dieters who restrict themselves to only a particular group of foods only to crave for ‘forbidden’ foods.
2. Need for energy
It is easy to see that most foods people crave are rich in calories from carbohydrates, sugar and fat. This is because these nutrients provide an instant burst of energy upon consumption. Thus, while it would be healthier to opt for natural foods like vegetables and fruits, cravings tend to be directed at sweets, breads and other simple carbs.
3. Brain’s work
Study shows that specific areas in the brain, like the hippocampus, caudate and insula are activated when a craving is experienced. These are regions associated with pleasure sensing and memory. Blocking brain receptors that can sense pleasure can actually stop the cravings for fat- and sugar-rich foods.
4. Emotions and comfort food
Most often than not, people crave for foods they enjoy in happy times, like those linked with childhood. Emotions like stress and sadness, and depression can cause food cravings. Food seems to ease emotional troubles, reduce stress and anxiety in people. It is suggested that eating carbohydrates under such situations releases the calming hormone, serotonin. Eating sugar and fat-rich foods also seems to reduce the levels of stress hormones.
5. Role of hormones
Women experience increased food cravings at time of pregnancy or right before their menses. It is also a time when their bodies undergo changes in hormone levels, which could be linked to the cravings.
6. Blame the genes
According to an article published in the American Psychological Society Observer, human ability to store more calories and fat to be able to face severe situations like famines is an evolutionary edge, and there are genes that enable this.
How to tame cravings?
Some methods to tackle food cravings when they hit could be:
- Being prepared with healthier alternatives beforehand
- Distracting oneself with activities unrelated to food
- Giving in once a while (which is okay), but in moderation
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“Coping with Food Cravings,” University of Rochester Medical Center, https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=2575
“Taking control of your food cravings,” WebMD.com, Siobhan Harris, https://www.webmd.boots.com/healthy-eating/features/control-food-craving
“The Facts About Food Cravings,” WebMD.com, https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-facts-about-food-cravings