What is a food craving?
A food craving is an intense desire for a specific food, which can seem uncontrollable, and your hunger may not be satisfied until you get the particular food that you’re craving!
Your cravings for food can be a sign that you are not properly fuelling your body. Too often, people try to consume less food when they should be eating more to burn that metabolism. When you starve your body of the proper nutrients, your body acts out and calls for other foods.
Your Caloric Heat is Too Low
Think of your metabolism as a camp fire, when you don’t supply it with enough wood (aka food), it will burn out. Remember your metabolism is what burns fat, and if don’t eat the right amounts of food, it can’t do its job, and that stubborn fat will remain. Keep that fire burning!
Everyone experiences cravings differently and most are for junk foods and processed foods high in sugar, salt, and fat.
Food cravings are a huge barrier for people trying to maintain a healthy weight or who want to eat a healthier diet. There are, however, some simple steps to take to learn how to handle these cravings.
Causes of food cravings
Food cravings are caused by the areas of the brain that are responsible for memory, pleasure, and reward.
Also, an imbalance of hormones, such as leptin and serotonin, can contribute to food cravings. It is also possible that food cravings are due to endorphins that are released into the body after someone has eaten, which mirrors an addiction.
Emotions play a huge part in food cravings, e.g. comfort eating.
Pregnant women can experience strong cravings, and this could be due to changes in hormones which can alter taste and smell receptors.
It is also possible that there is a connection between cravings and nutrients in that the body craves a specific food because it is lacking in certain nutrients.
Craving can be selective or non-selective.
Selective cravings are for specific foods, which may be a favourite food, e.g. chocolate or crisps.
Non-selective craving is the desire to eat anything. It could be because you are actually hungry, or it could also be because you are thirsty. Try drinking a glass of water to see if this stops the craving as drinking water can help with non-selective cravings.
There are many ways to reduce unwanted food cravings.
- Reducing stress levels
Stress can make you prone to emotional eating and craving comfort foods. This, in turn, can lead to various health issues.
It has been shown that women who are stressed have stronger cravings for sweet foods than women who aren’t. Eating because you are stressed can cause weight gain. Stress can also cause weight gain on its own as stress results in higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) which stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism for fast energy and stimulates the release of insulin and maintenance of blood sugar levels. This can lead to an increase in appetite and cravings for sweet, salty and high fat foods. Cortisol also makes the body produce less testosterone which leads to a decrease in muscle mass which, in turn, means your body starts to burn fewer calories.
- Drinking plenty of water
Your mind sometimes cannot tell if it is hungry or thirsty as they produce very similar sensations. One of the easiest ways to reduce food cravings is to drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated.
- Getting enough sleep
A 2013 study found that not getting enough sleep could alter the body’s hormonal balance which contributes to overeating and weight gain.
The researchers noted that when the sleep-deprived participants switched to an adequate sleep schedule, they lost weight, which indicates that their hormones were brought back into balance.
- Eating enough protein
A healthy diet should contain plenty of lean sources of protein, as this can help to reduce cravings.
A study has found that eating a high protein diet helped reduce the desire for night-time snacks by 50 percent.
- Chewing gum
Chewing gum keeps the mouth busy and could help to reduce both sweet and salty cravings. However, don’t use chewing gum as a meal replacement!
- Changing Habits
Changing habits can be hard but can help in reducing cravings. For example, if you normally pick up a take away on a Friday night on your way home from work, make sure you have a healthy homemade alternative at home (a slow cooker is a great way to have meals ready when you walk through the door) and take a new route home. It can also mean going out for a quick walk, taking a shower or calling a friend for a chat when you feel that you want to eat something, or even something as simple as brushing your teeth or drinking a glass of water! This may distract you for long enough to realise that you aren’t actually hungry.
- Avoiding hunger
Make sure that you eat enough as not doing so can make cravings worse. When you are hungry, your body may crave more calorie dense foods than usual, including fried, processed and junk food. A healthy, nutritious diet shouldn’t leave you feeling hungry or craving certain foods.
It is much better to have a regular eating pattern of healthy meals and snacks throughout the day instead of waiting until you are hungry. You don’t wait until your car runs out of petrol before filling it up so why wait until you are hungry before you eat something? Food is fuel and our bodies need it regularly whether we feel hungry or not. A feeling of intense hunger means we’ve waited too long! (However, this doesn’t mean you can stuff your face with food the whole day!! That’s as bad as putting diesel into a petrol car!) If you eat too much of the ‘wrong’ types of food, your body won’t function properly – you need to eat the right food to fuel your body!
- Replacing cravings
In many cases, you will be able to satisfy your food cravings by choosing a nutritious substitute.
Some alternatives include:
Crisps: Replace crisps with a salty snack that is higher in protein and healthy fats, e.g. cashews and walnuts. However, nuts are high in calories so eat these in moderation. Popcorn is also a good alternative to crisps.
Chocolate: Cravings for chocolate may mean you are lacking in magnesium and you may find that you can satisfy the craving by eating magnesium-rich foods, such as almonds. If this isn’t the case and nothing but chocolate will do, choose dark chocolate that contains at least 85 percent cocoa. The intensity of dark chocolate makes it easier to feel satisfied with less.
Sweets: Sugar cravings can be easily satisfied with whole fruits, such as apples, cherries, or grapes. Keep dried fruits, such as prunes or raisins, handy as these are also good with helping sugar cravings.
Fizzy Drinks: Sparkling water with a squeeze of fruit juice or a slice of orange can replace a craving for fizzy drinks. You still get the ‘fizziness’ but without the sugar, calories and caffeine.
Cheese: Choose low-fat alternatives and only have a tiny amount if you’re really craving cheese.
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