If you’ve ever found yourself craving a slab of chocolate, not because you’re hungry, but because you want it – it could be your body giving into its inner ‘hedonic hunger’ (and the real reason why you can’t resist that second slice of cake).
Italian scientists from the University of Naples discovered that when food is eaten for pleasure rather than hunger, the ‘reward’ chemicals in the brain are activated, making the body desire foods based on how they taste, rather than as an energy source.
This ‘hedonic hunger’ stimulates overeating and researchers believe it could play an important role in rising obesity levels.
To demonstrate this, researchers enlisted the help of eight healthy participants and fed them their favourite food during what they called the ‘hedonic process’. They later asked participants to eat less palatable foods and examined the results.
They discovered that the reward mechanisms in the body (a chemical called 2-AG and hormone called ghrelin) significantly increased during the hedonic eating process.
“Hedonic hunger may powerfully stimulate overeating in an environment where highly palatable foods are present, and contribute to the surge in obesity,” lead study author Palmiero Monteleone said in a statement.
"Understanding the physiological mechanisms underlying this eating behaviour may shed some light on the obesity epidemic."
Scroll down to the bottom to find out what your eating style says about your personality...
This study follows separate research by Georgetown University Medical Centre, which discovered a ‘gluttony gene’ scientists believe might be responsible for compulsive non-stop eating.
In laboratory tests on mice, researchers discovered the Bdnf gene mutation failed to transmit the message to the brain that signals when the body is full.
Two key hormones, leptin and insulin, release chemical signals that activate neurons in the hypothalamus region of the brain to signal when the body is satiated.
In the mice with a mutation of the Bdnf gene, the neurons were not activated and therefore their food cravings continued. As a result, the mice ate twice as much.
The researchers hope the findings, published online in the journal Nature Medicine, could help with the treatment of obesity.
<strong>You're a conscious eater if you are: </strong> Passionate about food, you are big on eating locally-sourced organic produce; if you are not vegetarian or vegan, you certainly care about how humanely animals were treated in the farming of your food. <strong>What it reveals about you...</strong> "The 'conscious eater' operates from what they would consider to be their heart and or soul," says Knowler. "Their food, and usually all other life choices, are generated by what they believe to be the highest or most pure path - the kindest one - and they find a way of making it work for this very reason. "Conscious eaters typically see themselves as being in service to their path rather than the other way around. The food that they eat is very much viewed as an illustration and demonstration of their depth of spirituality and consciousness, and they believe in it very passionately. "Taken to the extreme, the conscious eater dreams of a world where everything we eat is as local, clean, nutritious and cruelty-free as possible, and all unnecessary greed, starvation, planetary pollution and suffering is a thing of the past."
<strong>You're a confused eater if you are:</strong> Always looking for the 'right' way to eat. Confused Eaters love to read health books and articles in their quest to find the perfect diet regime. <strong>What it reveals about you...</strong> "The 'confused eater' is generally not content when it comes to food. They desperately want to be happy (or say they do) but spend a good portion of their life and life-force energy wondering what they should be eating and if they could be doing better, or worrying about what they have eaten and whether it was the best choice after all," explains Knowler. "The main issue for the confused eater is their reluctance to tune in to their own wisdom; this may well play out in other areas of their life, with equally frustrating and debilitating consequences. "For the confused eater the world of food and eating is a minefield, and one that they keep trying to navigate even when it stops being fun."
<strong>You're an emotional eater if you are:</strong> Constantly searching for answers through food. Because they typically believe that the solution begins and ends with food, their search can go on for years, until they find a way of eating that brings them harmony. <strong>What it reveals about you...</strong> "The 'emotional eater' is usually not a happy person around food because they're frequently in a state of angst about what they're eating. "They tend to oscillate between 'treating' themselves and punishing themselves depending on what is going on in their life, and food is usually the main way in which to do this. "The emotional eater desperately wants to find a way of eating that brings them harmony and, because they search outside of themselves for the solution (rather than internally, which is where the situation needs to be addressed), they can find themselves yo-yo dieting in their bid to find the 'perfect' way. "For the emotional eater, their story is usually about 'doing a dance' around food when really they should be spending their precious time and energy listening to their heart."
<strong>You're a sensual eater if you are:</strong> Someone who prefers more 'decadent' foods. Sensual eaters love chocolate, cake shops and deli counters. Healthier sensual eaters will seek out the most decadent varieties of their favourite foods. <strong>What it reveals about you...</strong> "Sensual eaters are generally passionate about many things, and food is one of them," says Knowler. "They love to engage with what they eat and drink in a deeper and richer way than most people, and when they are eating they feel as if they are doing more than simply that - it's more of an experience, something that enhances their life. "Even if they feel conflicted about what they are eating, knowing that it may not be good for their health or waistline, they will still love being seduced by it. For the sensual eater, it is all about pleasure and feeling indulged."
<strong>You're a focused eater if you are:</strong> Your food choices are driven by an end goal such as reaching your target weight, attaining optimum health or meeting your soulmate. <strong>What it reveals about you...</strong> "The 'focused eater' is on a mission. Whether it's to lose weight, get fit, create the best life or find the perfect career or soulmate, they know where they're going and why, and my goodness they're going to get there "With the focused eater you can bet that everything they do, whether it's the food they eat or where they choose to place their other life energy, it is going to be 100 per cent aligned with whatever it is that they are going after - which is, of course, their recipe for success. "Life and food are exciting 'tools' that they work with because both get them exactly what they want."
<strong>You're a functional eater if you are: </strong> Often found in restaurants and takeaways where it's easy and convenient to access the food you love. At home, you love the microwave, the grill, the blender and quick-cook rice, pasta or soups. <strong>What it reveals about you...</strong> "Functional eaters don't dislike food or eating, but you could be forgiven for thinking that they do," Kowler explains. "It is not necessarily their priority that everything they eat is the best or the most delicious possible (although they'd rather it is, given the choice) - they're just not always that choosy. "They simply want to eat and they want to eat now, so that they can get on with life and do what they consider to be more important things. For the functional eater, it is all about speed and convenience."
Doreen Virtue, author of <em><a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Constant-Craving-What-Cravings-Overcome/dp/1848505906" target="_hplink">Constant Craving</a></em> offers her advice on how to resist your salt, sugar and fat cravings and stay on the right track with your diet.
"Ginger ale and soy milk are high in tyramine, which can help relieve chocolate cravings. Pekoe tea is high in chocolate's other stimulating ingredient. theobromine."
"One reason we shun fruit during our sweet cravings is that fruit seems like a deprivation alternative. We've got to dress fruit up! Put a little flavoured, fat-free yoghurt on top. Puree the fruit with an ice cube and some ginger ale. Microwave sliced apple for two minutes at high temperature with a little bit of cinnamon and you've got a quick, low calorie apple-pie type treat."
"If, after analysing your cravings, you discover any anger, frustration or stress, ask yourself how you might take even one step toward alleviating the source of these emotions. Is there someone you can talk to, or some changes that you can make in your life? If you reduce the source of your uncomfortable emotions, you won't need to crave sweet things anymore."
If we tell our bodies that this chocolate bar or hamburger will be our last treat ever, we're more likely to binge. "It's like we're seeing a beloved person for the last time, so of course we want to spend as much time as possible with that object of affection." The key is eat all treats in moderation and if the craving get too much, seek healthier alternatives.
"Crunch on crisp vegetables dipped in low calorie, fat-free salad dressing. Instead of potato chips and french fries, go for carrot and celery sticks. Broccoli and cauliflower florets are also tasty replacements. They may not seem as appealing as the fatty versions, but the crunch and flavour will soothe your craving."
"Sweet treats usually equal reward. We all need pats on the back and kudos for hard work. But instead of stopping at the cookie shop or take-out, why not treat yourself to a new book, item of clothing or shoes? This will feel just as satisfying and is much healthier than a fat-laden treat."