Do you find yourself craving salty crisps halfway through the morning, dreaming of pizza late at night or desperately fighting the urge to hit the vending machine for a bar of chocolate at 4pm?
There is nothing uncommon about insatiable food cravings but just why are they so powerful and what can we do to curb them?
According to Doreen Virtue PhD, author of Constant Craving, "Overwhelming food cravings are the culprit behind every broken diet and dietary-related disease."
From irregular 'food kicks', which cause changeable food cravings from week to week, to constant cravings for common food types, like sugar, salt, dairy (and of course, chocolate), Virtue explains why we experience these irresistible food cravings, what we can do to combat them and most importantly - what they say about our health.
The Psychology Behind Your Food Cravings
With top tips from Doreen Virtue, author of <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1848505906/ref=asc_df_18485059066853249?smid=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&tag=googlecouk06-21&linkCode=asn&creative=22206&creativeASIN=1848505906" target="_hplink"><strong><em>Constant Cravings</em></strong></a>.
<strong>What is it about chocolate that makes it so irresistible?</strong> "Chocolate is associated with undiluted pleasure and reward, so if you've been working too hard or suffering in any way, it's a way to emotionally self-medicate. This is especially true for those who are experiencing relationship disappointments, as chocolate sooths those desires to be loved and accepted. "Chocolate contains mood- and energy-altering feel-good chemicals, such as PEA, which is the same chemical that your brain secretes when you're newly in romantic love. This drug is very similar to the controlled substance, Ecstacy, which turns mortal enemies into friends. So chocolate is truly a "love drug." "It also contains almost a perfect balance of your range of taste buds, and the fat in it gives a satisfying full feeling. Additionally, chocolate boosts energy in caffeine-like ways, which is one reason why pre-menstrual women crave it. Any kind of nut (including chocolate) is in the "xanthine" family, which also triggers the pleasure center in our brain." <strong>How can we satisfy these cravings using healthy alternatives?</strong> "You can get the pleasure-center rush by inhaling the fragrance of nuts, including fresh coffee. Eating raw almonds can also yield some of the textures, fats, and minerals that lead to chocolate cravings. Mostly though, chocolate cravings can be lessened by taking steps to feel loved and emotionally fulfilled. "For instance, spend time with good friends; take good care of your relationships; indulge yourself with gifts, pedicures, relaxation time, and positive self-talk; and create gentle and positive work and home environments."
<strong>What makes us want to eat salty snacks and foods - and why? </strong> "Our bodies seek a homeostasis of the blood-to-salt ratios in our bodies. If we stop eating salt, our bodies react by expelling water so we can maintain those same ratios. "This mechanism is deadly accurate - if we completely eliminated sodium from our diets, eventually we would die of dehydration.We need salt for survival. "Most salty and savoury foods are crunchy, which is a texture we crave when we're stressed, angry, or anxious. This innate animal-like desire to chew must be satisfied, which is one reason why people don't stay on liquid diets for very long." <strong>How can we satisfy these cravings using healthy alternatives? </strong> "Avoid salt-free diets so that your body doesn't need to crave it. And the best way to avoid crunchy junk food cravings is through reducing or managing the stress in your life. For example, daily cardiovascular exercise such as fast walking or jogging can increase your tolerance of a stressful job. "Or learning to say "No" to unreasonable demands upon your time can give you more time to relax and enjoy your life. If you still feel the need to crunch, choose healthful alternatives like celery or carrots with low-fat salad dressing or a handful of raw organic almonds."
<strong>What does it mean if we crave dairy foods, such as cheese and ice cream?</strong> "When you're depressed, you're likely to crave a dairy product such as cheese or ice cream. Dairy foods contain natural anti-depressants and soothing agents such as choline and tryptophan. They're also high-fat, so they give a satisfying full feeling. "Additionally, dairy products are usually flavored with lots of salt or sugar, which helps to calm frayed nerves. The creamy texture of dairy products makes it a natural comfort food." <strong>What things can we do which will help curb these cravings? </strong> "Directly face the cause of depression and discontent by keeping a journal or talking to a trusted friend, counselor, or life coach. Instead of covering over these feelings, treat them as valuable guides who will propel you to make healthful life changes. It's all about empowering yourself to know that you deserve a better life, and that you are capable of making this happen."
<strong>Why do we crave sugar and what makes it so irresistible to resist? </strong> "Preferences for sweets are often learned, because we were often rewarded for good behavior in childhood with a candy treat. If you experience overwhelming cravings for cookies, cakes, or pie, you may want to think back to childhood experiences where you may have been rewarded with these foods. "This is not an attempt to blame the adults in your life. Instead, it's a means of trying to understand your cravings in order to reduce or eliminate them." <strong>How can we tackle these sugary cravings with a healthier alternative? </strong> "Reward yourself with nonfood treats. Since some of our sugar cravings stem from the childhood message that "sweets equal rewards."We all need pats on the back and kudos for hard work. "But instead of stopping at the cookie shop for your reward, why not instead treat yourself to a new book, an item of clothing, scented soap, theatre tickets or a piece of jewellery? They are less fattening and infinitely more satisfying than a cookie!"
Greasy Junk Food
<strong>Why do we crave fatty, grease-filled food? </strong> "Most crunchy junk foods are fried, and the fat fills up the stomach and leaves a satisfied feeling for hours after the food is ingested. I find that people who crave high-fat foods are dissatisfied with their lives and aren't ready to face making changes. So they "numb themselves" with high-fat foods which comfort and soothe them, essentially making them oblivious to discontent. "One reason why people have difficulty going on diets is because fat keeps the stomach full and satisfied. When you switch to low-fat foods, you feel hungry. You also feel all of the emotions that the high-fat food smothered over. "Fat cravings appear to be one of our innate drives. Experiments with rats, as well as with children and adult humans, show how nature has equipped us with a preference for high-fat foods." <strong>Are there ways we can fight these cravings? </strong> "Exercise! Studies show that exercise reduces the appetite for dietary fat significantly. This is especially true for yo-yo dieters, whose weight has gone up and down. People in this category have the strongest fat cravings of virtually any group. Yo-Yo Syndrome sufferers also display the most dramatic decreases in fat cravings in response to exercise."
<strong>Why do we crave spicy foods like curry and chillies? </strong> "Food probably isn't the only area of your life that you prefer spicy. You may also crave excitement and high intensity in your work,love, and play life as well. If you aren't getting enough thrills, you may convert that frustration into intense cravings for spicy foods. "Several researchers have correlated "sensation seeking" with cravings for spicy, crunchy, or sour foods; gourmet foods, and unusual, exotic foods. Another study concluded that overweight women were particularly prone to cravings for intensely flavoured foods. "Spicy food cravers have strong desires for novelty and change--kind of like "pushing the envelope" via exotic eating experiences." <strong>How can we satisfy these spicy cravings without opting for calorific options? </strong> "Seek non-caloric forms of excitement such as training for a marathon, learning to sail or rock climb, or giving a public speech. "Really hot spices encourage the brain to release pain-relieving chemicals that bathe and numb the entire body. It's a natural way to seek emotional anesthesia, but it's still a temporary measure. "Ask yourself, 'What's really bothering me?' and 'What do I really want and need?'"