We have all probably suffered from food cravings at some time in our lives; that intense yearning for a certain food. Often the desire can seem uncontrollable and you feel as if you just have to have that food to get on top of things and feel satisfied. Some top experts in nutrition claim food cravings don’t last for long; just a few minutes. Those who don’t experience food cravings will often say, “it’s just all in the head!” – And new research suggests they’re right. It is all in the head, from specific areas of the brain, actually. The parts of the brain responsible for pleasure and memory are where our food cravings arise from; what keeps them alive. And the food cravings aren’t for healthy fruit and veggies; no, they are for our favorite junk foods, like chocolate cake, or something like deep fried oily chips. When you are seriously pursuing weight loss, food cravings can be a major roadblock. Some people find food cravings a real menace when they are not even trying to diet; merely trying to eat more healthily.
What causes you to have food cravings?
- You have been conditioned to think that way. Maybe Friday night is your movie night with your friends or family and you’re used to eating pizza as well. Maybe in the future, when you’re watching movies, you kind of crave pizza; emotionally thinking of those bygone days as if the two still go together into the future. You have been conditioned to think that pizza goes with movies, not so? Only when you are aware of it, can you actually break the habit or the craving. And it can be tough going. There are many life experiences that are associated with specific foods, and often your emotions are connected to a particular food from those life experiences. But in reality, you don’t need these foods; you have just conditioned yourself to crave these foods, but you can also condition yourself to stop.
- If you have an imbalance in your hormones, such as leptin and serotonin, it could also be the reason for food cravings. It is so often that our food cravings are for those foods that are high in sugar and fats, which makes balancing and maintaining a healthful diet rather difficult. The areas of the brain responsible for pleasure, memory, and rewards are what cause our food cravings.
- And what about endorphins? Endorphins are important chemicals in the body responsible for our everyday functioning, helping to combat pain for instance or to deliver euphoric feelings. When our endorphins are low, our mood can be low, and we crave foods that make us feel comforted; to fill the void.
- Pregnant women, too, experience strong cravings for different foods. It might be for foods that they might not even have liked before. This is because of hormonal changes in their bodies which cause changes in their smell and taste receptors.
- It is also thought possible that some people who have a certain lack of a particular nutrient in their body will have a craving for that missing nutrient. What do you think?
Apparently, there are two types of cravings; selective cravings and non-selective cravings. Selective cravings are when you crave specific type foods, like your favorite burgers, chocolates or a certain brand of potato chips that you love. Non-selective cravings are when you long to eat anything. This can be because you are really hungry or it can be as a result of also being really thirsty.
Ever wondered where those food cravings come from?
You might not have realized it or thought about it, but when you experience food cravings, it could well be your body trying to tell you something – that it needs something that you might not be giving it. You need to make sure that in your weight loss efforts, you are giving your body all the nutrition it needs. If the reason is a medical problem, you need to see a doctor to discuss it. There are several reasons why you could be experiencing food cravings.
- You could have a vitamin deficiency: Your body actually requires 30 vitamins and minerals on a daily basis to function at its peak. Even though there are many foods available that supply all these nutrients, many of us fail to consume foods to meet those needs. Men and women alike need to get in at least 30 mg of a certain vitamin B which is found in biotin. Biotin is found in egg yolks or fish and some whole grains. When trying to lose weight, if you are not eating enough, you can easily become deficient. Biotin also helps your body produce energy. You need to fight food cravings caused by a deficiency in top minerals and vitamins by eating a well-balanced diet. We know this is not always possible because life happens and not everyone has the opportunity. If you believe that you are not getting sufficient nourishment on a daily basis, a good idea is to invest in a well-balanced multivitamin that contains all the nutrients you need and to take this on a daily basis. Your body will take what it needs from that and discard the rest.
- Another reason we get food cravings is that we have low blood sugar. (Read this interesting link to see how you can combat cravings simply by eating correctly). Low blood sugar occurs when you take in too much of the bad carbs such as chips, sweets, bread and sugary drinks. When your blood sugar drops, you crave those things. Eating carbs will correct the problem at that moment in time, because it gets into the bloodstream immediately, helping you to feel better straight away. To fix blood sugar cravings, you need to keep your blood sugar even, avoiding the bad carbs and concentrating on more proteins and fats. Feed a stressed-out body with ‘smart carbs’. These can be whole grains, fruits, vegetable, and beans with nutritional power like fiber. High fiber snacks can be seeds, nuts, berries and boiled eggs. When we feed our stressed-out bodies with the “smart carbs”, we give the body the carbs it craves along with lasting nutritional power from fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals.
- Food cravings can occur because you have gut bacteria that is imbalanced. You have millions and millions of bacteria inside of your body – average healthy people have ten times more bacterial cells in their bodies than they have human cells! Microbiome or gut bacteria is vital to the digestive system and friendly bacteria keeps your body healthy. That means that not all bacteria are friendly. Bad bacteria will cause you to crave sugar and carbohydrates. Get yourself a good probiotic supplement regularly to keep the good bacteria on top and fighting the bad bacteria.
- Another big reason you get food cravings is anxiety and stress. When you suffer from stress and anxiety your body looks for ways to stimulate the dopamine receptors, causing you to crave certain foods, normally unhealthy ones. Dopamine in your body is what helps to control the brains pleasures and rewards. It is easier said than done to say try and avoid anxiety and stress. Meditation is an option as it has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress. When you do feel a longing for comfort foods, change the moment; go for a quick walk to squash the cravings.
- Dehydration is another reason you can get food cravings. Sometimes our bodies tell us we are hungry but in the meantime, we are really low on fluids. When you feel hunger pangs and cravings coming on, try and drink a glass of water, then wait about 20 minutes – you might see that your hunger pangs disappear after that.
- Being tired out is another reason why you get food cravings. When you are physically exhausted, your self-control and will-power become negatively affected. When your hunger hormones are not balanced, you become hungry even when you don’t really require food – sometimes you don’t even stop eating when your body has had enough. You need to listen to your body and try and eliminate fatigue before it negatively impacts your body and health.
Bottom line is this, if you do suffer from food cravings which seem uncontrollable, do take a close look at your nutritional lifestyle.
Ways to reduce food cravings
- First, you need to reduce your stress levels: When you feel stressed out, you often want to indulge in emotional eating – you crave comfort foods. A study completed revealed that women who were stressed tended to be prone to have cravings for sweets against women who were not stressed. Stress in itself can cause weight gain, even without food cravings, because if releases levels of cortisol which is the stress hormone and this promotes belly fat.
- Eat more proteins and fewer carbs: Proteins are known to make you feel fuller and satisfied for longer, which is beneficial when you are trying to lose weight. Eating protein helps to preserve your muscle mass, which burns up the calories, resulting in better weight loss.
- Change your scenery means also changing your habits. So for instance, if you are inclined to stop at the fast food joint, rather stop at the park. Often changing habits can change your cravings. New habits, new places, and new foods all help to distract you from food cravings.
- Plan your meals so that you know what you are going to eat. This will eliminate uncertainty and also spontaneity in reaching for anything, especially if you are in a hurry.
- Avoid getting too hungry: A healthy diet also includes hunger pangs, but when you are under-eating the food cravings can get even worse. Rather than allowing intense feelings of hunger to engulf you, try and work out a regular planned pattern of healthy meals and snacks to avoid intense cravings.
- A spinach extract helps: Spinach extracts are made from spinach leaves and aids in fat digestion. Studies reveal that when you take 3.7–5 grams of spinach extract at your meal, it is possible to reduce your appetite and food cravings for a few hours. In a study completed on overweight women who consumed around 5 grams of spinach extract each day, it was discovered that they had reduced cravings even for chocolate and foods high in sugar by as much as 87%-95%. That’s a lot! Researchers from Appetite, an international research-journal, say that women who ate their spinach supplements had raised levels of hormone satiety and lower levels of their hunger hormones. This led to a 95% decrease in food cravings, making it easier for the women to stick to eating three meals a day.
- Mindful eating is a good practice, like kind of meditating on your eating and your foods. Mindful eating will teach you to develop awareness of your hunger, your emotions, eating habits, your cravings and your physical sensations. It teaches you to differentiate between real physical hunger and cravings, helping you to choose the way you respond instead of just acting impulsively or thoughtlessly. You are in the moment while you eat, aware of what you are eating, not eating blankly while you stay more focused on TV or your smartphone.
- Get enough sleep: Studies carried out in 2013 proved that when you don’t get enough sleep, you can actually change the functioning of your hormones. When there is a hormonal imbalance, you contribute to weight gain, because you give in to food cravings. Getting enough sleep brings balance to the hormones.
- Don’t do your grocery shopping when you are hungry: The worst place to frequent when you have food cravings is your grocery store. Too many tantalizing snacks are around at the supermarkets – fresh pies, meats, pastries, and sometimes you feel you just have to indulge. Rather go shopping when you have had a good meal; never when you are starving.
- Drink plenty of water: Drinking water before a meal cleanses the system and also makes you feel fuller, more satisfied, preventing you from overeating. Not only that, drinking water throughout the day also prevents you from becoming sluggish, helping you to feel more active and alive which benefits your weight loss efforts.
- Control the portions: Some people avoid the food they crave, making them sometimes to feel resentful and often to overeat. It is not the end of the world to succumb to the craving by eating a small controlled portion, like when you have completed a healthy task such as a workout or a long walk.
- Replace the cravings: Instead of giving into the food cravings, substitute them with nutritious options. So if your craving is potato chips, rather replace them with something healthier like walnuts, cashews or popcorn.
- Chocolate: If you have a craving for chocolate, it could indicate a magnesium deficiency. But almonds also contain magnesium and are very healthy. If you are obsessed with the idea of chocolate, try and opt for the dark milk-free natural chocolate that contains at least 70% of cocoa. Instead of sugar, use fruits like cherries or peaches or melon. Even dried fruits like raisins can help to combat the craving for sugar.
- Sodas: Rather than drink sodas when you feel a craving coming on, opt for sparkling water with some lemon juice squeezed in. It offers a similar feeling to soda, but there are far fewer calories and sparkling water contains no caffeine.
- Cheese (vegan): People really get cravings for cheese, but rather purchase low fat, low sodium cheese. Nutritional yeast is also what people buy to use over their food instead of cheese because it has a cheesy flavor, with fewer calories.
Thing is, having food cravings when you are desperate to lose weight is not something to simply laugh off. Yes, most of us have had times when we are stressed or in a bad mood and we grab hold of our favorite comfort foods. But there’s a difference between getting ‘carried away’ once in a while to full-on food cravings and food addiction. Some people crave food when they are not even hungry. You might even have wondered how the young supermodels of the world are so slim – don’t they have food cravings? Of course they do – check it out here. But the key is to train the brain not to have the cravings, or put them to the background and carry on with your day like normal. If you give in to your cravings and eat something after a meal, for instance, your brain gets used to eating that snack after a meal, it gets into the habit of craving that snack. Habits are formed by repetitions. Sometimes, as mentioned above, you eat when you are not even hungry, just because you have formed the habit of doing it. Overpowering impulses can really derail dieters; to the point where they become discouraged. However, food cravings are a challenge that can be managed. And one important step towards combating them is to understand why you have them to begin with.
Food cravings are a dieter’s worst enemy. In fact, food cravings rank as being one of the biggest problems people experience when trying to lose weight and to keep it off. There are ways that you can combat food cravings. Don’t feel bad – cravings are common and more than 50% of people say they crave certain foods regularly. But unfortunately, they do play a role in weight gain, binge eating, and food addiction. By being aware of the food cravings and also understanding why you have them makes it easier for you to avoid it to try and eat healthily.
If you are someone who is suffering from food cravings whilst trying to lose weight, and you feel they are running amok with your diet plan, demanding satisfaction and causing you to regularly say, “I’ll start my diet tomorrow”, you need to outsmart the cravings – and you can. They can occur for a lot of reasons, and many times, it’s not from hunger. Desiring specific foods can stem from different psychological and physical causes.
You might not be able to get rid of craving or unhealthy foods entirely, but you can certainly learn to manage them to such an extent that they do not do damage to your health and even your psychological well-being. You need to be patient with yourself and to practice the techniques that will help you to succeed. It takes time to change long-time habits, and usually with processes of change, there comes relapse as well. Just forgive yourself, learn something from the problem, try and correct it and move on and forward, leaving your weighty food cravings behind, your spirit light and your goals in sight. Good luck!