We are not immune to food cravings and so we all need to understand why they show up and how can we all conquer them.
In my years of helping people improving their health – I have seen craving unhealthy foods is the first reason they put on extra pounds and harm their health. This is usually more true of women than men. Let us get down to the behavior first, so we can plan how to fix it. Many studies have explained such behavior and I am here to tell you the facts.
Reasons for Craving Unhealthy Food
Food cravings are caused involuntarily and voluntarily. Involuntary actions involve the hormones that cause us to crave a certain kind of food. In a majority of cases, female hormones cause these cravings. The others, we are tempted, and eat as our urges dictate us.
Cravings for Sweets
Did you know that sugar is more addictive than cocaine?
Peer-reviewed research published recently, said sugar can stimulate the nucleus accumbens, an area in the brain associated with reward. The stimulation results in a release of the neurotransmitter dopamine to be released.
Eating sweets can temporarily boost our happy mood. This should not be a worry, but when done excessively, it can result in a sudden increase of sugar in our blood and, of course, many added calories and fat.
Cravings for Fat and Salt
Just like sugar, junk foods are also addictive. Anything that makes us feel good can be very addictive due to the release of dopamine in our brain. Our mind then remembers what we had been doing to made us feel good, and so it triggers more actions to crave that particular action. For example, hamburgers are likely to satisfy our belly and our moods far more than a bowl of salad.
While this should be fine at times, eating a lot of fatty and salty foods increases our fat intake. Fat is calorie-packed, with 9 calories in every gram. This is way higher than carbohydrates and proteins, which only have 4 calories per gram.
Cravings for Other Foods
No matter what food we are craving, we succumb to temptation when we are stressed. Emotional eating is brought about by stress wherein our body goes into the “fight or flight” mood. When this happens, the stress hormone cortisol is released in the body, which can promote storage of abdominal fat.
There are many ways to fight food cravings. Here are some practices that anyone can do:
Manage stress: One of the most common causes of food cravings is stress. By knowing why we are stressed and what to do besides eating is the best way to cope up with it. Reach out to a friend, ask for help, do fun activities, or talk to a professional. A few bites of comfort food should be okay. The important key here is moderation. It is not bad to crave food – it is bad when we succumb excessively.
Eat Proteins: The great thing about proteins is that they stay longer inside the stomach. A diet that has a good amount of lean proteins can suppress hunger due to the decrease of another hormone called ghrelin, the hormone known to be associated with appetite.
Sleep Soundly: In a 2013 study, researchers concluded that lack of sleep can cause changes in the body’s hormonal levels. This can contribute to gaining weight due to overeating.
Keep a strict bedtime schedule and make sure to get a full 7-8 hours of sleep. If the sleeping problem persists, try to read a book, stay away from any gadgets a few hours before bedtime, or drink chamomile or jasmine tea.
Change habits: Long-term food cravings may be hard to change, but it is not impossible. Changing habits may take some time but practicing small, simple steps to reduce actions of indulging in comfort foods can help.
One great way is to change the pantry stock from junk foods to healthier fare. Stay away from foods that have saturated fats. They are addictive. Filling the fridge with sweet, fresh fruits is better than candies.
Chocolates? Try the dark varieties instead of the milk-based kind.
In a nutshell, the only way we can combat food cravings is by understanding why we crave and then working on ways to keeping out of food monster situations! Food cravings are normal, but keeping everything in moderation is necessary.