Pregnant women aren’t the only ones who experience weird food cravings! To be clear, cravings are not be confused with hunger. Hunger is an innate response to needing food for survival, health and performance. Whereas cravings are strong urges to particular foods – the “I need THAT NOW” sort of feeling.
Cravings often end up in a binge, and then a slippery slope away from smart and healthy food choices.
It’s NOT A Deficiency
For years it was believed that cravings were due to nutritional deficiencies. For example, insufficient vitamin B or iron deficiency. However, research shows that people have cravings even if their diet has sufficient calories, macronutrients and micronutrients.
You’re having that craving because that’s what you want or because that’s what you’ve been conditioned to want.
Note: I do believe that nutritional deficiencies play SOME role in cravings.
Anecdotal reports and research results point to a combination of psychological and social factors having an almost exclusive influence on cravings. Research has time and again shown that areas of the brain activated by comfort foods and cravings are the same as those activated by drug and alcohol addiction. These areas of the brain form the foundation of our internal rewards system.
When you repeatedly eat something you crave you reinforce a rewarding feeling for that particular food. That reward system becomes less sensitive to that food the more you eat it. So what do you do? You eat even more of it to elicit the same reward. Just like any other addiction.
Where does the social influence come in? When the social influence is NOT present should be the question.
Marketing influences (visual and auditory), your environment, the people you spend time with, what is in your pantry at home, who’s telling you the story? All of that has a great influence on decision making.
There are many proven ways to overcome cravings. All these methods have come about because everyone responds to rewards in a different way.
Accept that it’s but a craving and that you aren’t lacking anything in your diet. Start here—change your mind set.
Manipulate Your Environment
If you have a tea and cookie culture at your place of work, avoid the places where people congregate to eat. Keep your food in a cooler bag instead of having to go to the fridge. Don’t buy the foods you crave – if they aren’t in your cupboard you can’t eat them! And surround yourself with people who are supportive of your decisions.
Create the environment you need to be successful.
If you’re feeling down, exercise. If you’re getting stressed at work, go out for a walk to calm down. Sleep deprivation causes hormonal imbalances related to cravings, so get better sleep instead of succumbing to the craving. In general, take better care of yourself.
You’re aware of the craving because it’s such a strong feeling. But stop to think about what might be causing the craving. Understanding the trigger/s that lead to cravings is often the best thing you can do to work through it.
If you have chronic cravings, like tea and cookies at 16h00 every day or the chocolate before bed every night (for me it’s something sweet as soon as I wake up. That’s the result of years of cereal for breakfast) you have a bit more of a challenge.
You’re going to need to do some planning and preparation to ensure that the foods you’re craving aren’t available and that you have substitutions ready, even if the substitutions are actions and not foods.
There’s no silver bullet for changing behaviour. You have to use a combination of approaches and you’re going to have to experiment to find something that works for you, but it ultimately comes down to your mind set.