We all experience food cravings. Whether you have a sweet tooth or enjoy a salty snack, I am sure cravings have hit you at one point or another. Sometimes when we succumb to these cravings they can leave us feeling guilty for having strayed from our healthy lifestyle habits.
What a lot of people don't know is that most of the time, food cravings are not necessarily a result of hunger, but a combination of psychological and biological factors. In other words, your body behaves differently when it comes to hunger and cravings.
When you are hungry, your body signals to your brain that it is time to eat. This is a natural response that helps us stay alive and function properly from day to day. When your blood sugar levels begin to drop, your body releases a hormone called ghrelin that tells your brain you need food. Another hormone called leptin lets us know to stop eating once we begin to feel full.
When it comes to cravings, it is a little more complicated than just providing your body with something that it needs, such as food, water or sleep.
So, why do we experience food cravings?
1. Pleasure and reward
The mind is complex, and when you are craving something it is not necessarily because you need it to survive. The insula, hippocampus and caudate are the parts of the brain that are believed to be responsible for food cravings. These parts of the brain are in charge of short and long-term memory creation, your social emotions and the dopamine reward system (dopamine is a feel-good hormone that is linked to the feeling of pleasure, and sometimes to addictions).
If you have had nothing but pleasurable experiences when eating chocolate cake, then it is perfectly understandable for your brain to tell you that it will make you feel better.
2. Emotional eating
Your emotions, particularly stress, can play a huge role in food cravings. As I mentioned previously, when you eat foods that contain reﬁned carbohydrates, salt and sugar, your body may produce feel-good hormones, such as dopamine, which can cause you to crave these foods again and again. These hormones can also help us feel relaxed, which is why you're more likely to reach for the chocolate instead of the carrots when you are feeling stressed or anxious. This is important to understand, so that you aren't too hard on yourself.
However, it is also important to know what causes your cravings, as this can help you curb them. If you are a highly stressed person, eating junk food and takeaway every day may not be the best solution for you. Instead, you can equip yourself with this knowledge and try to ﬁnd different outlets for your stress. Taking a long relaxing walk, practising yoga or reading a book are just a few strategies that you can use to help you handle your emotions and occupy your mind.
3. Nutritional deficiencies
In order for our body to function at its best, we need to ﬁll it with the right type and amount of nutrients. If you are lacking in certain nutrients, your body may develop cravings for foods that contain these. This is why when so many people go on extreme or 'fad' diets, they may ﬁnd themselves experiencing intense cravings. This can be your body's way of communicating that it is lacking certain nutrients -- especially if you have been cutting out one or more food groups.
How do I ﬁght food cravings?
If you experience cravings when you are feeling particularly down, stressed, anxious or it's that time of the month, learn to recognise these behaviours and come up with strategies to cope. Understand that you are craving that food for a reason, and take the time to delve a little deeper into why you may be feeling a certain way at that particular time.
When it comes to nutritional deﬁciencies, the best thing you can do is eat a wholesome, balanced diet that includes foods from all food groups. Try to get all of your important nutrients from foods rather than supplements, and always pick foods that have been processed as little as possible.
If you are someone who struggles with cravings a lot, remove the foods that you crave from your pantry. By stocking up on junk food and chocolate, you are making it easy for yourself to access these when cravings hit. Instead, ﬁll your fridge and pantry with healthy snacks and other foods you can eat that will ﬁll you up and not leave you wanting more.
I want you to remember it is okay to indulge a little once in a while. Never deprive yourself and never feel like you can't eat something. Be aware of what it is that you are putting into your body and how it will make you feel.
The Bikini Body 28-Day Healthy Eating & Lifestyle Guide by Kayla Itsines is published by Pan Macmillan, RRP $39.99
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