It’s 4:30 pm and you’re staring at the computer but can’t seem to read the words on the screen. Instead you are completely immersed in the thought of a light and fluffy cupcake topped ever so gracefully with swirls of sweet light yellow buttercream icing. The plan of action is simple and swift: as soon as 5pm strikes you’ll dash out of the office to the corner bakeshop before they run out of these freshly baked delights. If food cravings make you feel like a hostage to your obsession with a specific food or flavor, you may be wondering what causes them and how you can overcome them.
Just last week dietitian Leah Holcombe and I were talking about food cravings and we both came up with a number of reasons why people get them and how you can overcome them, based on our combined experience. From our perspective, you may be craving a certain food because:
- You simply haven’t eaten enough calories. Before you cave, sit down and eat a meal or mini-meal, wait and see if you still want to dive into that gallon of ice cream with a ladle. As Leah said – when you are full on healthy items it is hard to overeat.
- You skipped a meal. Meal skipping is a surefire ticket to overeating and making bad food choices. If you are hungry, your brain is running low on glucose, the first thing you’ll want is sugar or a calorie-dense food (fat). Perfect solution: that cupcake.
- You crave comfort. One lady I counseled years ago ate extremely large amounts of shelled, roasted peanuts (and she was very specific, they had to be shelled, salted and roasted). Turns out her father brought these home for the family on occasion when she was a kid. She and her siblings dove in with delight. So, it wasn’t necessarily the peanuts she was craving but the fond memory from childhood that she wanted to relive as an adult.
- Habit. Sometimes we simply eat out of habit. Maybe you are used to ordering fries alongside your hamburger or getting a large sweet tea every time you visit a restaurant. If you eat out of habit you need a reason and willpower to break that habit. But, it can be done.
Well, it turns out that food cravings activate a reward center in our brain according to this article published in the Wall Street Journal. And, interestingly enough, studies show that food cravings involve social, emotional and psychological factors. For more on what the research says, click here for the full article.