What causes food cravings?
We all know that carrot sticks trump potato chips in terms of good nutrition. But why is it so much more desirable to reach for a thick chunk of dark chocolate than a crisp apple? The theories, says Naomi Orzech, Canadian dietitican and cravings counsellor, range from craving what we deny ourselves to craving what our body is lacking. In fact, there seem to be as many theories about the causes of food cravings as there are diets to combat the effects of giving in to those cravings.
The Skinny Cow 2006 Canadian Cravings Survey, conducted by Nestle Canada, reports that 98 per cent of Canadians experience food cravings. Perhaps not surprisingly, only a reported one in 100 women craves salad. So what causes our food cravings?
The dieting theory
This theory says we crave the foods we deny ourselves. By eliminating chocolate completely from our diet, this theory suggests we set ourselves up for failure. The stricter we are about eliminating a particular food craving from our diet, the more desirable that food becomes. If this is true for you, you might find that allowing yourself an occasional (even daily) small taste of the previously forbidden food is enough to stave off a binge episode.
The blood sugar theory
The greatest number of food cravings occur late in the day, according to the Philadelphia-based Monell Chemical Senses Center. It's a time of day when our blood glucose levels are likely to be low, triggering a high-calorie craving. Having healthy snacks at the ready can stop this food craving cold, before you head to the office vending machine.
The memory theory
Our food cravings are often associated with pleasant memories and occasions. Often those cravings are rooted in the favourites of our childhood.
The wisdom of the body theory
This theory suggests that our body craves what it needs. This may be true for some cravings, but it's difficult to lay too much credibility on this theory if you think your body needs a litre of chocolate ice cream.
The stress/anger/boredom theory
When you feel stressed, angry or bored, your levels of serotonin, which creates a sense of well-being, drop. Since sweet and starchy foods bump up the secretion of serotonin, you may notice a corresponding improvement in your mood after eating a chocolate bar. The antidote might be exercise, which triggers the release of other feel-good body chemicals called endorphins.
The chronic stress theory
According to Orzech, chronic stress might also contribute to your inability to resist food cravings. Studies have shown that stressed-out rats responded by engaging in pleasure-seeking behaviours, like eating high-energy foods.
The reasons behind our food cravings can be multiple and complex. Understanding what causes your cravings is a step towards controlling them.
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