Diet wisdom traditionally says you should indulge yourself with a small treat, lest you deny, and then go on a big binge later on. But that approach may be worth questioning, especially if you find yourself craving calorific, high-sodium or high-fat foods with alarming frequency, says Dr. Kathryn Nobrega-Porter, Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine at Toronto's Wellpath Clinic.
"Research suggests that cravings for specific types of food may be associated with intake of foods similar to those craved. So when we take out the craved foods, it is possible that cravings decrease because there are fewer opportunities for conditioning," says Dr. Nobrega-Porter.
In other words: Cut down on the Buffalo wings and you may crave the Volcano Tacos less.
A conditioned love of spicy (or sweet, or salty) foods is one factor in the origin of food cravings, but there are also others, including environment and emotional eating. But can food cravings be a sign that your body is missing key nutrients or that you have a hormonal imbalance of some sort?
For the most, part, probably not.
"Women's cravings may be partially influenced by estrogen and progesterone, particularly when pregnant," says Dr. Nobrega-Porter, but "humans respond to the texture, temperature, colour and appearance of foods rather than their chemical content," says the doctor.
There may be a cultural/environmental rationale for cravings like chocolate, for example. Yes, it does trigger a bit of an endorphin rush in humans, but so do chili peppers. In fact, says Dr. Nobrega-Porter, "Many foods can stimulate endorphin release in the brain."
Yet you're stuck on chocolate? Is it really the endorphins? Or is it the creamy, melt-y texture, sweetness and fond memories of eating bon bons with your grandma? Likewise, notes the doctor, studies have found that a craving for potato chips often can't be assuaged with a different crunchy, salty treat, like pretzels.
What this all means is: Take your food cravings with a grain of salt (literally).
It's possible your craving will go away on its own if you work out, go for a walk, knit, play an arcade game online or call your gal pal to vent about something that’s bothering you.
Or, sure, have a small amount of the food you crave, the caveat being that this may condition your body to keep craving the food in the longer term.
Page 1 of 2 - find out how to beat your cravings on page 2.