Do you know that feeling? Maybe it's mid-afternoon or long after dinner is over and there it is...the feeling that you need to eat something sweet. It rears its ugly heard and you indulge it. Perhaps you grab a small square of chocolate or maybe its a big bowl of ice cream. You weren't even that hungry. You just wanted something to snack on. Maybe it's a similar feeling, but instead of sweet, you want something salty.
"Yes! Why am I craving foods I shouldn't be eating?"
First, don't worry. Even though we fight to 'curb cravings', cravings aren't necessarily a bad thing. It's good to crave food, sometimes. It's a natural instinct for your body to desire food to keep it nourished (instead of withering away...). Still, many times cravings spring up when you're plenty nourished and in no risk of starvation.... So why are you still being hit with cravings, especially for certain types of food?
"Why am I craving a milkshake and a basket of fries?"
1: Blame your diet.
That's right! In an article by Tufts, it is explained that when you follow a boring diet, believe it or not your stomach gets bored.
Like an desk-bound office worker day dreaming of exciting adventures abroad, your body gets sick and tired of bland food. So when you decide to "go on a diet", you find yourself craving more sugary foods not just because you are hungry, but because your stomach and brain are telling you to keep them entertained...
2: Blame Your Hormones
It might also be because of your hormones. When food enters into your bloodstream, it sends singles to your brain. Certain foods can be associated with pleasant emotions and therefore trigger good feelings in the brain. Eventually though, your body may actually begin to crave the good mood the food brings on more than the food itself. That doesn't sound like terrible news, right? If you associate good thoughts with birthday cake, isn't that a good thing? Yes and no. You certainly should feel happy when eating cake! But as the Tufts article explains, the more you eat of that food, the less intense of a feeling when come from it. If this is sounding a bit like the way drugs can interact with the body, it is. There is a very similar experience of having good feelings in the brain from the substance, yet needing more of the amount in order to achieve the same reaction.
"So what do I do now?"
1: Change Up Your Diet
Do you always have the same thing for breakfast? Have you jumped on a weight loss program that has you eating the same meals over and over? Or maybe has you eating meals that are far from interesting? Find a way to still eat healthy meals, but up the interest factor. Pick colors that catch the eye. What are you craving? Something sweet? Look through your fruit aisle for a sweet snack after dinner. Something salty? Lightly salted nuts or popcorn would be a great healthy snack that could help with the craving. Keeping things within your reach that fit the carving need, but also don't ruin your diet.
2: Distract Your Mind
If you are thinking about food, try to focus on something else. Is there another option that might replace the good feeling that the food had on your brain?
Do you long for comfort? Try calling a friend to chat.
Do you like the energy boost? Try going from a run.
There are all sorts of possibilities. Find ways to get that same feeling from other activities before reaching for the sweet snack as a replacement. Not only will you feel less guilty because you didn't give into your sweet tooth, but you might actually feel better for the change (like making time for exercise or building relationships).
Food isn't an enemy, but it certainly doesn't have to hold a power over you. Don't feel guilty about your cravings, but don't give them all the control in your life, either. Know where your cravings are coming from and then find ways to stop them in their tracks.