Being a clinical dietician, working in a weight management set-up, I always find it hard to deal with my clients’ food cravings! Till date, I haven’t met a single client who can say that (s)he doesn’t have a craving for any particular food. And I believe that until and unless one gets over this hurdle called “food craving”, it would be difficult for them to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Since it is a very exhaustive subject, it needs to be dealt in two parts. In the first part, I would talk about what is food craving and its causes. Second part would deal with how to stop craving for food.
So what is this food craving all about?
Food craving is a strong feeling of desire for a specific food which is uncontrollable more often than not and only that particular food can satisfy it. It is one of the biggest reasons why people are likely to fail on their diets. The type of food one craves for can vary from person to person, but these are usually junk foods and processed foods high in fat, sugar and salt, like, potato chips, chocolates, nutella, ice creams, desserts, maggi, aerated beverages, pizza, samosa to name but a few!
The strong desire to eat something usually starts setting in as the day proceeds. Our body’s clock (circadian system) increases hunger for salty and sweet foods in the evenings. And if this urge is coupled with actual hunger, then that would make it much worse.
Physical hunger v/s emotional hunger
Many of us get confused between physical hunger and emotional hunger (better known as craving), but these are two different terms, with different impact altogether. Physical hunger sets in gradually, can even be postponed and it can be satisfied with any food, because we are actually hungry, and when we eat something the hunger goes away without causing any guilt. Emotional hunger, on the other hand, comes with a sudden urge and is associated with desire for specific food. And when we have pleased our craving, it leaves us feeling guilty.
Causes of Food Cravings
Well to tell you a little secret, it is not really “you” who is to be blamed for that extra bar of chocolate after dinner or a bag full of chips while studying for exams. It is rather your BRAIN..! The parts of the brain which control memory and sense pleasure are to be held guilty for keeping those food cravings coming. There are a number of hormones (chemical messengers responsible for various bodily functions) which are involved, like leptin, serotonin, endorphins; and an imbalance of these hormones can lead to food cravings.
Females during PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome) and pregnant ladies usually face strong cravings, which is most likely due to the hormonal changes.
Not getting enough sleep can also disrupt the hormone fluctuations that affect our hunger, thus making us succumb to the cravings.
There are many people who eat for comfort; their emotions play an important role in producing a craving. Stress is one of the major triggers of emotional eating. When we are in stress, we look out for foods, especially those which are high in sugar and fats, in order to bring that calming effect. Apart from stress, boredom can also trigger emotional eating. People who have very busy lives, when suddenly have nothing to do, would turn to food to fill that emptiness. Then there are people who try to stay away but end up falling prey to their cravings due to peer pressure.
I hope this article has given you the basic idea about food cravings and has helped you identify its various causes. Look out for this space for the second part, where I would share the practical ways in which we can stop our cravings!