They are real and sometimes they can be insanely strong!
Being pregnant, I've had some odd cravings over the past couple of months...peanut butter sandwiches and pickles, various candy, sugary beverages, and ice cream (on occasion).
It is always hard to try and avoid eating those certain foods, but I've found that doing something else to occupy my mind tends to ward off any unhealthy cravings - thank goodness!
Cravings aren't just a pregnant woman's problem. Cravings happen to the best of us.
Surveys estimate that almost 100% of young women and nearly 70% of young men had food cravings during the past year. That covers most of us, doesn't it?
Whether you crave chocolate, fast food, bread, tacos, alcohol, ice cream, pie, candy or pasta, there's a reason why your body sends you that signal.
There's a science behind those infamous food cravings and I'm here to let you in on what your body needs and I'll even offer you some healthier options when those unhealthy cravings strike!
WHY OUR BODIES CRAVE JUNK FOODS
Areas of the brain responsible for memory and sensing pleasure are partially to blame for keeping those food cravings coming.
Three regions of the brain -- the hippocampus, insula, and caudate - appear to be activated during food-craving episodes, according to new research from the Monell Chemical Senses Center. Their brain tests suggest that memory areas of the brain (which are responsible for associating a specific food with a reward) are actually more important to food cravings than the brain's reward center.
Sugar in particular, which is one of the most common food cravings, is also one of the most addictive food ingredients, as it triggers production of your brain's natural opioids -- a key to the addiction process. Your brain essentially becomes addicted to its own opioids as it would to morphine or heroin.
Refined sugar may be even more addictive than cocaine -- one of the most addictive substances currently known.
In one study, when rats were allowed to choose either sweetened water or cocaine, an astonishing 94 percent of rats chose the sweet water. Even rats that were addicted to cocaine quickly switched their preference to sugar once it was offered as a choice.
There are a variety of reasons why you may crave a particular food at any given moment. Seeing a commercial for a food, imagining it, or getting a whiff of it can all certainly contribute, as can emotional triggers like boredom, loneliness and even happiness.
Chronic exhaustion, adrenal fatigue, yeast/Candida overgrowth and hormonal imbalances can also lead to cravings, especially for sugary foods.
But sweet cravings, are the result of a complex hormonal reaction, one that is often triggered by the very same foods you crave.
Here's how this works: The hormone leptin has been shown to target taste receptors on your tongue, thereby increasing or reducing cravings for sweet foods. It is believed that leptin is a sweet-sensing modulator (suppressor), and therefore a contributor to the process that regulates food intake.
It is likely that either a lack of leptin, or your body's failure to respond to the hormone due to defects in your leptin receptors, contributes to the so-called 'sweet tooth' or sweet cravings that affect so many people.
STRESS & FOOD CRAVINGS
Beyond the physiological reasons for food cravings, they often have something to do with emotion and desire.
For many of us, cravings kick into high gear when we're stressed or anxious. Carbohydrates boost our levels of the hormone serotonin, which has a calming effect and the combination of fat and sugar may also have a calming effect.
Research suggests about half of adults turn to food in times of boredom, stress and loneliness. And for people who said stress often drove them to eat, the comfort food of choice tended to be greasy, salty or sweet.
Not surprisingly, such "stress-driven" eaters, particularly women, weighed more on average, and among women those who felt a lack of emotional support in their lives had a greater tendency to eat to cope with stress.
Your emotional health, whether you're eating as a distraction, a reward or to help fill a missing void in your life, must be dealt with in order to successfully resist cravings for unhealthy foods.
SO, HOW CAN WE RESIST THESE UNHEALTHY FOOD CRAVINGS?
A regular exercise program will help make food cravings less likely in general, but you can use it therapeutically too. If you're hit with a strong craving for sweets, for instance, a session of different exercises for just 20 minutes, will likely make the craving disappear.
Anyone who exercises intensely on a regular basis will know that significant amounts of cardiovascular exercise is one of the best "cures" for food cravings.
It always amazes me how my appetite, especially for sweets, dramatically decreases after a good workout. I believe it is related to the dramatic reduction in insulin levels that occurs after exercise.
Elevated insulin levels are another primary contributing factor to food cravings, and if insulin levels are reduced many of these cravings will simply fade away.
Like I mentioned before, giving your mind something else to think about typically helps to curb those annoying cravings.
Go for a walk, clean the kitchen, work on a project, call a friend, go for a drive, play with your kids/grandkids, work out in the yard, plan out your weekly meals, etc. You get the idea.
Whatever distraction you choose, just make sure it will benefit you in some way and not hinder your healthy goals.
Drink More Water
Often times, when we get cravings for certain foods, our bodies aren't even hungry.
If you feel a sudden urge for a specific food, try drinking a large glass of water and wait a few minutes. You may find that the craving fades away, because your body was actually just thirsty.
Keep a water bottle with you at all times in case those cravings sneak up on you throughout the day.
Don't Skip Meals
What happens when you skip a meal or refrain from eating when you're truly hungry?
Sooner or later, you get SO hungry that you end up overeating to compensate. It's in this state of extreme hunger that we tend to crave quick-fix foods like candy bars or chips.
Eating several small meals throughout the day may help to control cravings and binge-type eating.
Keep snack sized baggies with almonds, pumpkin seeds, cut-up fruits or veggies or air-popped popcorn for a quick and healthy snack when hunger strikes!
Sometimes, when the cravings strike and we've done all we can to avoid it, it is still first and foremost on our minds.
So, what can we eat instead that will satisfy the urge for the salty, sweet, or fatty food?
Read on to discover some great craving substitutes...
Can’t stop reaching for the bread basket? You might be low in tryptophan, an amino acid needed to produce serotonin and regulate your mood.
EAT THIS INSTEAD: Grab for some protein-rich foods like seeds and nuts, turkey, tofu, cheese, or eggs.
If chocolate is your weak spot, many experts point to a magnesium deficiency. This powerhouse mineral has a bunch of benefits, from relieving muscle aches to strengthening hair.
EAT THIS INSTEAD: To get a magnesium fix minus the sugar, load up on nuts, seeds, beans and dark leafy greens.
Demolishing a bag of chips might satisfy your salt craving, but it’ll also leave you crazy thirsty… and a little guilty. The problem could be a lack of calcium (and other minerals) in your diet.
EAT THIS INSTEAD: Whip up a smoothie with milk, yogurt, banana, berries, spinach and chia seeds for a calcium-rich mineral boost instead.
The candy cycle can be a tough one to break - especially this time of year. While a sugar craving can be a sign of low chromium levels, we often reach for the sweets jar when we’re tired. Sure, the sweet stuff will give you a quick energy fix, but it’s an unhealthy, short-term solution.
DO THIS INSTEAD: Take a brisk walk around the block and introduce better sleep techniques.
It sounds kind of weird, but a thirst for coffee can be due to an iron deficiency. When iron levels are low and you feel less than energetic, the buzz of caffeine can be appealing.
THE ULTIMATE CRAVING KICKER.....
To reduce and even eliminate your cravings altogether, there is one thing you can do.
Drink 2 cups of Oolong Tea each day.
You see, Oolong tea helps to regulate your blood sugar levels which keeps those nasty cravings away. When your insulin levels are stable, you don't go into binge mode and eat anything in sight just because you are hungry.
Like we said before, elevated insulin levels are a primary contributing factor to food cravings, and if insulin levels are reduced many of your cravings will simply fade away.
How much easier can it get? Just two cups a day to maintain your blood sugar, mood and energy? Sign me up!
Just make sure you are consuming 100% Pure, Premium Oolong tea with NO fillers, NO pesticides, NO GMOs, NO artificial colors/flavors and NO corn or soy.
You can find this kind of tea right here!
What are some of the ways you kick your junk food cravings? Let me know in the comments below!
Yours in Health & Happiness,