We all fall victim to cravings from time to time, usually for something unhelpful to the health kick we started a few days ago! As we know, it's rare to get a craving for celery – so it's something that most of us would like to get control of. The good news is, there are things you can do to help reduce the chances of experiencing a craving, and to try and overcome it when it strikes.
Firstly, what is a craving? Cravings are characterised by an intense desire to eat a specific food or type of food. They're not an urge to eat in general, but a distinct desire for a certain kind of food. They can occur when we're hungry or when we're not! And more often than not, cravings are for less nutritious foods such as chocolate and pizza!
There was a belief that cravings were a way for our body to let us know that it was lacking a certain nutrient. As cool as this sounds – 'ooo I must eat pizza my body needs it!' – this is no longer thought to be the case. The exact reason is unknown, but it's believed there are many factors that play a part in causing cravings – ranging from emotional and psychological to situational.
Emotions – this is a big one for many of us. Certain emotions such as feeling down can make us crave comfort food. We've all been there – you've had a rough day and the only thing that's going to fix it is a tub of Ben & Jerry's!
Boredom – feeling bored can spark a desire for certain foods, maybe just to entertain ourselves. Likewise, getting bored with the range of foods we're eating (e.g. when on a restrictive weight loss diet), can increase the chances of desiring something more exciting – AKA donuts!
Situations – sometimes the occasion can spark a craving, particularly if it's habitual – something you're used to eating at a specific time and place. Imagine, you're at home, the kids are in bed, your partner is out, so time for you to crash on the sofa with your favourite trash T.V. and a large glass of red would really finish this picture off nicely! Or similarly, a trip to the cinema wouldn't be right without a large bucket of popcorn would it?
Hunger – genuine hunger can spark cravings as we experience a drop in blood sugar. This leads us to crave sugary foods for a sugar hit to increase energy levels. The issue with this is that the sugar hit only gives a temporary boost, which is often followed by an even bigger slump and, yep you guessed it, more cravings.
Experiencing cravings from time to time is inevitable. But the good news is that how often and how we deal with them is, to an extent, within our control.
Nutritionist Emma Brown, MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.