Cravings aren’t easy to beat. Some say it’s mind over matter, but the science behind cravings goes way beyond will power. Strong urges are a result of your brain seeking feel-good chemicals like dopamine, which get released when you satisfy them.
But to take control, you need to understand your body and why it’s seeking a quick fix. Experts have identified five potential underlying causes of food cravings, which include:
- Low levels of serotonin – Serotonin is another “feel good” neurotransmitter produced by the gastrointestinal tract, which helps regulate sleep, mood, appetite and digestion. Eating sugar and carbs releases more serotonin, making you feel great, but just temporarily.
- Leptin resistance – Leptin is a hormone produced by the body’s fat cells. The higher your body fat percentage, the more your body produces leptin, which should send signals to your brain to eat less food as it has enough energy stored. However, if you have a leptin resistance, your brain doesn’t recognise the high amounts of leptin in the body and stops recognising these leptin signals. This causes you to feel more hungry and less energetic as your body thinks it needs to conserve energy and combat starvation.
- An unhealthy gut – With bad diet, bad bacteria overpowers the good ones and create more food cravings.
- Emotional causes – Strong emotions create the need for “comfort food”.
- Endorphins and food addiction – Endorphins make you feel relaxed, but when stressed your body craves foods that release these opiates. Regular reliance on food to ease stress can lead to food addiction.
Strategies to outsmart these food cravings
Now that you know what causes your cravings, the next step is to create habits that break the cycle:
- Eat more protein and fiber – Increasing protein intake is said to reduce cravings by up to 60 per cent and cuts desires to snack at night by 50 per cent. This is because it helps you feel full and keeps you satisfied for longer. Increased fiber intake slows down the speed of digestion, resulting in less hunger, higher levels of fullness and a reduced desire to snack.
- Drink more water – Many confuse the feeling of thirst with hunger or food cravings. If you’re suddenly craving something, try drinking a glass of water and waiting a few minutes. You may find that the craving naturally fades away as your body was probably just thirsty.
- Practice good eating habits – Plan your meals for the week ahead so you eliminate the factor of uncertainty and spontaneity, both of which cause cravings. Keep a food journal so you know what you’re consuming at all times. Eat meals at scheduled times, which leaves no room for casual eating or room to get extremely hungry. Also, don’t skip meals, have a varied diet and eat breakfast as it releases hormones that control the appetite for the rest of the day.
- Don’t grocery shop hungry – Grocery shops are designed to have the unhealthiest snacks at eye level; so if you’re shopping hungry, you’re bound to subconsciously fill your cart with all these bad boys as a result of unwanted cravings and impulse buying. What’s worse is that these junk foods will then sit in your home and you’ll reach for them even when you’re not craving.
- Give in to a little indulgence – Depriving a craving is a recipe for disaster as cutting things out results in binge eating later. Have some healthier alternatives to your cravings at hand as these options can have a similar taste but get digested slower and reduce cravings over time.
Here are some healthy, tasty, non-pants-bursting options for food cravings:
|Type of craving||Food options (a serving of one of the following)|
Greek yogurt with berries
|Salty and sweet||Diced watermelon with feta
|Savory||Hummus and veggies
Aged cheese and crackers
Radishes, celery sticks or carrots
Apple and peanut butter
|Creamy||Chia seed pudding
Whole milk yoghurt