Where do cravings come from?


Do you think cravings indicate a lack of certain foods in your diet? "People think their cravings are significant, but studies show no link between cravings and nutritional requirements. If people craved what the body needs, we would all eat more broccoli and less chocolate." Wouldn’t that be so much simpler? Have our brain control our appetite in a good direction?  However, that’s not the truth...

Many research studies suggest that mental imagery may be a key component of food cravings – when people crave a specific food, they have vivid images of that food. Results of one study showed that the strength of participants’ cravings was linked to how vividly they imagined the food. Mental imagery (imagining food or anything else) takes up cognitive resources, or brain power. So, when the subjects of the study imagine something, they have a hard time completing various cognitive tasks. In one experiment, volunteers who were craving chocolate recalled fewer words and took longer to solve math problems than volunteers who were not craving chocolate. These links between food cravings and mental imagery, along with the findings that mental imagery takes up cognitive resources, may help to explain why food cravings can be so disruptive: As we are imagining a specific food, much of our brain power is focused on that food, and we have a hard time with other tasks.

So, what’s the solution? Distract yourself! According the researchers, these findings indicate that “engaging in a simple visual task seems to hold real promise as a method for curbing food cravings.”

Some cravings for food are actually thirst in disguise. Since most of us walk around dehydrated, half the time what we perceive as hunger is really thirst. You can test that by drinking a couple of glasses of filtered water, wait a few minutes to let the craving pass.

Another way to curb unhealthy cravings: Eat breakfast every day (skipping breakfast can make cravings worse; see my article on breakfast) and get plenty of exercise.

Control your cravings by:

  • Ask yourself why you are eating it? Many cravings are in fact due to psychological causes (such as stress, and anxiety) and not actually as a result of a nutritional deficiency. Try to become aware of your emotional triggers for eating so these triggers can be avoided, or at least addressed. If you know that stress causes you to crave and overeat, then try to find an outlet to relieve the stress. Try yoga, meditation or anything else that will reroute your mind from thinking about it. Our brains are pretty powerful, but we have the power to control them 
  • Are you craving because you are bored? Find an activity to occupy your time & mind
  • If you notice that the craving is always linked to a certain activity (such as reading the newspaper or watching television), try changing your routine. Something as simple as reading a book may help.
  • Try changing the activity altogether. Try moving your body in any way that feel natural & good. Exercise stimulates the feel-better chemicals called endorphins and improves your mood. Try taking a warm epsom salt bath, call friends and family, or just wait it out for 15 minutes. Very often you'll find that the craving has lost a lot of its strength by the time the waiting period is up.