What’s Causing Your Cravings and How to Stop Them
Having trouble dealing with cravings? Yea me too.
Honestly, on my entire journey to living healthier and happier, my most trying moments were outside of a Taco Bell, sitting in the car, just fighting my urge to drive through and grab food. Want to know how bad it gets?
At first I talk myself out of it.
Then I drive home.
Then I sit in front of the fridge stressed out and angry because I don’t want to eat anything in the house.
So I drive back to Taco Bell.
I get food from Taco Bell.
I drive home and eat it.
And I cry while I eat it because I’m disappointed that I gave into a craving instead of having a meal that would actually nourish me.
Yes, cravings can get bad. Maybe they are not that dramatic for you, or perhaps it’s worse. But I know how many people tell me that cavings aren’t just annoying they can be downright stressful and emotionally trying. Even emotionally crippling. So I wanted to dig into what exactly cravings are, where they stem from and some ways to help deal us with them.
What Are Cravings?
A craving refers to the intense desire to consume a particular type of food. Food cravings can force an individual to consume a specific kind of food to satisfy the need, unlike hunger which can be satisfied with any type of food.
According to “Impact of Definition on Prevalence of Food Cravings in a Random Sample of Young Women,” a study published in the journal Appetite, food cravings are a universal problem that has affected 58 percent to 97 percent of adults in North America and New Zealand .
Another study performed by Weingarten HP and Elsorn D revealed that up to 97% of college women experience food cravings. This number was lower for men at around 68%. Women were more likely to give into cravings half of the time. While that doesn’t seem like a lot at first, a study done by Martin CK, Rosenbaum D, Han H, et al in 2011 founds that individuals who have food cravings can encounter up to four craving episodes per week. The craving episodes precipitate the consumption of a specific type of food to satisfy the cravings [2, 3].
We can see that cravings affect most people and occur frequently. So now it’s time to dig into some scientific causes of these cravings and find out why they happen.
What Causes Cravings?
A study conducted by Simon et al. in 2006 attempted to find a link between obesity and psychiatric disorders and discovered that there might be a connection between food cravings and mood disorders .
The study found out that obesity, defined as a body mass index of 30 or more, is associated with a lifetime diagnosis of depression. The study further explained that a depressed mood often correlates with a poor diet.
According to scientific studies, eating behavior in humans is a complicated process that is subjective to both mood and emotions. The mood of a person is characterized by psychological arousal that can be present in the absence of stimuli. Emotions are an effective response to this obvious stimuli.
A study performed by Macht in 1999 revealed that emotions such as anger and joy could influence a person’s appetite and food choice .
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, was quoted as saying, “let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.” According to studies from human trials, foods may directly influence the central nervous system neurotransmission. As a result, the physiology, brain structure, and chemistry of the brain are affected by the foods we eat.
Not Enough Sleep
One 2016 study from the University of Chicago showed that just a few nights of lost sleep can affect the brain and how you crave foods. Often we put sleep last on our list of ways to take care of ourselves, but that could be hurting your efforts to eat healthy.
Sleep restriction can boost a signal in your body that makes you crave more palpable food. This system is called the endocannabinoid system, and when sleep is lost, the system is heightened and can stay heightened through the evening. This can lead to cravings for highly palpable foods. This is the same system associated with causing the “munchies” in marijuana use .
Losing sleep also affects the hungry and full signal hormones. Leptin is a hormone released from fat cells that tells your body when it’s full. That then sends a signal to your brain that tells you to stop eating. But with a decrease in nightly sleep, this hormone decreases and not enough signals are transmitted to tell you to stop eating .
The peptide Ghrelin was also studied, and it was found to be affected by sleep as well. Ghrelin is secreted from the stomach and stimulates our appetite. After a decrease in nightly sleep, the levels of Ghrelin were higher in the body than when subjects had slept for a full night .
Sleep deprivation works against you in three ways when it comes to eating healthy and managing food cravings.
Eating Foods That Trigger Cravings
The food industry is littered with processed foods that contain mind-altering chemicals. MSG, artificial flavorings and flavor enhancers all mess with our ability to stop eating. That’s why the slogans range from “Once you pop, you can’t stop” to “You can’t just have one.” There’s no secret that certain junk foods and processed foods are engineered to make you keep eating.
MSG, monosodium glutamate, is an ingredient added to foods to intensify flavors that can trigger the brain not to stop when you are full and is found in thousands of products in grocery stores. It even goes by many names and could be hiding in the ingredient deck of the foods in your cupboards.
This additive magnifies the taste and creates a positive response to foods that typically wouldn’t trigger such a strong reaction in the brain. You feel that food “tastes better” and then would crave it subsequently to get that feeling again .
Lacking Proper Nutrition
Your body is really good at knowing what it needs. Ever get a salty craving, or really want one specific food? Chances are your body is drawing you to certain foods because it requires something your diet is missing.
Deep down, your body is acutely aware of its own imbalances. If you are getting a craving, you might want to look back over the last few meals as ask yourself a few questions. Did you eat plenty of veggies both green and other colors? Did you hydrate throughout the day? Did you choose proteins, carbs, and fats that were not processed and provided nutrition without it having to be added back in? If you said no to any of these questions you may be eating a diet that is not rich enough in essential vitamins and minerals that is triggering cravings in your body.
That’s why I use a water reminder. There are tons of free apps, and you can find a few in the water and hydration blog. I also make sure the take the right vitamins and superfood supplement which help me keep my nutrition balanced, even if I trip up with foods once in a while. If you’re looking for a few options you can see my review of all the superfoods I have tried and love!
Studies have revealed that smoking can be a notable cause of food cravings. A group of researchers performed a study to examine the impact of smoking on food cravings. The specific objectives of the study involved finding out the relationship between chronic smoking and food cravings for specific foods such as sweets, fast foods, foods that are high in fat content, and complex carbohydrates.
The study also determined the influence of psychological, clinical and demographic factors on the relationship between smoking habits and the cravings for specific foods.
According to the study, current smokers have higher cases of cravings for foods with fat content than the never smokers. The study also revealed that current smokers consume more fast-food than individuals who do not smoke.
The study concluded that individuals with a high nicotine dependence encounter difficulties in addressing food cravings. The study revealed that nicotine dependence precipitates cravings for foods such as sweets, fast-foods, foods with high-fat content, and carbohydrates.
How to stop food cravings for junk foods
Eat Plenty of Proteins
According to scientific studies, eating plenty of proteins may help to reduce the cravings for junk food. A group of researchers from the University of Missouri, Columbia performed a study to find out the effects of a high protein breakfast meal on food cravings and plasma homovanillic acid (HVA). Homovanillic acid is an index of central dopamine production which makes us feel happy after we eat.
The study found out that breakfast means comprising of a high protein content can help reduce post-meal cravings for foods with high-sugar and fats content. Meals with high protein content also increases the levels of plasma homovanillic acid.
Drink Plenty of Water
Scientific research has revealed that drinking a large glass of water may help suppress the urge for a particular type of food. Scientists from the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, USA, conducted a study to determine the effects of water intake on food cravings.
The study found out that the intake of water acutely lowers the calorie intake among middle-aged adults. By drinking 2 cups of water before the meal, participants lowered their caloric intake by 75-90 calories and those who did that 3 times a day lost and average of 5 more pounds over the 12 weeks. According to the study, drinking more water has other profound benefits to the body as well that lead to better overall health outside of weight loss but was specifically helpful in controlling caloric intake at meals .
Address Possible Mood Disorders
Mood disorders such as stress, depression, and anxiety have been linked to poor eating habits. Scientists from Yale University carried out a study to find out the correlation between mood disorders and eating habits.
The study revealed that stress may precipitate cravings for food and influence bad eating habits. The study showed that women under stress can experience cravings on foods with high caloric content than non-stressed women.
In a 2007 poll one-third of Americans reported living with “extreme stress” and 48% said in the last 5 years their stress has significantly increased. With such a high percentage of people dealing with stress, with stress being linked directly to cravings, it isn’t surprising the high number of people struggling with this issue .
Address your stress, and learning to deal with and naturally reduce stress on a daily basis can help also lower the number of cravings that you experience throughout the day.
Scientists from Lund University, Department of Experimental Medical Science performed a study to find out the effects of spinach extract on cravings for foods with high sugar and fat contents. The researchers revealed that the green leaves of spinach contain a high content of thylakoids.
Thylakoids have been shown to suppress the intake of food and reduce body weight gain in experimental animals. The study suggests that the consumption of the green leaves of spinach may help reduce food cravings and compensational intake of meals later in the day.
The mechanism of action of thylakoids involves delaying the digestion of fats and raising the levels of hormones in the body that help lower the cravings for food.
The one ingredient I always start my day with is spinach. That goes into my morning green smoothie, and I feel that it is a powerful and nutritionally dense way to start my day. You can add it to just about any fruit and blend. But I have found some great combinations, and you can find a few options on my good morning smoothie blog.
Get Enough Sleep
One way to keep the hormones and systems in balance that keep our hunger and cravings signals under control is to get plenty of sleep.
Sleep is essential to keeping cravings at bay. But what is enough sleep? Well, most studies now point to at least 7-9 hours. More if you work out hardcore and have very active jobs. Start prioritizing sleep and you’ll see that getting to be on time and getting the right amount of shut-eye is easier than you think. There are so many tips and tricks to getting a good night’s sleep, and some of them include:
- Set a bedtime alarm
- Get a sleep mask for deeper sleep
- Keep the room cooler
BUT WHAT ABOUT PERIOD CRAVINGS!?
I know I didn’t address this under causes above because I feel that it requires a section of its own. I know that there are so many pains with your period, but one of my worst is cravings. I have heard from so many people that they even feel that their cravings can be worse than any cramps!
What causes period cravings?
Fluctuation in Blood Sugar Levels
According to health experts, fluctuation in blood sugar levels is one of the primary cause of food cravings during menstruation. Health experts recommend elimination of foods with high sugar content from the diet to help stabilize the blood sugar levels. Avoiding processed foods may also help reduce the fluctuation in the blood sugar levels.
Low Levels of Serotonin
Low levels of serotonin can cause period cravings. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is made from specific amino acids in the body. Low levels of serotonin may lead to cravings for foods that are rich in carbohydrates and fat.
These foods that signal our brain to release feels good serotonin are also very calorie right and we tend to reach for an easy source of carbs and fats which are usually junk food snacks.
Individuals who crave chocolate before their period starts may have a magnesium deficiency. Chocolate is rich in magnesium and very often can satisfy our fat and carbohydrate need at the same time.
Most women are deficient in magnesium in general. One good thing is that over the course of a whole month, you can actually build up magnesium levels very quickly by using a magnesium spray right on your skin. While there are pills, the stomach and intestines destroy most of the available magnesium in the supplements before it even absorbs into your body. So the best way to get magnesium is to spray it on you and let it absorb into your skin.
I use this magnesium spray that I found on amazon by the company Seven Minerals. I have bought from them several times, and these sprays last my husband and me for almost a year! Just spray on your skin about 15 minutes before a shower, then wash off and go! Super simple, and I set it on the tub to remind myself to use it. My husband likes to spray it on his feet before bed (he uses magnesium for better sleep not a better period lol) and both ways work so well!
If you are looking for natural relief from your period symptoms like cramps, cravings, and low energy then you check out our Top 3 Essential Oils for Your Period.
What are the natural supplements to stop food cravings?
Studies have revealed that saffron extract can help increase endorphin and serotonin levels in the body. The natural supplement can also help suppress appetite and elevate the mood of an individual.
Other benefits of saffron extract include reduced emotional eating and depressive symptoms. Studies have also revealed that saffron extract may help reduce fatigue and raise the energy expenditure in the body.
Green Tea Extract
Green tea extract is beneficial for metabolic disorders. It has been found to help regulate the appetite hormones reducing the tendency of food cravings.
Grapefruit Essential Oil
Grapefruit essential oil reduces appetite and food cravings. It stimulates the lymphatic system and provides an uplifting energy in the body.
In summary, cravings can be triggered by lots of things from lack of sleep to lack of nutrition to the time of the month. It’s crucial when addressing them, that you get to the bottom of why you have them in the first place. It’s like treating a sneeze. You wouldn’t go on cold meds for one sneeze. Maybe it was some dust, allergies or just a bee up your nose. But knowing what caused it is vital in treating it.
With cravings, take a look at your sleep, nutrition and overall well being. If you find that you are lacking in one of these areas there are steps you can take to help you deal with them and help regulate your body.
Cravings are important to listen to. Not in the sense that we go out and stuff our face with what we are cravings but to use it to take a more in-depth look at what our body needs. Then you can work on fixing that and stopping the cravings from the inside out. And for cravings just triggered by the time of the month, a little chocolate never hurts!
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