Hey everyone. Today's post will be an educational post about food cravings. Lets get to it...
There seems to be a lot of negative connotation today when it comes to Cravings. Most people think that cravings are bad and must be resisted at all costs. If we "give in" to our cravings then we are harming our health. This also crushes our willpower. Today, there are some studies that are actually showing that this is not a necessarily true way of thinking.
Food cravings are a natural part of humans' strive to survive according to a neuroscientist named Mark Andermann. His studies have shown that your brain is programmed from birth to act as if there won't be enough calories in the world. Our bodies have evolved under near-constant threat of undernourishment and starvation. This has led to your brain telling you to eat high calorie foods whenever possible. There was a time when you did not know when you would get your next meal.
Fast forward to the 21st century and today things have changed dramatically. Factory farming, mass food processing, and convenience culture give us access to hundreds of calories in a matter of seconds. The problem is that our brains have not evolved to our new environment. This changes the once helpful cravings. Now they start to backfire on us. We are overeating on high calorie foods, thinking that there might not be another meal around the corner...when in fact, just the opposite is true. There are too many fast food choices all around us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
There is hope though. The more we understand cravings and examine the roots of our drive to eat, the more we can actively choose what to do with those cravings to take better care of our bodies. Food cravings originate in the brain, not just your belly. Hormones, memories, sights, smells, emotions, thoughts, and signals between the brain cells all influence what and how much you want to eat. For example, research shows that enticing images of food on billboards and TV, trigger cravings and drive (over consumption). These effects are even more pronounced when you're hungry. A problem with this is what we see on TV is usually sugary or salty foods that are not very healthy. Carbohydrates are the body's preferred source of energy and the easiest to break down into glucose, so your body will seek them out when you need an energy boost. Intake of carbs also spikes when we are sleep deprived.
Foods high in fat, sugar and other additives also cause sudden spikes in dopamine in parts of the brain related to "reward" and pleasure. These foods make us feel good in a similar way as sex and drugs. This makes these foods addictive. These reward signals can also override the cues from the body that provide "fullness." This leads to us overeating, weight gain, and a continue of the addictive behavior.
The good news for all of this is that this behavior can change for the better. If we begin eating a larger variety of healthy, nutritious foods, we can break the bad cravings. Try to focus on what you're adding instead of what you're considering off limits. Rather than approaching foods by saying I need to cut out all white flour, ask yourself what type of starches, such as beans or sweet potatoes, you could add into your diet to bring more balance. When we bring in more balance into our diet and meet our bodies' overall needs, we do start to see that our cravings change. This also avoids the "restrict and binge" cycle, also known as "Yo-yo" dieting. Cutting off foods makes us think that certain foods are off limits and that makes us want them even more.
For people with lifelong weight struggles, here is how the cycle usually plays out: Restricting calories and food groups increases cravings for off-limits foods. After a period of time, the person breaks resolve, and this almost always occurs leading to the person overeating high calorie foods that were previously forbidden. This turns to binge eating. This binge eating can go on for days, weeks, or months. All previous weight lost prior, will be gained right back.
For most of human history, cravings and constant food seeking helped us survive in lean times. Now we need to be more mindful and start paying attention to our cravings. Habits are a powerful trigger for cravings. Our brains like convenience and efficiency above all else, and habits operate as behavioral shortcuts in daily life and are a preferred mode of making decisions with minimal effort. Shake up your routine as much as you can to create more of a pause between craving and action. Sometimes all you need is a moment to ask yourself if you're truly hungry for this right now. You may realize that you are just tired and what you need to do is turn off the TV and go to sleep. Of it could be that you're stressed, and the craving is more about soothing yourself than how the food tastes. Folks with emotional and binge eating issues especially may crave certain foods as a kind of self medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy and Dialectical behavioral therapy are both researched back ways people with emotional cravings can gain more control over their eating behaviors.
Regular physical activity has also been linked to a greater ability to actively control eating behavior. This changes the blood flow in our bodies and helps with the release of certain brain chemicals such as feel good endorphins and better functioning of neurons. You want to change your ultimate goal. Change it from I will never eat a particular food, to instead being mindful and informed of the decision to balance your needs in the moment with what your body wants in the long term. Food should be treated as a great pleasure, and we need to remember that humans are pleasure seekers. Sometimes just allowing ourselves to enjoy healthy foods and then move on really is the best way to handle it.
Well that is all for now. Hopefully you learned something new. I will see you again soon and thanks for reading.