Food cravings are bouts of intense, seemingly uncontrollable desire to find and eat a particular food. They can be one of the most distressing roadblocks encountered by people who want to lose weight and maintain healthy eating habits.
According to US research, nearly 100% of women and 70% of men report experiencing food cravings. Women tend to crave sweets, with chocolate No 1 on the ‘crave list’, while men usually crave savoury foods such as potato chips. A virtually universal fact is that cravings focus on high-fat and/or high-kilojoule foods.
Contrary to popular myth, cravings do not indicate a need for particular nutrients. In fact, they have virtually nothing to do with the normal hunger drive, which is triggered when our body needs to secure nutrients. Instead, food cravings involve the brain chemicals of opioids and dopamine, which are also central to drug addiction.
When we eat fatty and/or sugary foods opioids, which are the body’s own morphine-type substances, are released into our bloodstream. They bind to opioid receptors in our brains, giving us a ‘hit’ of pleasure. Intense opioid stimulation, received from extremely fatty and sweet foods like chocolate, can produce mild euphoria.
Release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter also floods our system and this is linked to the activation of certain memories involving the food we crave. This suggests that what we are really looking for when we develop a food craving, is the positive emotion or mood associated, in our memory, with an earlier experience of that food.
For example, the sugary, fatty taste of these treats can become inextricably linked in our mind with feelings of being loved and valued. Often related to childhood memories of safety and special occasions. So, it is no great surprise then, that as an adult we can find ourselves craving cakes and pastries whenever we feel lonely.
By being aware of these associations, we can practice active mindfulness in order to help beat these cravings – for good!
Article from Hopewood contributor Robyn Chuter.