Food Cravings: Why It Occurs and How to Curb Them

woman chocolates
Image REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell UK

Food cravings are inevitable. We all have them. Some of us may crave fluffy sweet cupcakes, while others crave salty items such as chips. With the urgency of the global obesity epidemic, scientists are exploring the reasoning behind an individual's craving.

It has been found that women tend to report having more cravings compared to men; younger people crave more sweets than adults.

Previous research once suggested food cravings were associated with an individual's nutritional deficiency. For example a longing for steak could be an indication of a need for protein or iron or for those who crave chocolate that could be a sign that your magnesium or other mood altering chemicals may be low. However, new research now refutes the nutritional deficiency belief.

New research proposes food cravings are heavily influenced by environmental cues. In a study conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, it was reported chocolate is the most common craving in North America. In Japan, women mostly crave sushi.

Other research found food cravings can be as intense and as harmful as a drug addiction. Marcia Pelchat, a food psychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, observed sensory memory food cravings can stimulate the same regions of the brain that drugs and alcohol trigger. This includes the hippocampus, which help stores memories; the insula, which is responsible for perception and emotion; and the caudate, which is essential for learning and memory.

According to Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, if people continue to satisfy their cravings their dopamine receptors shut down and your cravings become more frequent and stronger.

As a means to reduce cravings health experts suggest:

  • A study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise suggests curbing your cravings with a morning exercise.
  • Avoid skipping a meal.
  • If your cravings are more persistent than usual, start a craving journal. There may be emotions or situations that can intensify your cravings.
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