What Your Cravings Are Telling You About Your Body (And Mind)
Your kitchen raids and midnight munchies might mean more than what meets the eye. Are you missing out on a crucial health signal?
A food craving, separate from hunger, is an intense and specific desire that doesn’t alleviate until you give in. This want-over-need approach implies that cravings are associated with more than what we eat. What we crave for are also little indications of our physical and emotional well-being.
“Life is so fast-paced these days that people do not realise how stressed they are. Often they turn to food for comfort,” says Dr. Dharini Krishnan, a consultant dietician in Chennai.
“The experience of a food craving is multidimensional. Physiologically, it is associated with several processes that prepare the body for ingestion and motivates food seeking and consumption such as increased salivary flow and activation of reward-related brain areas such as the striatum. It also includes cognitive (i.e., thinking about the food) and emotional (e.g., desire to eat or changes in mood) components,” says German researcher Adrian Meule in The Psychology of Food Cravings: the Role of Food Deprivation.
Meule also mentions that cravings are interindividual, based on different behaviours and situations. Therefore, the popular notion that dieting is the dominant factor in increased cravings is too simplistic.
Why Do You Crave Salty Food?
A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that salt cravings follow the same brain functions as addiction to drugs and cigarettes. If you’re already on a sodium-heavy diet, your cravings may be habitual.
- Exhaustion: Overexercise, perspiration and stress cause our body to dehydrate. You might confuse being thirsty with craving sodium.
- Alcohol: Research shows that alcohol causes our blood sugar to rapidly rise and crash, this prompts our brain to stimulate hunger.
- Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS): A 2005 study in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology reveals that hormonal fluctuations and changes in bodily fluids cause people who menstruate to crave more salt than usual.
- Boredom: Sometimes your cravings are just a way to pass the time. Your brain engages more with the sensations of chewing and taste than your body being hungry.
What’s The Reason Behind Your Sugar Cravings?
In the study Food cravings in everyday life: An EMA study on snack-related thoughts, cravings, and consumption, participants reported snack-related thoughts, craving intensity, and snack consumption at ?ve times per day, of which chocolate was the most common. Sugar cravings could arise because of a variety of reasons:
- Inadequate food: When you skip meals or don’t eat enough, your blood sugar levels drop due to the altered levels of insulin.
- Starch-heavy, protein-deficient diet: When you depend heavily on starchy foods and don’t eat enough natural protein, your blood sugar levels drop sooner than you think. Your body then tries to make up for this lack by craving something sweet for a quick energy boost.
- Depression and exhaustion: Sweets are an addictive mood lifter and an instant energiser. Hence, you tend to gravitate towards sugary treats when you’re feeling low.
Why Are You Addicted To Coffee?
Do you feel unable to start your day without your morning cup? Do you find yourself reaching for a can of cola or energy drinks more often than a glass of water? While it might be a force of habit, this dependency can also be caused by:
1. Stress: Both physical and mental exertion leads to adrenal fatigue, which then makes you depend on caffeine for sustenance.
2. Iron deficiency: If you are anemic or have low iron levels, you are bound to feel weak and fatigued frequently. Unfortunately, the presence of tannins in coffee lowers your body’s ability to absorb iron. Therefore, when consumed in extreme amounts, coffee may intensify your symptoms.
3. Irregular sleeping habits: If you don’t get enough sleep or feel tired after you wake up, you naturally drink caffeine-laden drinks as a stimulant. However, these drinks are not a long-term solution, causing you to consume more and more.
Simple Ways To Control Cravings
Dr. Krishnan suggests eating everything in moderation is the way to go. While it’s difficult, gradual weaning and subtle modifications can curb and reform your cravings.
1. Food is fuel: Therefore, it is necessary to avoid skipping meals. Eating multiple moderate meals throughout the day at a regular schedule helps fight hunger-induced cravings.
Dr. Krishnan observes, “Since sugar has been demonised by a lot of people including children, they are turning to salty snacks. However, too much salt can lead to high blood pressure.”
2. Nothing beats water. Proper hydration is a sure way to fill back up on those electrolytes. Your organs depend on water to provide you energy throughout the day, so your body may be compensating through these sudden pangs.
3. Staying physically active, nurturing hobbies and maintaining a positive mental environment can also distract you from constantly thinking about your cravings.
4. All bodies are different! Do not compare yourself to others’ diets and listen to your own needs. It’s important to enjoy an all-rounded diet that includes full, nutritious meals as well as your favourite snacks.
If you’re looking to cut back on caffeine, Dr. Krishnan recommends decaf. However, she warns against anything more than three cups a day. Moderation is key!