Did you know that some cravings have a psychological basis — you want what you can’t have. Other cravings have a physiological basis. Your body produces chemicals that send messages throughout your nervous system that tell you how to feel, whether you’re sleepy, and what you’re hungry for. Increased or decreased production of some of these chemicals can cause hunger for specific types of food.
For example, if you find yourself consistently craving starchy breakfast foods like pancakes or bagles, you might be producing too much of the brain chemical called neuropeptide Y (NPY). Your brain releases NPY to stimulate appetite when your blood sugar levels drop (as they do while you’re sleeping through the night), when you’re stressed, and if you’re dieting.
Stress, depression, and anxiety cause your body to cut its production of the brain chemical serotonin. If you’re craving sweets or carbohydrates, you might have a serotonin shortage. Serotonin levels can be raised with exercise as well as by eating lower fat foods, such as bananas or turkey.
If bedtime finds you yearning for something rich and creamy or dreaming about a meat and potatoes snack, it’s because you’re body is trying to increase it’s fat stores by releasing another brain chemical called galanin. Endorphins are responsible for a sugar craving.
Most likely, you crave a food you love, such as pizza or chocolate. But how can you tell if your hankering for potato chips is a food craving, hunger, or habit? If you’re hungry, a variety of foods sound good and will satisfy you. Eat a nutritious snack.
If nothing else satisfies you – if those potato chips keep “calling your name” – you’re probably craving. It’s okay to eat a small amount – meaning 100 calories or so. Moderation is the key. For example, if you can’t get chocolate out of your mind, try eating a handful of chocolate covered raisins, strawberries dipped in chocolate sauce, a chocolate flavored protein drink, or a bite-sized chocolate bar.
How to Diminish and Manage Cravings –
Eat a well-balanced diet – This will help keep you from any nutritional deficiency that might be triggering a craving.
Never skip a meal – Eat every three to five hours. Try six smaller meals or regular meals with nutritious snacks.
Drink water – You might be confusing hunger for thirst. A basic rule is:
drink eight eight-ounce glasses each day.
Substitute low-fat foods – If you’re hungry for chocolate, eat non-fat chocolate yogurt. Try fig bars or raisins for a sweet tooth.
Use Moderation – Instead of stuffing yourself with every other kind of
food in hopes your craving will go away, eat 100 to 200 calories of your craved food.
Identify Triggers – Do you have food cravings when you’re bored, lonely, or stressed? If you can identify a trigger, you can deal with the emotion that’s making you desire a certain food.
Get Enough Sleep – When you’re tired, you’re more likely to crave things.
Exercise – It increases the “feel-good” endorphins that cut down on your cravings. Try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity throughout the day. If you are an athlete who over- trains, you might experience strong cravings for carbohydrates.
Get Support – Talk with a family member, friend, or professional who can help you identify the causes of your cravings, and support you in modifying your life.