31 May 11 Why We Crave

We've all had those undeniably strong "urges" for foods - especially chocolate, french fries and pizza - but why do we and what does that say about us? Reports have suggested that up to 97 percent of Americans experience strong and specific urges to indulge in foods, and for women, chocolate is most often at the top of their list.

So what's causing these urges? No in-depth studies have been able to prove that it's brought on by true nutritional deficiencies (although reduced levels of potassium or iodine during a woman's menstrual cycle may prompt a need for salt). What most often triggers our cravings are stress and acquired habits.

A 2003 study at the University of California - San Francisco observed rats who were placed under stress, causing them to release stress hormones (cortisol), and recorded the changes in their eating habits. The study showed that during times of stress, rats will seek out energy-rich (aka. calorie-rich) foods, which triggers the release of the "feel good" hormone, serotonin.

In 2007, a study published in the International Journal of Obesity supported this claim that stressed individuals seek out foods with high fat and/or sugar content, and more specifically, low protein and low fiber content (which would be healthier options that make us feel full longer).

Another study at University College in London considered how habit may influence our cravings. Researchers considered that hunger and eating are strongly influenced by context, so we may accustom ourselves to reach for a bag of chips when we are hungry to satisfy our "urge" because it has become a habit. In an attempt to "untrain" ourselves, researchers studied two groups of teens: one group would eat chocolate when they were hungry before a meal, and the second group would eat a reduced portion of chocolate right after eating a meal. The group who ate less chocolate and after a meal reported a reduced craving for chocolate in general and that it was less pleasant tasting when they did eat it. Through this practice, the second group "untrained" themselves, to some degree, to crave chocolate over a period of weeks.

What else can lead to cravings? A 2006 study from the University of Toronto showed that severe dieting and calorie restrictions could heighten one's level of cravings. This was because too few calories, along with reduced sleep, limited the body's production of leptin, a naturally-occurring appetite-suppressing hormone. A study in Appetite found that women who went on a carb-free, 3-day diet would rebound with an intake of 50 percent more carbs after the elimination period was over.

So can we reduce our cravings? The answer is a confident perhaps. The keys, according to the above research and other experts, is to eat more frequently so you don't find yourself ravenously hungry, ask yourself if you're stressed when you're craving sweets and try to remove the stress before indulging in the doughnut, and make healthy snacks as readily available as the sweet ones. Nobody wants to stop and peel a carrot or slice an apple when you're starving, but having them already cut and bagged in the fridge can make them them the "go-to" alternative.

Ryan Newhouse

Ryan Newhouse is the Marketing Director for MyNetDiary and writes for a variety of publications. He wants you to check out MyNetDiary on Instagram!

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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Foods & Recipes/Potatoes & French Fries Weight Loss/Cravings

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