Imagine its early evening, and you happen to walk past a bakery. You are out to run some errands and have no intentions of eating. But then, the heavenly smell of freshly baked goods entices you, and you walk into the shop for a quick bite.
But such indulgences, more often than not, leave us feeling guilty. Maybe because that meal was unnecessary, or because you are avoiding certain kinds of foods. Our cravings might not always be real. It could be merely a psychological craving and not a physical one. But how do you differentiate and, more importantly, fix it?
We are all familiar with the phenomenon called craving. And are often victims of over-indulgence. Dr Rizwana Sayed explains this phenomenon as, "An intense form of desire for having a particular type of food. Especially foods that are high in fats or carbs." It could be a craving for fried food or something to pamper your sweet tooth. It could also be a packet of chips that makes you feel satiated.
Cravings are common when we are depriving ourselves of certain types of food, e.g. diets. Often people trying to follow a diet complain of craving foods that they are avoiding.
Why does our body crave certain foods?
Dr Sayed, a registered dietitian at Apollo Clinic, Pune, says, "Most of the times it is because we have nutrition deficiencies. If you are not eating properly, our body may lack some nutrients. If you lack sodium, you will crave food that is high in salt. Likewise, if your body lacks magnesium, then you might crave chocolate. When you crave meat, it is often because your body lacks iron. When your body lacks calcium, you crave cheese and cream."
"Other reasons could be an imbalance in hormones. Leptin, serotonin cause cravings. Additionally, during the pre-menstrual period, your body goes through a lot of hormonal changes. All the estrogen and progesterone, make you crave carbs. Also, dehydrated and gut flora could be another reason for cravings," she added.
Can stress lead to craving?
"Yes, certainly. Stress is one of the reasons you crave food. Our stress hormone, called cortisol, makes you crave food. Additionally, when you are depressed, you look for comfort foods," said the doctor.
How can one deal with cravings?
In order to deal with our cravings, we need to understand what is causing it. "If you are nutrient deficient, then you need to work on developing a wholesome diet. Focus on consuming enough proteins. Avoid reaching a point of extreme hunger. Also, drink enough water to keep your stomach filled," explained the doctor.
But, there is a counter-argument!
Over the years, this theory of 'nutrition deficiency' or 'body wisdom' has taken a backseat. Researchers have begun questioning the concept of craving. If lack of nutrition causes cravings, why do we not crave fruits, vegetables or legumes (all being richest in nutrition)? And only crave fat and sugar-loaded, fast-food?
Pizza, chocolate, chips and cookies are some of the most craved food, all of which are high in fats and added sugars. So are our cravings based on nutrient deficiencies?
Even if you consider the food cravings that occur in pregnant women -- pickles, do not have much nutritional value. Numerous researchers and studies support this theory. "If you develop a serious vitamin or other nutrient deficiency, you might get ill and lose your appetite. for what you been eating, possibly leading you to try other foods," says University of Michigan PhD neuroscientist Kent Berridge.
Cravings are now considered to be a result of wishful thinking and widely popularised by social media. Back in the day, when there was a real shortage of food, people craved certain foods due to nutrition deficiency. There was also a fear of food becoming unavailable. But today, cravings could be categorised as physical and psychological hunger overlap. You could feel physically hungry due to psychological triggers such as habit, occasion, mood etc.
External factors such as advertising and social media could be responsible for causing cravings. Continuous exposure to food videos and advertisements makes us think about fast-food and thus crave it.
Whether you believe your cravings are a result of nutrition deficiency or psychological issue. Or are caused by over-exposure to food. Carefully choosing what you eat could help you make wise choices.