Ever wondered why it is difficult to stop urging for a creamy white sauce pasta? Why we are drawn to chocolates and chips? Why we cannot adhere to our resolution to avoid all unhealthy items? The answer could lie within our complex brain setup.
Read this article to understand the complex mechanisms behind food craving.
We all have experienced food cravings. They are different from natural hunger which results due to prolonged fasting. It’s natural to have food craving but the problem begins when we start experiencing food addiction. Let us first know how food cravings are different from food addiction. Tom Jordan explained it beautifully by quoting ‘food craving’ as ‘an itch’ and ‘food addiction’ as ‘scratch’. It’s a known fact that scratching is not the right solution for an itch. Similarly, finishing an entire packet full of chocolates is not the right way to calm your food carvings.
Why it is important to control food cravings?
Most of us crave for highly palatable food items. Quiet often, these palatable foods are either high in sugar, fat or salt or a combination of them. Their excessive consumption could be very damaging for health. Food addiction is not just associated with overweight and other lifestyle diseases but is known to cause supressed immune function, hyperactivity and some mood disorders.
Role of neurochemicals in prompting food cravings and addiction –
Three major neurochemicals that play a significant role in shaping our food choices are-Dopamine, Serotonin and Endorphins.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. Pleasurable activities and consumption of recreational drugs lead to the release of this chemical in our brain. Its release is coupled with the feeling of ‘getting rewarded’ and gives us ‘a sense of pleasure’. We tend to get addicted to the activities that trigger the release of dopamine. Interestingly, sugar intake also causes the release of dopamine in our brain. This explains why sugar is addictive in nature. Individuals addicted to sugar crave for sugar to prompt the release of dopamine which will give them a ‘sense of pleasure’.
Serotonin is another neurotransmitter that plays a role in controlling our hunger pangs. It has many primary functions in our body but it also plays a role in balancing our mood. Deficiency of Serotonin in the body leads to different types food cravings.
Endorphins are neuropeptides that are released in our body when we experience pain. They are released to help us to cope up with pain. Their release is coupled with the feeling of ‘euphoria’. Carbohydrate and fat consumption is also associated with the release of endorphins in human brain. This explains our craving for fatty-fried and sugary foods when we are experiencing pain.
Now, when you have gained some insight on food craving, answer the following questions-
- Do you over consume any specific food item more than you intended to eat?
- Are you unable to resist the consumption of refined, sugary, fried and salty foods, even when you are aware that it’s damaging your health?
- Do you have frequent cravings even when you are full?
- Do you binge-eat such food items after avoiding them for a long time?
- Is there any presence of guilt after consuming high amounts of food ?
If the answer(s) is / are YES, then you might be dealing with food addiction / craving. Here are some easy tips to handle it-
a. Keenly observe your food pattern. Maintaining a food diary will really help. It will help you to understand-
- What are those specific food items that you tend to binge eat?
- What compels you to binge-eat?
- In which situations, you are compelled to binge eat? Do you eat more when you are stressed?
Answering these questions will help you to understand your addiction well.
b. Have small and frequent meals. This will help you to prevent binge eating.
c. Consume a balanced diet which is rich in protein, fibre, complex carbohydrates, omega fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. Avoid foods rich in sodium, sugar and trans fats.
d. Stay hydrated. We often confuse thirst with hunger.
e. Exercise and sleep welk.
f. A healthy exercise and sleep regime could help in sustaining optimum endorphin and serotonin levels in our body.
g. It’s important to note that excessive dopamine levels interrupt our sleep cycle. Regulating sugar consumption is also important to manage your sleep cycle. So, avoid any sugary stuff two hours before going to the bed.
h. Seek help from a specialist if you are not able to handle it by yourself.