My 4 year old once said to me, “Mommy, I’m hungry for something crunchy!” I was fascinated by this. Not only was my son hungry, but he knew exactly what his body wanted at that very moment. He knew what he was craving. He was craving the feeling of taking a crunch into something. Where does this sensation come from? Is a craving your body’s way of telling you what you actually, physically need at that very moment? Perhaps something your body is deficient in nutrient-wise? What exactly is the deal with cravings?
After some research on this, I’ve come to find what I always did assume; that cravings are all in your head! I’d by lying if I said I don’t crave things on a weekly basis. Pregnant or not, majority of us crave some sort of food at one point or another. Pregnancy speaking, because of hormonal fluctuations, the cravings can vary. But cravings do not mean your body needs it! I’m sure many have heard the reasoning that your body is deficient in the nutrients from the food it’s craving, but I’m sorry to report there is no actual scientific evidence this is true. It’s a nice story to make yourself feel better about eating it, but I guarantee the women who have gained 50lb+ and still craving ice cream, are Not deficient in Calcium…or saturated Fat.
There are many reasons why the human body does what it does. We get hungry because it’s time for our body to consume food/calories. It’s survival. Cravings are what scientists consider “mind hunger”, and they’ve found that this is not necessary for survival. There are quite a few reasons linked to why we experience these sensations:
1) Memories. Many of us can associate a food to a specific time, place, event, holiday, etc. It’s something you may not even realize you’re associating. When that craving for a juicy cheeseburger and spicy curly fries pops in your mind, you may not even consider that time 10 years ago you shared that same meal with your dad at a baseball game. Not to mention foods high in fat trigger chemical releases in your brain, but I’ll get to that in a minute. My point is, we rarely (to never) crave things we’ve never had, so there is a direct link to familiar pleasures when it comes to food.
2) Seek Pleasure. There are chemicals in our brain that are released when eating fatty, high sugar foods. These chemicals trigger a reaction that cause pleasure and euphoria, the same feelings that are triggered when someone takes drugs, drinks and gambles. It’s the same feeling that keep people going back for more, to experience this pleasure over and over again. Any foods you’ve had that trigger this same reaction will trigger you again to crave that food.
3) My personal favorites: Boredom & Anxiety. Two feelings that when triggered, feel the need to do something to redirect. Who actually enjoys being bored or anxious? Different people do different things to distract themselves from this, and binge eating on ”cravings” is one of them! An easy solution to this is to decide [pre-boredom/pre-anxiety] what you will do when these sensations pop up. How will you make yourself aware that you may not in fact be hungry, you may just be trying to escape whatever is going on in that moment?
I get asked all the time about my pregnancies, “do you crave anything?” My answer is always the same, “I have cravings even when I’m not pregnant. I refuse to use pregnancy as an excuse to give in to them”. Sure, I let myself indulge in moderation, meaning a couple times a week, but the other times find a more nutritious option. If you’re like my son and craving something “crunchy”, most of us may go to something like potato chips or a big bowl of cereal. Instead, replace that with carrot sticks and a lower fat dip, or a handful of nuts. There are so many great alternatives out there now to satisfy a sweet craving, that you don’t need to turn to chocolate or ice cream to get that satisfaction. Even mixing up some chocolate protein powder can do the trick! But here’s a secret you may not know, if you wait long enough, the craving that’s haunting you will actually pass. Sometimes all you need is a little distraction and that mind hunger suddenly disappears.
I’m a big believer on “Knowledge is Power”. The more you know, the easier it may feel to make a decision. Once you understand the reasonings behind the sensation of a craving, perhaps the choices you have can become a little bit clearer.