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It's Mostly In Your Head. Put The 'Cuffs On Cravings.

March 10, 2017

Why does the word craving have such an unhealthy connotation often associated with addiction?  You never hear about anyone craving freedom, frivolity or even facts.  A craving is simply a strong relentless desire to obtain something.  It could be any drug including alcohol.  It could be an experience.  Once we're exposed to a particular craving like sex or gambling & enjoy the experience, it's extremely hard to shut that craving down.

 

I decided to conduct a very unscientific study on what people crave the most.  Women crave food more than men.  Women are more likely to crave savory foods than men.  Men are more likely to crave sweet foods than women.  Not all cravings are universal.  Social conditioning places a huge role.  For example Japanese women crave sushi more than chocolate.  

 

I did a Google search for each one of these items.  I wanted to know how many results each search produced.  Without further adieu I bring you the 16 most craved foods or drinks:

 

1.  chocolate (4,000,000,000)

2.  cookies (2,400,000,000)

3.  coffee (1,470,000,000)

4.  wine (972,000,000)

5.  cake (841,000,000)

6.  pizza (763,000,000)

7.  pie (678,000,000)

8.  beer (640,000,000)

9.  cheese (459,000,000)

10.  ice cream (332,000,000)

11.  burger (293,000,000)

12.  cupcakes (228,000,000)

13.  crackers (78,600,000)

14.  french fries (49,300,000)

15.  frozen yogurt (31,000,000)

16.  potato chips (16,000,000) 

 

That's quite a list.  Joy to the world!  

 

In the spirit of March Madness, sweet foods get the number 1 seed. Fatty foods are ranked number 2.  I expected a little more out of savory foods which came in a distant third place.  It's a rebuilding year for you, savory foods.  You are not ready for prime time, but we still love your salty essence! That being said many salty foods come with a crunchy texture.  Which is more important: the crunch of a chip or pretzel or the salt?  When it comes to cravings, it's easy to overlook the role food texture & spiciness play.

 

What triggers crazy cravings?

 

First of all it's important to make the distinction between actually being hungry & craving a particular food or drink.  Your stomach hungers.  Your mind craves.  Always take care of your hunger and/or thirst first.  Secondly most cravings are not the result of a nutritional deficiency.  In other words you don't crave a milkshake because you're not getting enough calcium.  You don't crave chocolate because you have a magnesium deficiency.  

 

Serotonin

 

Serotonin plays a huge role in your brain & body.  Your gut houses 80 to 90% of your serotonin.  Serotonin regulates mood, appetite & sleep.  It has a calming influence that keeps you balanced. Serotonin makes you feel content.  Cravings often strike when your serotonin is low.  Essentially when your serotonin is low, you're more likely to reach for a comfort food.  It might be something sugary, fatty or salty.  Your emotional state definitely drives your cravings.  It's interesting that a happy feeling is more likely to drive a craving than a sad feeling.  Sleep affects so many different things including stress, anxiety & how you eat & drink.  

 

"Insane in the membrane.  Insane in the brain."

 

Believe it or not your brain runs on sugar.  95% of your brain's fuel is glucose.  While your brain is only 2% of your body weight, it consumes 20% of your calories.  I know.  I didn't know that either.  I know some of you are thinking that I really need to be kind & feed my brain more sugar.  Nope.  I'll give you some strategies to manage cravings soon.

 

Dopamine = Feeling Dope

 

It would have been super cool if scientists had derived dope from dopamine.  Sorry.  There is no connection.  Dopamine is a feel good chemical that regulates memory, cognition, focus, sleep & mood. Dopamine affects your hippocampus - the place where your brain stores memories. It makes sense that cravings are largely memory based. Think about the less than stellar popcorn that movie theaters serve. Beyond the 1,275% markup, we buy it because as soon as we enter the theater, our conditioning takes over & our popcorn craving resurfaces.

 

Dopamine acts as an opioid.  Heroin, sugar, fat & even laughter activate the pleasure center of the brain.  We all enjoy the rush that comes from certain foods or drinks.  The hypothalus & especially the amygdala are the hedonic hotspots of the brain.  These 2 areas of the brain light up like a Christmas tree when dopamine comes to town.

 

This Might Help.

 

First of all do you really want to live a life devoid of sugar, fat & salt? Count me out.  However there are ways to control your cravings to an acceptable extent.

 

1.  Get enough fiber, protein & fat.  You'll feel full & content.  You'll be less susceptible to emotionally driven cravings.  Try to get fiber, protein & fat with every meal.  Hunger can be a gateway to craving. Avoid hunger.  Keep your 2 hunger hormones, ghrelin & leptin, in check.

 

2.  Don't eliminate deserts & other unhealthy foods from your diet completely.  Keep it under control.  As long as one small slice or serving doesn't become a couple slices or servings, you should be ok.  Practice moderation.

 

3.  Focus on your sleep.  When you're not sleeping well, you're not functioning well & you're more prone to emotionally driven cravings.

 

4.  If you feel a craving coming on, distract yourself.  Go outside. Walk.  Run.  Talk with a friend.  Watch a funny video.  Take 3 deep breaths.  Stretch.  Meditate.  You're reading this, so you know how to read.  Why not read a few pages of the newspaper or a book?  Adult coloring books are flying off bookstore shelves.  All of these practices have the added benefit of helping you manage stress.  Be nice to yourself!

 

5.  Drink enough water.  Sometimes you're not hungry; you're just thirsty.  If you're having a sugar craving, you might want to add a little zing to your water.  Try mint, lemons, limes, cucumbers, basil, etc.

 

6.  Tea might head off a craving or take your mind off a craving.  Kombucha tea, a fermented tea, is one possibility.  You might try adding whole ginger and lemons to hot water as well.

 

7.  Gum works for some people.

 

8.  Take your index finger & tap your forehead 30 times.  Rest assured I'm not trying to punk you.  I heard it works, but I've never tried it.  Supposedly the tapping removes the image of the craving from your brain.

 

9.  Practice mindful eating.  This brings awareness as to whether you're hungry or just craving something.  You'll enjoy the eating & drinking experience more too.

 

10.  Flossing, brushing & rinsing will throw a cold blanket over your craving.  Of the 3 I think flossing is the best craving deterrent because it requires the most time.  If I succumb to a craving & have to brush or rinse again, it's no big deal.  However it's a pain in the ass if you have to floss again.

 

11. The manufacturers of spinach extract claim it reduces hunger & cravings.  I don't know if there is much research to support these claims, but it's worth checking into.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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