Why Can’t I Crave Healthy Food?

Earlier this week, I was really- and I mean really craving salty foods, specifically seasoned french fries and/or tortilla chips with salsa. At first, I tried to substitute something healthier to make up for this craving; but in the end, I wound up making a couple of trips to the local fast food place to get some french fries only to follow that up by practically eating an entire bag of tortilla chips a couple of days later. Almost immediately, I felt bad about eating so terribly, but what could I have done? The craving was that strong; I couldn’t ignore it!

Understanding Food Cravings

According to the International Food Information Council & Food Insight, some researchers speculate that food cravings arise in an effort to supply the body with nutrients that it lacks. For example, a diet that is extremely low in calories (like mine has been lately) may cause extreme carbohydrate cravings…(which might explain why I almost felt the need to polish off an entire loaf of bread earlier in the week). Susan Schiffman, PhD professor of medical psychology at Duke University Medical Center says the following:

Carbohydrate cravings can simply be from hunger because your blood sugar levels are too low.

However, food cravings have also been linked to other physiological needs. Carbohydrate cravings in people who exercise a lot could be caused by the depletion of glycogen stores, which is typically replenished by carbohydrates. Additionally, there have been links made between serotonin levels and carbohydrates in which consuming too few carbohydrates can result in reduced levels of serotonin, thereby driving intense periods of food cravings.

What is Serotonin?

According to one website’s definition:

Serotonin is a hormone that is found naturally in the human brain; it is also found in the digestive tract and platelets of some animals, including human beings. It is also found in a variety of plant sources, including vegetables, fruits, and even mushrooms. Categorized as a neurotransmitter, it is important in transmitting nerve impulses. It is also described as a vasoconstrictor, which is a substance that can cause narrowing of the blood vessels. The amino acid, tryptophan, is credited with producing serotonin in the body. 

Ways to Reduce Your Food Cravings

Eating can be extremely complex. Beyond simply eating to satisfy hunger, there still looms the issue of eating “for comfort” to satisfy some underlying physiological or psychological issue. For example, some people eat certain foods because they may like the texture, taste, aroma or color. For others, consuming a particular food item may remind them of a pleasant experience or memory in their life such as “the apple pie that grandma used to make” or “that pasta dish that mom used to make”. The following are some ways to help reduce your food cravings:

  1. Exercise- It has been scientifically proven that exercising significantly improves food cravings by releasing chemicals called endorphins into our bodies, which help to control the urge to eat. For example many athletes such as runners will go out for a long run and not feel all that hungry right after they finish. For the average person, you should try to aim for at least thirty (30) minutes of exercise each day- even if it’s jogging in place!
  2. For the Ladies- They call it “the curse,” but it has been a long-known fact that when women are experiencing PMS, they often have cravings for different types of food (usually sugary or fatty foods). Some researchers credit this to our hormones being out of whack. Regardless, if you’re serious about figuring out why it is you crave what you do, keeping a diary and taking note of what you eat during your periods can help you find some answers.
  3. Eat Regularly-Did you ever hear the saying from your doctor, “You should never skip breakfast,” or “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day…”? It’s true! Skipping meals can cause your blood sugar levels to fall drastically, which naturally causes food cravings and often leads many people to overeat or binge eat. Ideally, you should try to eat a small meal every few hours (i.e. 3-4 hours for women and 4-5 hours for guys). Small meals can consist of anything from a box of raisins and a yogurt to a banana and half of a sandwich. The main thing that you are trying to do here is keep your blood glucose levels stable, which will help your metabolism as well as reduce cravings associated with PMS.
  4. Watch the Calories- The vast majority of us are seldom ever happy with our weight, which is why diets are so popular. However, people who are consuming 800 calories a day or less should only be doing so if they have been consulted by a doctor. Otherwise, this can be extremely dangerous. Medical experts do not recommend diets consisting of fewer than 1100 calories. Instead, if you are really trying to lose those pounds, aim for at least a 1200 calorie diet, and focus your efforts on consuming nutrient-rich foods such as plenty of fresh veggies and fresh fruit while nixing the sugary and fatty stuff such as that bag of Swedish Fish that you can never seem to get enough of.
  5. Watch the Sugar & Processed Foods- Did you know that consuming refined sugars can actually make your food cravings worse? It can also make the healthier food options on your menu such as fresh fruits, veggies and oats seem excessively bland. This is often due to the overconsumption of refined sugars as well as processed foods. If you reduce your intake of refined sugars and trade it in for the better sugars (such as the ones found in fruit), then you should see a difference.

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More die in the United States of too much food than of too little. -John Kenneth Galbraith

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