Do you ever find yourself sitting down at your desk or on the couch, suddenly stricken with food cravings that seemingly came from nowhere? Maybe you’re watching a favorite sitcom and you find yourself wanting a big bowl of sugary cereal, or a cheesy slice of hot pizza?
While the food cravings can come on suddenly and seem like they came out of nowhere, our desire for certain foods stems from some of the chemistry that is going on in our brain. More than that, certain foods can completely change our brain chemistry making us want more (or less) food.
For instance, have you ever noticed that it’s really easy to eat through a pint of ice cream without even realizing how much you’ve eaten? What about a bag of salty potato chips? Foods like these flood our brains with sensations of pleasure, muting our normal appetite signaling that tells us we’re full.
Not just that, but science has determined that the part of the brain that is affected by our favorite desserts and snacks is the same part that is affected by drugs and alcohol. So, your so-called ice-cream addiction, or potato chip addiction, could indeed be classified as a real addiction.
How to Control Your Food Cravings
Knowing how to control your food cravings so that you can maintain a healthy, balanced diet is all about learning why you’re craving the food you do. Once you figure out why your brain is signaling for these particular foods, you can provide your brain with healthier alternatives that will make it just as happy.
Do you find yourself craving cereal, bread, or something just as abundant in carbs in the late afternoon or evening? If so, it’s probably because your brain is low on serotonin, your brain’s natural anti-depressant. You’re most likely seeking the carbs to get an immediate boost in serotonin and feel re-energized.
Instead, you’ll want to reach for a protein source, like meat, peanut butter, or soybeans since they have amino acids, which are the building block of serotonin.
If you ever find yourself at the grocery store after work, heading straight to the bakery aisle or grabbing food from the checkout shelves, you’re probably experiencing low blood sugar symptoms because you’ve skipped a meal or haven’t had a properly balanced one. Similar to high-carb food cravings, you’re seeking food that will give you an immediate energy boost.
If you eat a more balanced meal rich with protein, fats, and fiber, you’re less likely to end up a hypoglycemic state where you’re grasping at any sugary or starchy object in sight.
Chocolate, Cheese, and Everything “Comfort Food”
When you’re craving some hearty macaroni and cheese or rich chocolate cake, your brain is probably low in endorphins and looking for a pick-me-up. These kind of comfort food cravings are all about providing you emotional relief and good feelings.
To prevent these kind of cravings, make sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet. You can also go for a run or hit the gym to get a boost of endorphins through exercise.
Crunchy, Salty Treats
Do you find yourself nibbling at popcorn, chips, or other salty snacks throughout the day? These kind of food cravings are often linked to stress and lowered levels of GABA (gamma amino butyric acid), a neurotransmitter in the brain that is responsible for relaxing you.
The best treatment for this kind of food craving is actually just rest and meditation. Having a balanced diet is all well and good, but until you manage to get adequate sleep and calm tension in the mind and body, you’ll only want to stress-eat your way to a state of relaxation.
Coffee, Soda, and Candy
If you’re desiring coffee, soda, or a bag of candy, then you’re probably feeling fatigued because your brain is low on dopamine and norepinephrine. The caffeine and high dose of sugar are your way of quickly boosting your sluggish mind and body, but it’s not an effective long-term solution.
Instead, focus on increasing your protein intake so that you can boost your energy levels on a consistent basis and not fall victim to this sort of energy crash.