What causes food cravings
We can divide cravings into two parts – the psychological and the physiological. The body and the mind. Though sometimes a craving can be both at once.
Psychological or emotional cravings
Psychological cravings usually happen through emotional eating. Your inner Neanderthal and modern computer brain get crossed wires. Let’s say you have a pressing and seemingly impossible work deadline. Your computer or rational brain translates this pressure into stress. But your Neanderthal does not differentiate between types of stress. It thinks that stress represents a danger to survival. The best way to survive most perceived threats? Get fuelled up to make sure you don’t go short in this time of emergency. So, many different types of stress transform into hunger cravings. It could be loneliness, work pressure or sadness.
These are a little more simple and make up our natural survival strategy. When we are hungry we want to eat. Normal hunger differs from craving though. Physical cravings are usually caused by physical factors. Examples of this could be food deprivation and a lack of sleep. Hormonal imbalances, skipping meals and lack of hydration also contribute. Overtraining can be another common cause. Physical cravings can be easier to deal with but it is important to deal with the underlying causes.
How do I manage emotional or psychological cravings?
The first step is to pause when cravings strike and try to define your hunger. Emotional hunger:
Comes on suddenly.
Only makes you want a specific food.
Feels like you need to eat now.
Leaves you feeling guilty.
Once identified the best strategy to help with emotional eating is to fix the source. This source is your mind and the stress it is feeling. Meditation apps that encourage mindfulness are a good place to start. Calm or headspace are two that we recommend. Does your company provide any resillience training? This can also be very helpful. Therapy, hypnotherapy and counselling are also great ways to cope with emotional stress. Try spending time outdoors. Join a club or society. Openness about emotional issues with friends and family will also be helpful. Exercise is especially useful to create clarity and mental well-being.
Planning controlled treats can also improve the outcome during emotional cravings. Swapping chocolate biscuits for hummus and rice cakes would be a good example. It is a small improvement that you can buy beforehand and have ready for when a craving strikes. Find a treat that works for you that is an improvement on what you’d normally have.
How do I manage physical cravings?
Again, the first step is to pause when cravings strike and try to define your hunger. Physical hunger:
Comes on gradually.
Means you’ll eat whatever is available.
Feels like you could wait a little bit.
Doesn’t come attached with guilt.
Some of the techniques to manage psychological cravings will also work for physical cravings. These include:
Eat small and often to avoid getting too hungry. Plan indulgences ahead of time, giving in to cravings but in a planned and controlled way. Try to get a good night’s sleep. Lack of sleep will increase levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Make indulgences count – if you want cake, avoid a “free-from” or lower-calorie alternatives. Get the real thing (albeit a small slice) but eat it slowly, savour it. Include plenty of protein and fibre to stay feeling full for as long as possible. Don’t restrict something entirely – it will just become more desirable.
Acceptance and planning for cravings are the keys to success. Stress management, exercise, healthy eating and a good night’s sleep will also help.