Once in a while eating without being hungry or making room in the stomach for a special dessert post-meal is very common. All these normal natural food desires to eat special food can be a cause of concern if this becomes a frequent habit. It demands serious attention. If not addressed, these not so healthy food desires of eating food like chips, chocolate, soft drinks, candies, cakes etc makes us wander in the kitchen, provokes us to search the fridge or forces us to call food delivery services regularly or at odd hours.
These sudden abrupt eating habits or urges to eat a special food are known as food cravings. This bad food habit can lead to serious health problems if it becomes an addiction and starts controlling one’s mind and eating behaviour. It can lead to obesity, disproportionate body lipid levels, increase the chance of chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and atherosclerosis, disturbed emotional thinking process and poor quality of life.
How do you differentiate between real physical hunger and emotional food cravings?
It is very important to understand the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger or craving. All our senses work together to trigger the feeling of eating. First, our eyes get activated by the sight of food. Then the nose smells the food. The tongue tastes the food. The touch feels the mouthfeel of the food and the ears hear the sound of chewing food. During craving, all these senses are triggered by brain actions like emotional state, memories, stress and overall mental disturbances.
Hunger is the body’s need for energy. This builds slowly, occurs many hours after eating food, goes away after eating and leads to satisfaction easily. It starts with hunger pangs, followed by feelings of emptiness, nausea, irritability, headache, tiredness, difficulty concentrating and feeling the urgency to eat immediately.
Emotional hunger or food cravings
This develops unexpectedly, unrelated to time, persists irrespective of fullness and eating leads to guilt and shame. It brings a feeling of being deprived, an urgent desire to grab the craved food at any cost and craving starts controlling the mind and heart.
What are the causes of food cravings?
There are a few factors which lead to food cravings, mainly physical, mental and environmental. It is very important to be aware and identify these factors which trigger food cravings.
- Hormonal imbalance of hunger and fullness hormones during some disease conditions
- Hormonal changes during pregnancy, lactation and just before periods
- Too little or poor quality sleep and disturbed sleep-wake cycle
- Unhealthy and nutrient-deficient poor quality diet
- Inadequate water and fluid intake
- Weak intestinal digestion capacity due to some disease condition
- Increased physical activity
- High intake of processed fat, sugar and salt-rich foods
- Intake of medicines like antidepressants changes the body’s metabolism and alters the brain messaging pathway that controls appetite
- Chronic stress, anxiety and depression
- Impulsive and easily getting attracted toward addiction personality trait
- High tendency to get into a low mood and feel disturbed by small issues in life
Overindulgence in thinking about food content
- Using digital media to give spark to the brain reward pathways that improve mood
- Frequent and long exposure to social media food content like food vlogs, advertisements and food pictures
- Flourish increased screen time habits and develop a tendency to watch attractive food content as a prevalent recreational activity
Increased easy food delivery facility
- Unrepressed habit to use food delivery applications to fulfil food cravings instantly
- Regular lucrative frequent food offers on digital platforms
- Increase in food ordering applications
What are the easy ways to handle unhealthy food cravings?
- Eat a nutritious balanced diet including a variety of foods like protein and fibre rich foods which offers a feeling of fullness for a longer period
- Try not to keep your stomach empty for too long and practise eating small frequent meals
- Never skip or change meal time due to work schedule. Maintain a disciplined meal pattern daily.
- Learn to maintain the 2 hours gap between dinner and sleep. Also, avoid late-night snack eating
- Replace ultra-processed, high sodium, fat, sugar, calories and low nutrition snacks with nutritious fresh fruits, nuts, low-fat dairy products and complex carbohydrate recipes
- Limit or restrict environmental triggers to provoke cravings like scrolling through social media posts about food and gazing at online videos of people eating enormous quantities of unhealthy delicious meals and watching television cooking shows
- Avoid the craved food completely for an extended time
- Practice healthy mindful eating habits when sensing a craving urge
- Identify and understand your own emotions while feeling food cravings. Do breathing exercises, take a brisk 5-10 minute walk, listen to peaceful music and read a favourite book. 5 to 7 minutes of distractions will subside the craving feeling.
Replacing unhealthy addictive food craving habits with mindful eating is not an easy task. It’s a lifestyle discipline which needs a lot of courage, self-control and rock-solid willpower. It is mandatory to focus and be aware of self-beliefs, emotions and mental health whenever a craving urge evolves. It is insensible to anticipate that food cravings can be resisted by thinking logically. Practically managing food cravings by visualizing their long term health consequences is the best way to conquer them. Prospering self-control and not allowing anything else to disturb it is the right way to lead a fulfilled, satisfactory and healthy life.
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