We all crave certain foods from time-to-time and for most of us these tend to be those that are deemed to be ‘less healthy’. I prefer to use the term ‘less healthy’ as opposed to ‘bad’ because there’s nothing wrong with including all foods in your diet, it’s just a case of getting the balance right. It’s cool to enjoy a little of what you fancy but if you feel you have no control over your cravings, and it’s affecting your health, then you may want to get to the root of the problem.
Why do we crave foods for pleasure?
Cravings are often linked to our emotions and in times of stress or low mood we are more prone to seek out the foods that offer comfort. This might be because we associate these foods with memories of happy times and nostalgia, but it may also be a case of chemicals in the brain.
Regions in the brain responsible for pleasure and reward can play a role in the foods that we might crave. To some degree, we are hard-wired to seek out foods that stimulate feel-good centres in the brain, mostly those high in sugar and fat. In some cases, this can become somewhat addictive as the more sugar and fat we eat, the more sugar and fat we crave.
How do hormones affect cravings?
An imbalance of hormones may also play a role and while it’s not quite clear why some teenage girls crave carbohydrate foods (such as those high in sugar) during certain times during their menstrual cycle, it may be due to a drop in serotonin (the happy hormone). Carbohydrates help with the uptake of an amino acid into the brain, which is used to make serotonin.
How does stress impact on food cravings?
Stress may also play a role in both cravings and overeating. When stress is immediate and short term it can curb your appetite as we experience the fight-or-flight response. However, if your stress is more prolonged then a hormone called cortisol can increase your appetite and motivation to eat.
How does sleep impact on food cravings?
A lack of sleep may also play a role. Waking up tired may have you reaching for quick-fix foods and drinks (like energy drinks) to help ‘boost’ your energy levels, but this effect only lasts for a short while and can leave you feeling worse once the initial rush wares off. Feeling tired may also dampen your mood leaving you less motivated to eat well and could have you reaching for comfort foods.
How does hunger impact on food cravings?
Another thing to consider is your lifestyle. Teenagers these days are often rushing around from pillar to post and as a result this may lead to erratic eating patterns including skipping meals. Teenage girls in particular are often influenced by their friends and social media when it comes to diet which is not always a good thing.
If you do want to explore different diets, then try to seek out the right advice on how to do so by checking out websites such as https://www.bda.uk.com. I never like telling people what to do but my advice is to avoid faddy diets supported by unqualified social media influencers and celebrities. Believe me, I work in this industry and what you see on Instagram is rarely what’s going on in real life with these guys!
If you lead an active lifestyle then you need to fuel it and when your body is running on low, you’re more likely to start craving food which is more about hunger than anything else. This can however influence food choices which may be limited by availability and access to food so try and keep something healthy to hand.
How can you tackle food cravings?
Start by eating regularly and focus on nourishing meals that supply you with enough energy to meet your daily needs. Nourishing meals are those made up of healthy carbs (brown rice, bread, pasta – but white is OK), protein (meat, fish, cheese, tofu, beans, pulses), healthy fats (nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado) and plenty of veggies. These foods will keep you feeling full between meals and can help stave off the urge to snack.
- Keep healthy snacks to hand such as fruit, nuts, seeds and healthy snack bars. If you’re at home, then yoghurt with fruit or hummus with pitta bread or chopped veggies are good options.
- Find ways to address your stress. This is different for everyone and could involve exercise, meditation (there are lots of cool apps to help with this), something more creative or even calling a friend for a chat.
- Try and get enough sleep. This is a tricky one but start with good sleep hygiene techniques which may include a hot bath, herbal tea, reading before bed, writing down your thoughts before you sleep and making sure your room is tidy, dark and quiet (freshly laundered bed linen always helps).
- Don’t ever feel guilty about the food choices you make as there is no such thing as good or bad foods. If you’re hankering for chocolate or sweets and you know nothing else will do then just go with it but try to do so mindfully. Whether its chocolate, Haribo’s or a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, watch your portion size and create a perfect enjoyable moment by eating your food slowly so you have time to savour the taste, smell and mouthfeel.
- There are lots of reasons why we crave certain foods. Sometimes you just fancy a treat but, in some cases, cravings are led by our mood and emotions.
- If you’re concerned about your snacking habits then figuring out the reasons why you’re craving foods is the first step in addressing how to tackle the issue.
Rob Hobson is a registered nutritionist.
There are some great Apps out there full of easy recipes such as Yummly, and Food Network in the Kitchen. Plus if you like photographer and pictures try Foodgawker For proper nutrition diet advice try https://www.bda.uk.com