The Truth About Food Cravings


Guy Craving a Burger

Every have cravings for a particular food? Let me guess... it wasn't spinach. Many eaters falsely believe that food cravings are the body's way of telling us that our body is in short supply of a particular nutrient. Seldom is that the case. Cravings for sugary, creamy or salty foods are most likely grounded in the "pleasure" and "reward" sectors of the brain as a response to situations that maybe creating feelings of anxiety or fear (our innate "flight" or "fight" mechanism). After all, there's nothing special about a burger from White Castle unless you grew up eating them like Harold and Kumar.  

That's not to say that there aren't eating disorders which have been well-documented. Records of individuals with persistent cravings for nonfood substances such as soil, clay or ashes can be traced to ancient times. Today, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the handbook used by mental health professionals in the United States and much of the world, classifies these as feeding disorders (often seen in children and hidden in adults) as Pica. Substances that are often devoured by those suffering from the pica include soil, clay, ice, laundry starch, cigarette butts, ashes, hair, paint chips and paper.

The modern day belief that food cravings are related to nutritional deficiencies may have stemmed from theories that iron deficiency may be a major cause of pica. However, there is still uncertainty in the medical community as to whether iron deficiency is the cause or the result of the behavior; and evidence does exist that supports the presence of underlying psychological components, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, mental retardation, autism, pregnancy and cultural beliefs. But don't worry if you like to occasionally crunch on a cup of ice. Pica is characterized by the compulsive or somewhat uncontrolled eating of a largely non-nutritive substance.

So where do where do your obsessive food cravings come? Research studies have suggested that people who crave a specific food tend to have very vivid images in their brain that can even interfere with their ability to perform cognitive tasks. Volunteers who were craving a particular food struggled with tasks in comparison to a control group until the craving was satisfied. At that point, the group actually outperformed the control group. However, it can be dangerous to give in to cravings and stuff down a chocolate cake every time you have a mental lapse. Binge-eating can sabotage your diet as well as trigger feelings of guilt and shame. You're much better off to seek the guidance of a mental healthcare provider or a certified dietician who help you understand and curb your non-hunger related food cravings.

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