The Science Of Why You Have Food Cravings

Why do you really really want a red velvet cupcake right now? Here’s exploring the science behind your food cravings

4 min read
Hindi Female

At 10 in the morning, the thought of a double chocolate brownie seems divine. Post lunch it’s so seductive that your brain starts chanting louder and louder until you cave in and give it exactly what it wants.

Yum... the brownie is unputdownable.

We’ve all been there.

The saltiness of potato wafers, the satiny touch of a chocolate, the richness of a cake or the greasiness of a pizza - there’s no sure shot way of telling why these food joneses are so powerful but experts say cravings could signal certain deficiencies or other health issues.

So what tricks your 10,000 taste buds into cravings even when you are not hungry?

Brain Conditioning

Why do you really really want a red velvet cupcake right now? Here’s exploring the science behind your food cravings
We are drowning in food craving and will power ain’t always the answer. For the record, hunger is not the same as cravings. The body regulates the former, while the mind wields greater power over the latter (Photo: iStock altered by The Quint) 

It’s a Netflix night and before you know, out of nowhere, in the middle of the week you’re polishing off a cheesy pizza with coke. How did that happen?

The problem is ‘brain conditioning’. This is a classic case of Pavlov’s dog. To refresh your memory, Ivan Pavlov was a Russian scientist who got a Nobel Prize for his work on digestive processes more than a century back. Through a series of experiments on dogs, Pavlov found that food cravings are a result of brain conditioning and more of a psychological response rather than physiological one.

Meaning that food cravings are different from straight-up hunger.

I’ve noticed this thing - when I binge watch Suits, I always have this unshakeable desire to munch popcorns and diet coke. It’s post dinner, I’m not hungry and it’s not even the weekend but for whatever reason, I’ve trained my brain to think that special show = special food. It’s literally as simple as this. It is simple but very a tough habit to break.

Cravings are also tied to the brain’s memory center. High fat, high sugar, processed foods activate and even alter the same reward centres in the brain which are affected by alcohol and drugs. You can have all the will power in the world, but if the brain’s reward system is activated in the way that it wants a doughnut for every bit of happy news, then you’re drowning in a sea of cravings and it becomes a battle against your will power.

Cravings might not be the best diagnostic tools, but in some cases, food cravings are a sign that your body needs a specific nutrient.

Craving Sugar? Here’s What’s Wrong With You

Why do you really really want a red velvet cupcake right now? Here’s exploring the science behind your food cravings
(Photo courtesy: Tumblr/CLAIREDEKAT)

All I want is love, peace, understanding and a chocolate bar bigger than my head; reads a portrait in my bedroom.

Is that your emotion too? Are you getting your period, pregnant or having a sucky day?

Sugary delights like chocolates and cupcakes are loaded with fats and sugars, people tend to crave them when they think it is totally okay to eat them. They increase your brain’s serotonin levels which enhances mood, lift spirits, calms the raging hormones when Aunt Flo comes knocking or is just another excuse to indulge.

Uneven blood sugar levels, often the result of a carb dominated diet can also cause sweet cravings after a meal. So a bowl of spaghetti, will increase cravings but a meal of greens and proteins will curb them.

Salty Lips

Why do you really really want a red velvet cupcake right now? Here’s exploring the science behind your food cravings
(Photo courtesy: Tumblr/WAYWAW)

Are your dehydrated?

Thirst can often guise itself as hunger for salty food because salt helps retain water. So check if you’re drinking at least 8 to 10 glasses of water in a day.

Salt craving in chips, fries can also be due to stress. Studies show the crunch you get when you bite a pretzel or a chip, helps alleviate stress. And a research by the University of Utah showed that people who meditate can reduce their stress hormones by 30% and the bingeing in half.

The Craving Cure

Make a more sincere effort to eat a well-balanced diet. Why? Because skipping meals and being on fad diets will make your body low in nutrition and you’ll go into a craving overdrive.

The golden rule to curb cravings: drink a tall glass of water. 80% office going people are chronically dehydrated. So before you reach for food, quench the temptation with water. Then wait for half an hour. More often than not, they’ll be gone.

Also Read: Stop Counting Calories! (There are Better Ways to Lose Weight)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)


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