Fully 97 percent of women and 67 percent of men experience food cravings, that intense yearning for a triple-decker chocolate cake or salty tortilla chips dipped in spicy salsa.
Important Fact No. 1: Such cravings are psychological, not physical.
Important Fact No. 2: Give in to your food cravings too frequently and you'll get fat.
Men typically crave protein, fat, and salt: Roast beef, burgers, fries, steak, pizza and chips.
Women are more likely to crave sweet, high-carbohydrate, high-fat foods: Chocolate, cookies, ice cream, pasta, and bread.
The Washington Post reports that cravings do help fuel chronic over-consumption of calories. After all, if you're craving that raspberry chocolate ice cream, you're not going to eat just a teaspoon of it. And don't fool yourself into thinking that irresistible craving is actually your body's way of supplying a missing nutrient. It's not.
That oft-cited theory was tested recently by Marcia Pelchat, an associate professor at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a private research facility in Philadelphia. A group of healthy, young adults was placed on a liquid diet that provided everything they needed--calories, vitamins, and minerals. But some of the participants still craved specific foods, which led Pelchat to conclude that "nutritional deficits are not necessary for cravings."
Even if it isn't a physical need, it is a psychological desire. Adam Drewnowski, who researches food cravings at the University of Washington's Center for Public Health Nutrition in Seattle, said he thinks people develop food cravings as a result of stress. To compensate, the body "drives them in the direction of food, usually food with sugar and fat," Drewnowski told the Washington Post. "I often notice that offices with very stressful mental work and deadlines usually have bowls of M&M's around." The candy's fat and sugar bathes the brain in endorphins--those feel-good chemicals that make that intense work more bearable.
How can you beat your cravings? The Washington Post offers these suggestions:
- Trick your craving into a low-calorie option.
If you just have to have chocolate, go for chocolate sorbet instead of ice cream. Choose pretzels over potato chips.
- Distract yourself.
You have to have the popcorn. Before you get it, wait 15 to 20 minutes and do something besides think about it. Sometimes the craving will go away.
- Eat a variety of foods.
Most people crave what they're not getting in their normal diet--be it taste or texture.
- Get the "trigger" foods out of the house.
Crave potato chips? Don't buy them.
- Give in.
Go ahead and eat what you crave, but just a tiny bit.