Why You’re Craving Unhealthy Foods (Part 1)

When discussing food cravings with people there is always a sense of shame and guilt,  almost as if  the person is doing something wrong or they feel bad about the food they want to eat.

Food cravings aren’t anything to feel shame or guilty about, people need to understand that food choices are not them, and they do not reflect who that person is.

In a lot of regards people really are making a concerted effort to eat better food and move their body more.

For many it feels like their brain is trying to sabotage their goals with cravings for foods they’re trying to avoid.

The fact remains that food cravings are a completely normal part of our human existence and in a lot of regards foods cravings are what helped us to get to this point in human evolution.

Our brains are hardwired to have a reward center that’s  stimulated by certain flavors from foods. When we taste a certain flavor it allowed us to know that a food was safe to eat, and nutrient/calorie dense.

For most of our evolution, excluding the past few decades these sources of flavor were always attached to source of nutrient/calorie density that helped ensure our survival and proved our mating potential.

I go into a lot more detail on how our brains actually encourage us to gain body fat in my blog series “ It’s Your Brain Making You Gain Fat” you can read Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE.

For the purposes of this blog though we are going to be covering the top reasons that people find themselves craving these unhealthy foods. I’m especially excited to write this blog because I know that some of these reasons will surprise you and make you think.

Before we can start thinking about why you’re have the food cravings though it’s important to realize that there are a number of different reasons that people experience food cravings and some of them have nothing to do with food,exercise or sleep or anything that’s taken place in the last five to ten years… sounds crazy right ? Just more reason to keep reading!

3 Types Of Food Cravings

Interestingly enough there isn’t even on type of universal food craving that people experience there are three distinct types of food cravings that people experience.

 All three types of food cravings stem from something completely different, and in a lot of regards the third type of cravings (associative) could be viewed as a combination of the first two ( supportive and emotional) . Let’s take a closer look at each one of these types of food cravings in greater detail. 

1.) Supportive Craving

Supportive cravings happen when the body and brain recognize a deficiency that needs to be fulfilled, a food that could help with an imbalance or something that could support healing in the body.

Some of these cravings will happen and make sense like those who crave chocolate and are low in magnesium. When someone is sick and craves citrus fruit for the vitamin c and boost to immune function.

When women are on their cycle they commonly have cravings for calcium and magnesium rich foods. Personally when I have digestive problems I experience strong cravings for fermented foods.

Other supportive cravings would make less sense and are highly individual to that person specifically but our body, and brains are pretty intelligent.

2.) Emotional Craving

It’s really common to hear people describe themselves as a stress or anxiety eater, meaning they crave and  consume a certain type of food to alleviate a negative feeling , emotion or use the food as a reward.  

These foods consumed with an emotional craving are typically high reward foods rich in sugar, refined carbohydrates, salt and fat which stimulate the release of the feel good hormone dopamine.

The dopamine rush from the food alleviates the negative emotions and feelings, but the positive feeling from the food is temporary and is usually accompanied by an energy and mood crash which leads to more negative feelings driving them to consume more high reward foods.

Over time if someone consumes these high reward  foods on a more frequent basis in large amounts the brain will actually become dopamine resistant.

When the brain becomes dopamine resistant it will  require larger and larger amounts of the food to produce enough dopamine and be able to achieve the positive feelings they are looking for. Many times this can be the path to food addiction, and eating disorders.

3.) Associative Cravings

This is a  craving for a food that has a meaningful association with our past, commonly an experience or a fond memory. The food that a person has a craving for is deeply rooted in a positive emotional experience or memory around that food.

As an example you used to go out and get ice cream sundaes with your grandfather as a kid. You loved your grandpa dearly and had lots of fond memories of with him.

Nowadays you’re much older and your grandpa has passed away five years ago, and when you think of him you crave an ice cream sundae, even though you haven’t had one in years.

The craving for the ice cream sundae is actually the craving you have for the love and memories experienced with your grandpa, not the ice cream… well maybe the ice cream too.

Alright folks that’s it for this week, stay tuned for Part 2 next week when we’re going to be discussing the most common triggers for craving unhealthy foods, guaranteed that a few of these will be a big surprise to you!

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