Find yourself Googling ‘food cravings meaning’ or wondering if food cravings actually a thing?
WH spoke to dietician and nutritional expert Laura Tilt to break down the evidence and decipher what on earth causes food cravings in the first place.
At least twice a month, I can be found with my head inside the kitchen cupboard, fingers feeling between the sticky patches, searching for the dregs of that pack of chocolate-coated-somethings I’m sure I bought months ago, because my body is telling me in no uncertain terms that it’s imperative I find them. Food cravings sure as hell feel real. But are they legit?
FOOD CRAVINGS: THE MEANING
First of all, let’s talk about #pregnancyproblems. Despite the fact that pregnancy cravings are a well-documented phenomenon, they haven’t been widely studied and scientists can’t seem to agree on a cause.
One theory is that high- calorie, sugary and fatty foods come top of the list of desirables because sensory perception heightens during pregnancy. But that doesn’t explain why cravings are so common among the non-expecting folk. In a study of more than 1,000 students published in Appetite, 97% of the women surveyed reported experiencing food cravings.
Five minutes spent consulting Dr Google and it’s easy to convince yourself that the juicy steak you’ve been fantasising about is your body crying out for iron. But while cravings research does suggest a link to nutrient deficiencies, the bulk of the evidence more firmly points to pica; a rare and bizarre condition that results in the body craving, and consumption of, non-food items such as soil and ice.
FOOD CRAVINGS: THE RESEARCH
If you can’t say no to that certain supermarket aisle, it’s more likely that psychological factors are at play. Research from Bioessays shows cravers are more likely to be bored or struggling with symptoms of anxiety, with low mood often occurring before a food craving.
With highly palatable foods (read: fatty, salty, sugary, delicious) triggering the release of dopamine in the brain, it’s no wonder the whiff of a freshly baked loaf can spark a Pavlovian response no matter your physical level of hunger. It explains why my head-in-the-cupboard episodes tend to occur after one helluva day.
If you’re reading this pre-period while mainlining Maltesers, as you were. Studies have found that cravings, particularly for sweet food and carbs, peak during the premenstrual phase of your cycle (to which I say, well duh). One explanation is the increase in oestrogen and progesterone during this phase; changes which, in turn, decrease your levels of serotonin. It could be that we crave feel-good food to compensate for this.
Interestingly, ongoing research into gut microbiome suggests a link between the gut and cravings. Though research is limited to animal studies, scientists believe that you might be able to influence food preferences with probiotics.
FOOD CRAVINGS: THE CONCLUSION
The upshot? Don’t beat yourself up.
The odd craving for a Pepperoni Passion and maxi tub of garlic and herb dip, but know it’s likely to be boredom, stress or a sod-it attitude rather than anything to do with a deficiency. Eating more mindfully – being aware of taste, texture and the sensation of eating – a protein-rich breakfast (try these healthy breakfast ideas) and a morning workout can all help keep them at bay.
Cooking tonight? Try these Joe Wicks recipes or healthy dinner options.