Adapted from the Nutrition and You! blog on Boston.com.
Many people have them. It is an all-encompassing feeling. Your body is craving chocolate, chips, or whatever, and you have to have it. You begin hunting through your kitchen cupboards looking for the specific food or anything close to it.
Food cravings, an intense desire for a specific food, occur in up to 97 percent of individuals. By far, chocolate is the most frequently cited food that cravers would “die for,” with salty snacks a close second, according to a study in the International Journal of Obesity.
There are multiple theories as to why people have these intense feelings for a food. Dieting can be a trigger. In a study of almost 130 women, those who were dieting to lose weight had significantly more intense craving for chocolate than non-dieters. This is the Adam and Eve syndrome. If you make a food “forbidden,” you are going to want it more.
Sleep deprivation can be another trigger. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that sleep-deprived young adults had a change in their brain activity, measured by a type of magnetic resonance imaging, and an increased yen for sweet and salty foods. “What we have discovered is that high-level brain regions required for complex judgments and decisions become blunted by a lack of sleep, while more primal brain structures that control motivation and desire are amplified,” said Matthew Walker, a professor of psychology and neuroscience and senior author of the study.
Hunger can also feed into food cravings, and Bonnie Taub-Dix, a registered dietitian nutritionist and author of “Read It Before You Eat It,” says cravings can be a release for emotional issues such as stress and boredom.
Here are some tips that may help you reduce your intense yen for specific foods:
■ When dieting to lose weight, factor in a 50- to 100-calorie daily or weekly “treat” so you don’t feel deprived.
■ Don’t run yourself ragged. Get an adequate amount of sleep nightly so that you are mentally stronger to make healthier food choices.
■ Avoid hunger between meals. If you consistently have cravings late in the afternoon, it may be a signal that you are not eating enough at lunch. Make sure that your meals contain adequate amounts of fruits, veggies, whole grain, and lean protein. Add some healthy oils for staying power between meals.
■ Keep a food record to see whether there is a pattern to your cravings. Keep yourself busy to prevent boredom and look to physical activity to relieve stress or anxiety during your day. A quick 10-minute brisk walk may be all you need to manage emotions that are triggering unplanned, impulsive eating.