Commentary by Debra Balos, DO, IU Health Physicians Family Medicine – Zionsville
Ever wonder what causes you to crave certain foods? Do your cravings seem to occur in similar situations, such as when you’re under stress? Research points to specific areas of the brain – those involved with memory and sensing pleasure – that are responsible for food cravings. Cravings also are linked to emotions. They may arise as a way of reducing anxiety or relieving stress. Studies show that a combination of fat and sugar can have a calming effect, and carbohydrates increase levels of serotonin, a hormone that also induces calm.
If frequent cravings for indulgences like chocolate, potato chips or ice cream threaten to sabotage your nutrition or your waistline, there are strategies to help manage food cravings.
Seek lower-calorie alternatives. The taste of low-calorie and reduced-fat snacks and treats has come a long way. Find a few favorites to help satisfy your craving.
Don’t ignore hunger. Skipping meals or waiting too long to eat can make us so hungry that we crave something quick and satisfying – which may not always be the best choice. Eating small meals throughout the day can help fend off hunger-induced cravings.
Make wiser choices. If you crave carbohydrates, try those that are more nutritious like whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables.
Write it down. Sometimes managing food cravings is easier when you know more about why and when they strike. Keep a journal for a month, writing down when you have cravings and the circumstances. This may help you see patterns you can work to avoid.
Take time for yourself. Be sure to make time in your day to relax and rejuvenate. This can help lower stress, and therefore reduce the chance you’ll crave foods in response to stress.
Make a plan. When cravings hit, know how you’re going to respond. Find a pleasurable activity, such as walking or yoga, to engage in while the craving passes. To deal with cravings, some people find it helpful to eat just a small bite or serving of the food they crave instead of totally abstaining. Find the solution that works best for you.
Debra Balos, DO, specializes in family medicine. She is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Family Medicine, 55 Brendon Way, Ste. 800, in Zionsville. She can be reached by calling the office at 317.777.6400.