Truth: This myth seems a little too convenient for this time of year, with cookies and sugar plums at every turn! But before you go reaching for another treat-research had found that this intense desire for specific foods is actually the result of conditioning. That’s right, we don’t crave sweets because we are lacking glucose, but rather quite the opposite: we are having too much!
Dr. Martin and colleagues (2008) asked participants of this study to note how often they gave in to cravings of foods high in fats (more dense, like fried foods), sweets, carbohydrates, or fast food fats (like pizza and burgers). Then individuals were offered a sample food from each group and asked to rate each one. The food group that individuals had been consuming the most of that month was also what they were still craving and considered the most appealing.
Our natural reward systems release the ‘feel good’ hormone, dopamine, when we participate in activities that bring us pleasure. Dr. Blum and colleagues (2011) has found that these same neuronal circuits activated by indulging in cravings work similarly in drug relapse. Just the thought of food has the power to trigger areas in the brain mediating the integration of emotion, cognition, arousal, and the regulation of energy balance. Perhaps this is why we often dislike certain foods after getting sick from them!
The holidays, however, elicit positive memories associated with family gatherings and copious amounts of food- making it even more difficult to resist cravings during this time of year. The key is to be in touch with your body, recognizing when you are actually hungry and in need of nutritional sustenance as opposed to satisfying a surge of emotions. And lets be real, a cookie won’t kill you- but if you are really struggling with giving in to temptation, here are a some ideas to help alter this neuronal process:
1. Realize- the first step is making the decision to break this learned rewards circuit.
2. Make some new memories- associating satisfaction with eating properly proportioned and healthy meals.
- Slow it down- try to double the time you normally spend sitting down and ingesting a portion. A way to really enjoy your food is by taking the time to savor it.
3. Keep a food journal- we hear this one again and again, but given the mechanism behind cravings, this can have a huge impact! Not only to keep track of what you have been consuming in order to evaluate and make adjustments, but also to help process how you feel about it.
4. Communicate- sometimes as a women I do this naturally, as if compelled by some strange force (perhaps of estrogen, but that’s another Myth Buster) to confess that I ate half a pan of pumpkin cake for breakfast (but it was gluten freeeeeeeeee)! This goes back to the process being very similar to that of addiction. AA meetings are effective in reducing relapse due to what factors? Communication, validation, support, accountability.
- Find others ready to seriously resist indulging in detrimental cravings.
- Share stories, strategies, tips, recipes…. hugs. What do you have to share?
Until next time,
Blum, K.,; Liu, Y.,; Shriner, R., and; Gold, M.(2011). Reward Circuitry Dopaminergic Activation Regulates Food and Drug Craving Behavior. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 17 (12), 1158-1167. http://dx.doi.org/10.2174/138161211795656819
Martin, C. K., O’Neil, P. M., Tollefson, G., Greenway, F. L., & White, M. A. (2008). The association between food cravings and consumption of specific foods in a laboratory taste test.(Report). Appetite, (2), 324. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2008.03.002