For years scientists have struggled to explain how cravings can defy logic and nutrition, yet cause perfectly sane and healthy people to gorge themselves on junk food.
Now, however, one psychotherapist believes she may have the answer.
After years of working as a counsellor to drink and drug addicts, Dr Dorothy Virtue noticed strong similarities between their cravings for a ‘fix’ and her own out-of-control cravings for ice cream and bread.
YOUR CRAVINGS AND WHAT THEY MEAN
If you’re feeling stressed, resentful, bitter or frustrated, you’re likely to turn to foods that you crunch.
Crunching on crisps, popcorn, or crackers — even celery — can help ease tension in the body; they provide a cathartic outlet for all the tension held in the jaw and act like a delicious punching bag as we take out stress and anger in every crispy bite.
We crave creamy, soft foods such as ice cream or cheeses when we feel anxious, insecure, embarrassed and guilty, because they can be relaxing and comforting.
You are probably harbouring long-suppressed feelings of either jealousy, confusion, dread that something awful is going to happen, or self loathing.
Your urge to chew is linked to the innate belief that chewing will release the tension and help you work through your confusion. For example, are you craving toffees? You may be struggling with indecision.
Hot cravings means you crave excitement and intensity in your life, and may not be getting enough thrills. You have strong desires for novelty and change. Several researchers have correlated ‘sensation seeking’ with cravings for spicy, crunchy or sour foods, gourmet foods and unusual, exotic foods.
The chemicals inherent in nuts, as well as the textures associated with them, tend to soothe fun-deprived individuals, so cravings could indicate an expression of unmet needs for fun and pleasure. Cashews and peanuts contain large amounts of tyrosine, which raises blood pressure. Nuts also contain pyrazine, which triggers the pleasure centre of the brain.
The smell, texture, taste and inherent mood-altering properties of bread, rice and pasta make them some of the foods that are most craved by people who are stressed, tense or frightened.
When we get tense, our body assumes we are in danger and may need pain medication. The brain produces the hormone cortisol to anaesthetise any pain. Cortisol, in turn, stimulates production of another brain chemical called Neuropeptide Y, which triggers cravings for carbohydrates.
CAKES AND BISCUITS
Sweet carbohydrate cravings are similar to those from bread, rice and pasta. Both are high in carbohydrates, which produce quite soothing emotions.
A craving for biscuits, cakes and pies reflects a desire for comfort and reassurance, but it can also signal a resistance to doing something (you may take solace in the sweet deliciousness to avoid something you don’t want to do).
Chocolate is one of the most common cravings, particularly amongst women. This is because chocolate contains the same chemical — phenylethylamine — that your brain creates when we’re feeling romantic love.This is why many of us turn to chocolate when we are in need of love or feeling disappointed in a relationship.
What’s more, the high fat content also soothes feelings of emptiness, insecurity or loneliness, while the texture can be creamy if you need comfort, or crunchy if you’re angry.
Chocolate also contains a serotonin-like substance called diphenylamine, which appears to promote feelings of calm — so if serotonin and energy levels are drained by stress-filled days, too-tight schedules, unhealthy eating, and lack of exercise, we turn to chocolate to feel better.
HOW TO BEAT CRAVINGS