I’m sure you’ve experienced it. Seemingly out of nowhere, you’re going along your day, and a craving hits. A passionate desire for something not-so-healthy like a candy bar or a bag of Doritos or a whole package of cookies. Research says we most often crave chocolate, and the craving is real: it is an actual chemical reaction going on in our brain.
Researchers at Monell Chemical Senses Center and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine asked people to think about their favorite foods, and used MRI technology to see how their brains responded. They found that chocolate and chips light up the same areas of the brain as addictive drugs. This means there is a good chance you will “overdose” or eat too much of that cherished item.
Unfortunately research in this area is still scarce, so how to overcome these cravings is not yet entirely clear. For now, there seem to be two expert opinions. The first is to cave to your craving, at least in moderation, and others say you have to hold strong and resist. Research to date supports both opinions. Some studies show that animals deprived of their favorite sugary foods will continue to crave them for at least one month. Others show that we are simply unable to resist such cravings at all. A study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse gave rats large quantities of high fat food pellets, then took them away. The rats eventually gave up pushing the lever to get the food. However, when the rats were later given more of the food, the rats began pushing the lever non-stop. It was as if some perpetual desire switch was turned on in their brains.
The main chemical involved in this phenomenon is dopamine. Dopamine is known to be linked to both food cravings and drug addiction. Once you taste or feel something that gives you pleasure, your brain releases dopamine, which makes you crave more of that something. Later, a hint of the treat will result in a craving.
To decide if you should “give it up or give in”, take a look at your own personality type. Are you the type of person who can be happy with a small amount of a treat, or are you the “addictive type” who can’t stop at just one? The good news is that either way, it is still possible to lose weight. Here are the strategies to use based on your personality type:
If you need to give it up:
- When you have a craving, research has shown that a five-second maneuver with your fingers can distract you. Your working memory doesn’t have much space, so you can crowd out your craving by putting all of the fingers of one hand on your forehead, slightly apart. At intervals of one second, tap each finger while you look up at it. Repeat this trick until you start thinking about something else.
- Take a 15-minute walk. A study from the University of Exeter showed that just fifteen minutes on their feet can distract chocoholics sufficiently from their cravings that they can go on and do something else.
- Another study, from Wheeling Jesuit University, showed that sniffing peppermint throughout the day resulting in eating fewer calories throughout the week. The focus on the scent distracts from the craving.
- Call a friend.
- Learn mindfulness techniques. A study from Drexel University in Pennsylvania found that those who meditate or who practice mindfulness are better able to resist cravings than those who aren’t trained in those practices.
- Eat sufficiently so you are not hungry. Fill up on your healthy meals and don’t ever skip meals. If you aren’t hungry, you won’t have as many cravings.
If you can give in for a small amount:
- Make sure you have only the best quality. You’re more likely to be fulfilled with a single gourmet bonbon than some cheap substitute that doesn’t really satisfy your craving.
- Add something to your treat. Limit yourself to just a few chips, but have them with a healthy but yummy dip such as hummus or yogurt with dill. Rounding out your snack will help you resist eating more and will leave you more satisfied.
- Don’t keep the treats at home. If they are in front of you, you’ll be tempted more often. When you have a craving that doesn’t go away, you can make the effort to satisfy it by going to the store and buying a small amount of it.
- Clear your palate by drinking water or brushing your teeth. Having the taste or flavor linger can trigger more cravings.