What causes our cravings and how can we curb them?

We all crave certain foods, when we’re pregnant, stressed and even when it’s that time of the month but why? Is it out of our control or can we curb those niggling feelings that make us turn to those sweets and treats?

Let’s start with everyday life. Many of us crave sweet or savoury foods everyday but why? Well, there are certain triggers in our lives that induce our cravings such as environmental triggers, mood induced triggers and gender also plays a big part in our cravings. Environmental triggers such as walking past a McDonalds and smelling a bakery for example often trigger your cravings as does excessive stress or happiness. When we get particularly stressed we can sometimes feel we need more sugary or fatty foods to comfort us and when we are particularly happy we can feel the need to reward ourselves with treats. When we are on our periods our cravings can increase because of an increase in the stress hormone cortisol and a reduction of the happy hormone serotonin. This causes us to crave more fatty and sugary foods because they encourage our bodies to produce more serotonin, which make us feel happy and more relaxed.

Our gender can also affect what we crave. If you are a man you are more likely to crave savoury foods like, cheese, pizza and pasta because it reminds us of the dishes our mothers used to prepare for us and if you are a woman you are more likely to crave sweeter foods like chocolate, ice cream and cakes because they associate savoury food with preparation and clean up so tend to prefer quick snacks like chocolate and sweets. So how can we curb these cravings? It might sound simple but try eating the foods you crave less. I know from my own experience that when I start eating chocolate I tend to eat some every day for the next few weeks, if I cut it out then I crave it much less often. Don’t go cold turkey though, feeling deprived of a food can often backfire so you can still eat your favourite treats but just less often. Sounds simple but it can be very effective.

So why do we crave weird foods when we’re pregnant? The extreme change in hormones can have a huge impact on taste and smell but it is no more normal to have cravings during pregnancy than it is to not have them. People think their cravings are significant, but studies show that there is no link between cravings and nutritional needs. If people craved what the body needs then we would all be eating more broccoli instead of chocolate. However, there are certain transparent cravings like red meat, which can mean your body wants more protein. But should we try to curb these cravings? Not necessarily. Most women crave fairly normal foods like pickles, cheese, ice cream or peanut butter but some women crave very bizarre things such as cigarette buts, sponges and washing powder, a condition called Pica, which can be linked to an iron deficiency. In these cases obviously you should avoid these substances for the good of your health and your baby’s and you could substitute them for more iron rich foods.

So next time you feel those niggling cravings, know that they are caused by lots of different reasons and although giving in to them every now and then is no bad thing, letting those cravings get the better of you isn’t going to help you in the long run.