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What are food cravings?

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We’ve all experienced these agonising moments of desire. But why? What are they and why do we find them so hard to resist? You’re about to find out.

Are cravings and hunger the same thing?

The biggest mistake many make is not being able to tell the difference between hunger and cravings. Take it from us, there’s a big difference:

Hunger has a very simple, yet very important purpose: to acquire the nutrients your body needs in order to supply it with energy and keep the engine running. The feeling of hunger is triggered and regulated by really complex mechanisms, where e.g. hormones and nerves are involved. Simply spoken, you can think of your brain acting as a control center, that processes different kinds of signals from the periphery. Hormones like insulin are e.g. involved in the regulation of your food intake. Also, receptors in your gut can communicate to your brain, that the gut is empty and that it would be a good idea to eat something soon.

Cravings on the other hand, are a simple desire to eat certain kinds of food, which are in most of the cases from the unhealthy food section, loaded with calories and low in essential nutrients. Wouldn’t it be great if we would crave broccoli instead of chocolate muffins? Now we know the difference, the question is why do we experience these cravings?

How do food cravings actually develop?

Cravings are often caused by emotions that surround our everyday lives, like sadness, boredom and stress. Interestingly, when feeling emotional, people tend to grab snacks high in carbs, since they are able to boost the level of our happy hormone serotonin. Women are said to experience cravings more than men due to hormonal fluctuations during their cycle, however this is still only a theory.

Our nearby environment can also directly trigger a specific craving. For instance, only the sight or the smell of freshly baked croissants can convince your brain that there’s no other option than eating it right away.

Another important point which can trigger cravings is your routine. If you open the fridge first thing after entering your home and grab a chocolate bar every day, this becomes your standard procedure. If the situation occurs where you don’t get that chocolate bar right away, your mind turns it into a gnawingly craving.

Bad sleep is also to blame at times. Responsible for this circumstance is the hormone Leptin, which generally regulates the feeling of satiety. It is produced throughout the day, but at a greater rate while you sleep. If you are not sleeping for long enough or if the quality of your sleep is poor, the release of Leptin is reduced which automatically reduces your feeling of satiety, resulting in larger cravings.

More macros, less cravings.

There is also the theory, that the quality of your meals, or more specifically the ratio of macronutrients, can influence your food intake. This means, that you can lure for specific foods, because your diet is too unbalanced. For this reason, try to follow a healthy, balanced diet. Nevertheless, more research has to be conducted on this topic.

Want to enjoy a healthy, satisfying nutrition without constant unhealthy cravings? Discover the Freeletics Nutrition Coach, and begin to Eat Clean.

Click here to learn about how you can curb your cravings.