An indulgent dessert after dinner. Pizza and beer during a Sunday night football game. A pint of ice cream when you’re feeling blue. We all have our cravings and reasons we indulge in them.
To be fair, some cravings can be healthy. Some people crave a long run as a stress-buster or a healthy salad after a week eating out.
But let’s be honest, most of us crave unhealthy foods, like frosting-covered cupcakes or a bag of salty chips.
Those cravings (and indulging in them) doesn’t mean you lack willpower or
Cravings are real folks and there are scientific-backed reasons evidence behind why we feel compelled to succumb to our food cravings.
1. Bad Habits
According to Applied Behavioral Analysis psychology, positive and negative reinforcement impacts behavior. It goes something like this: trigger, behavior, reward. In food terms, hunger is the trigger, eat is the behavior, satisfaction is the reward.
While the reinforcement of some habits is necessary for survival, it’s easy to see how bad habits also get easily reinforced.
When you feel bad (or bored or stressed or fill-in-the-blank emotion), you seek out something satisfying — like comfort food.
The emotional signal triggers a behavior: eating in exchange for pleasure. The reward is briefly satisfying and reinforces the behavior. And thus, a bad habit loop is created.
How to ward off the bad habits that lead to overindulging? Focus on the why.
Ask yourself before you eat that crave-worthy food: Why do I want this? Is it true physical hunger or is it emotional?
If it’s physical and you are truly hungry, eat a real meal with carbs, fats, and proteins. If it’s emotional, address those emotions instead of treating them with food.
2. Cutting Calories Too Low
When you deprive the body, the body works harder to make you more hungry and simultaneously holds onto fat.
Periods of under-eating or caloric restriction create a physiological drive to eat — and often it’s to eat high-fat, high-sugar foods because they are the most calorie-dense.
Combine this with the aforementioned habit loops and those cravings have no chance but to be indulged.
So how can you cut your calories and not mess up your hormones? Eat real foods most often, but be flexible to allow yourself indulgent foods in moderation and in small portions.
3. Sleep Deprivation
For your body to function optimally, quality sleep is required nightly and in the right amounts for the individual.
Unhealthy sleep habits can lead to a cascade of health issues including obesity, diabetes, depression, and altered hormonal function and not getting adequate sleep can put you at risk for indulging in higher fat and more carbohydrate-rich foods.
Start squashing sleep-related cravings by establishing a healthier bedtime routine.
Don’t lie in bed with your phone, computer, or TV on and instead meditate, pray, or read a book to quiet the mind. Keep the lights low and electronics off at least an hour before bedtime. (Yes, this includes your phone!).
If you didn’t get enough sleep at night (it happens to the best of us), be aware that your food cravings could be related to your sleep-deprived state. This awareness can help you resist those cravings if they arise.