Food cravings refer to an intense desire for particular foods. They may arise with or without hunger and may be caused by numerous factors, including stress, restrictive diets, hormonal changes and genetics. Though cravings for fatty foods, such as chocolate, are common, they may lead to overeating, weight gain or intense feelings of deprivation. Food cravings are often manageable through lifestyle changes. However, consult a doctor if you experience severe or frequent food cravings.
Food cravings are common. According to a report published in the Journal of Nutrition (JN) in March 2003, 68 percent of men and 97 percent of women reportedly experience food cravings. Women are more prone to high-fat, sweet foods--such as ice cream and chocolate--than men. People with binge eating disorder and women experiencing hormonal changes commonly experience cravings for high-fat foods. Men tend to experience cravings for high-fat meat, salty snacks and main courses dishes more than women.
Numerous factors may contribute to fatty food cravings. According to the JN, neurotransmitters in the brain may trigger food cravings in people with various types of eating disorders. Emotional stress, depression, anxiety, hormonal changes linked with menstruation, pregnancy and menopause and adhering to a restricted-calorie or low-fat diet may also cause cravings for high-fat foods. Low-carbohydrate dieters may experience increased cravings for high-fat, carbohydrate-containing foods.
Food cravings affect people in various ways. Researchers at Melbourne's Flinders University have found that resisting food cravings rather than feeding them can lead to damaging effects--including reduced memory skills--and more serious problems, such as car accidents. Resisting food cravings may also lead to intense feelings of deprivation, which increases risk of depressive moods, overindulging and weight gain.
Food cravings may serve as a valuable tool. According to the Mayo Clinic, cravings for fatty foods are commonly linked to emotional eating, or eating as a means of suppressing or coping with stressful emotional situations. Rather than focusing on feeding or fighting food cravings, a person experiencing frequent cravings may be able to view cravings as a cue that he needs help of some kind. Food cravings caused by low-fat, restrictive diets may indicate need for healthy dietary changes. When you satisfy high-fat food cravings with healthy food alternatives, such as fruit in place of cookies, your wellness may increase. Managing food cravings can also provide practice in self-examination and discipline.
If you experience frequent or intense food cravings, you may benefit from guidance from a doctor, nutritionist or therapist. For mild to moderate food cravings, researchers at Melbourne's Flinders University suggest visualizing positive images, because people tend to conjure up mental pictures of foods they crave. Experts at the Mayo Clinic suggest keeping a food diary that tracks foods eaten and emotional observations as a means of recognizing personal patterns and craving triggers. When eating is used as a coping mechanism for stress, adopt alternate behaviors. Regular stress management, exercise and aiming for a diet that allows for moderate consumption of all foods may also help manage food cravings.