The weather is turning cool and I’m craving chili and pasta with red sauce. In fact, if any food includes tomato sauce, I can’t get enough of it right now.
Most of us experience cravings at some time or other. Sometimes they come in the mild form of a food preference like me wanting chili for dinner. At other times, they feel like a compulsion to eat a particular thing.
How cravings affect us may be related to their origin. Cravings are influenced by the parts of the brain that process memory, pleasure, and reward. They can result from a hormone or nutritional imbalance as well as dehydration. A physiological connection may mean a stronger compulsion.
Beyond craving, some people will develop an eating disorder known as Pica. Unlike a general craving for food that some experts believe lasts from 3-5 minutes on average, patients with Pica have a persistent compulsion to eat substances like dirt or paint with no nutritional value.
Ingesting nonfood substances can lead to heavy metal poisoning, parasitic or bacterial infections, and intestinal blockages. If you should experience the symptoms of Pica, it is important to seek medical care.
Regular cravings are not dangerous but can make it difficult to achieve or maintain ideal weight. Many diet programs address this by substituting salty, crunchy items like popcorn for potato chips or adding portions of crunchy vegetables like celery and carrots. Sweet cravings may be dissuaded by eating fruit especially dried fruit like dates, raisins, or mango (no sugar added).
Sometimes you may just want to chew something. According to one study, chewing gum suppressed hunger, appetite and cravings.
If you feel like cravings are throwing you off track, it can be helpful to drink plenty of water and make sure you’re eating a balanced diet. Beyond that, reducing stress and increasing physical activity can help.
On the other hand, a bowl of chili may be all you need!