Understanding Your Food Cravings from Within
Eating is not only essential but also a form of enjoyment. It might be such an obvious statement, but there’s so much more to it than people might think. While it can give you an instant serotonin boost, if not controlled, overconsumption of food can lead to more problems than pleasure. That is why you need to keep your food cravings in check.
Food cravings and the temptation to eat are not inherently bad. It is a common thing to experience; in fact, 90% of people experience this sensation. The line between good and bad depends on what food type and how often you crave these items. Food temptations’ bad reputation stems from the fact that people who go through these cycles often crave processed foods that are high in sugar, salt, and unhealthful fats.
Despite it being a usual occurrence, food cravings do not only centre around our stomach and taste buds. There are deeper and more complex reasons behind wanting a specific type of food item.
Reasons Behind Food Craving
Bad Eating Habits
Bad eating habits can turn into food cravings. When you habitually consume unhealthy types of foods whenever you are hungry, your body becomes accustomed to craving them every time. The pleasant feeling from indulging in food is determined in part by hormone receptors. These receptors become less sensitive over time. As a result, you need to consume more and more of that food just to satisfy your temptation. In that sense, foods high in sugar, salt, and fat are the same as drugs and cigarettes.
Food cravings are usually linked to a nutrient-poor diet, causing a lack of a specific nutrient in the body. For example, when you have iron deficiency, your body becomes tempted to consume more red meat. Similarly, your body craves chocolates when it lacks levels of magnesium. Of course, you cannot use this logic to justify all food cravings, such as wanting pizza or potato chips.
However, our temptation to consume high-fat and high-calorie foods says something about the nutrient that our body lacks. For instance, when craving fatty snacks, you actually lack calcium, and instead of munching on fried foods, you can consume healthy amounts of almonds, spinach, oranges and broccoli. Similarly, when you want to eat salty snacks, substitute them with tomatoes, lettuce, and olives, as it means your body lacks chloride.
Moreover, it would help to tone down your food temptation if you consume more foods rich in protein and fibre. Leaving these nutrients out in your diet can make you feel hungry and crave more food, regardless if you have consumed enough calories.
Water has numerous benefits for our health, from the inside out. Whether it is glowing skin or healthy working digestion, water is a gift that keeps on giving. That is why it should not come as a surprise that our water consumption also affects how much we crave food.
Dehydration increases your sugar cravings. The reason is that, when dehydrated, your organs have a hard time releasing stored glucose that is used as an energy source. As a result, the body may confuse the feeling of thirst with hunger. So, there are times that you may feel hungry and crave food when all you need is water.
One might think that the more you move, the more food you want to eat. However, it’s the opposite. Increasing your level of physical activity, even if it is just spending more time walking, actually dials down your food temptation. Exercise changes the levels of hormones that drive you to a state of hunger. In contrast, being stagnant may make you want to consume more food.
With that said, being too active may be more disadvantageous when it comes to curbing your appetite. A small amount or poor quality of sleep can intensify your food cravings. It’s because lack of sleep disrupts the levels of hormones responsible for regulating hunger and fullness, making you feel hungry especially in the evening.
Stress eating is a phenomenon associated with food temptations. Some people use food to regulate their emotions and cope with stress. The reason behind this is because stress boosts the increase of cortisol, the primary stress hormone. High levels of cortisol are linked to hunger, cravings, and a higher likelihood of binge-eating behaviours.
However, the downside of relying on food to reduce negative emotions, consuming highly desirable foods becomes a habit whenever you experience a particular emotion, regardless if it’s positive or negative. Even if you are feeling a positive mood, you tend to crave food to prolong the positive emotion. Now that eating is a reinforced habit, you may experience strong food cravings as a response to fluctuating moods throughout the day. Furthermore, because it has become a stress reliever, eliminating eating as a way to cope can contribute to higher levels of stress, thus emphasizing the desire to eat more.
When experiencing any type of food temptation, do not always blame your stomach for it. Most of the time, your food craving is all in your head, like literally. Specific areas of the brain are responsible for memory, reward, and sensing pleasure. These areas may be the root cause of why we have food cravings. That’s why people sometimes experience food cravings out of nowhere upon seeing, smelling, or hearing about a specific type of food.
For instance, you are watching a movie. Even if you are in the comforts of your own home, and not a movie theatre, you associate watching a film with eating popcorn. It then urges you to consume a bag of popcorn even if you are not hungry. The same thing happens when seeing an advertisement for bubble tea, for example. The more you see the same ad, the more inclined you are to buy one for yourself to taste what you are seeing.
Food cravings and hunger are separate. That’s why not all cases of food temptation can be linked with internal issues such as nutrient deficiency or stress. There are a lot of external things that trigger our cravings. That’s also why food craving is such a phenomenon among Singaporeans.
Food Craving in Singapore
Singapore is a small country but it is known for its rich cultural diversity. With that comes a vibrant food scene, consisting of a wide array of local and international cuisines including Chinese, Malaysian, Thai, Indonesian, Indian, and British food. Wherever you go there’s a place where you can grab delicious meals. There are food courts, coffee shops and cafes, street vendors, hawker centres, and gourmet restaurants. Singapore is truly a melting pot of different cuisines, high and low, old and new.
So, it comes as no surprise that most Singaporeans are big foodies. If someone tells you that the national pastime in Singapore is eating, it may not be much of an exaggeration. They go around and eat and seek to try new things. Much like other countries, food is ingrained in Singapore’s local culture. It does not only speak to the country’s history and customs, but it also is a part of their everyday living. It is not unusual to see people, from different backgrounds, bonding over meals.
While it’s a joyous thing to think about, it comes with its own set of problems, especially when it comes to keeping your food temptations in check. With its bustling food culture, it is also not surprising that Singapore has a national weight problem. Being overweight and obese are prevalent among many locals. Based on the records of the Ministry of Health (MOH), 36.2% of Singaporeans aged 18-69 are overweight. This can be associated with Singaporeans’ growing calorie consumption. By the 2010s, people would consume 2,624 calories a day, where six in 10 exceeded their recommended intake. Aside from adults, it also has affected younger people, where 13% of children and adolescent teens suffer from weight problems.
Weight problems can be linked to a person’s inability to control food temptations. Of course, drinking large-sized bubble tea to satisfy your craving does not automatically mean you’ll be gaining excessive weight. It is a different conversation once you start to drink one large serving of it every day. Fulfilling moderate food cravings from time to time does not greatly affect your weight and health in the long run. It is when the consumption of such food items becomes a habit and no longer controlled.
As mentioned, most food cravings have little to do with actual hunger. They are caused by triggers that awaken our sensory feelings, making us crave food. Being in Singapore, and being surrounded by food places everywhere, it is easy for someone to spiral out of control, succumbing to food temptations every chance they get. Before you know it, you are experiencing the negative effects of your eating habit. If you don’t want that to happen to you, it is vital to learn how to control your food cravings.
Managing Food Craving
Plan Your Meals
A part of satisfying your cravings is by making food decisions on a whim. When you end up on your own devices, it is more likely you will continue to give in to the food devil on your shoulder. If you want to avoid succumbing to such temptations, planning your meals can help a lot. As you subscribe to a tight eating schedule, it is less likely for you to grab unnecessary bites in between your meals.
However, do not confuse planning your meals with stopping enjoying food. Depriving yourself makes food cravings worse, as you are more inclined to consume calorie-dense food, like processed or fried foods, when you are hungry. So, you must not let yourself get extremely hungry and have proper meals throughout the day.
When you experience hunger, it might be because your blood sugar levels may be low. As your body does not have the fuel to function for a long time, it directs you to consume more high energy foods to pick up your blood sugar to a normal level. Remember that when your blood sugar levels are stable, you are less likely to have strong food cravings.
Of course, as established, there’s a fine line between hunger and craving. To make sure you are eating and not bingeing, set specific times for your meals. This way you are training your body when or not you need to eat, making you more aware of cues that you’re hungry and need refuelling. If you are too busy to sit down for meals, you can still curb your hunger by eating small meals throughout the day. With that said, make sure to have healthy snacks in hand.
Have a Nutrient-Dense Diet
Again, healthy eating habits are as much about what you include in your diet as what you eliminate from it. In that sense, avoid restrictive diets. Many diets out there eliminate a certain food group. As mentioned, nutrient deficiency is a leading cause of intense food cravings. Sure, your diet may lead to great results, but it’s not sustainable and makes you crave more food after a while. Rather, focus on a meal pattern that properly nourishes the body.
A diet consisting of controlled portions of lean proteins can help keep hunger and food craving to a minimum. Protein-rich food also makes you full and satisfied for a longer period. One tip is to have a high-protein breakfast. It is said that consuming during breakfast makes you crave less sweet and savoury foods, compared to skipping a morning meal. It is because protein suppresses hunger by reducing ghrelin, a hormone related to appetite.
Cutting carbs altogether may also do more harm than good. However, make sure to keep refined carbs out of your diet as it affects your blood sugar levels, making you crave highly palatable foods. Again, it doesn’t mean you have to follow a special diet to manage your food craving. Instead, avoid ultra-processed carb items that are high in added sugar, such as cakes and candy. Substitute them with high fibre, nutrient-dense carbs like sweet potatoes, oats, and butternut squash. A low carb diet reduces food cravings, especially of high carb sugary foods.
Finally, always stay hydrated. A lot of cues for thirst and hunger are similar, making your body confuse thirst for hunger. When you think you’re hungry, try to drink a large glass of water and then wait for a couple of minutes. It is often that the craving to eat goes away. Staying hydrated curbs your appetite. Plus, water has a lot of health benefits.
Keep Your Mind at Bay
Resisting food temptation is a mind game. You need to make conscious decisions to not succumb to impulsive food choices.
When you feel your craving creeping in, distance yourself from it. If you get triggered by the smell of coffee, stay away from a nearby coffee machine or stop looking at cafe ads on your phone. Distract yourself, maybe talk a short walk or do some chores. If you pass by several food stalls on the way home, maybe try to find an alternate route. It is about taking yourself out of that environment that makes you want to eat more food.
When you do eat, practice mindful eating. It is a type of meditation that teaches you about your eating habits, emotions, hunger, cravings and physical sensations. It guides your response to hunger and cravings, making you act less impulsive. Mindful eating can be as simple as chewing your food thoroughly and avoiding distractions, like phone or TV, while eating.
A part of it is also disassociating your emotions with your eating habits. When stressed, take some time to breathe and have a break. Also, having adequate sleep is a great way to relieve stress and keep hormone levels in check, decreasing food cravings. Weight loss in itself is a stressful undertaking. It helps to reach for support, whether it is friends or family that cheer you on or being part of weight loss programs, such as DeFATO Hub, where medical experts guide you through your journey.
Indulge Yourself (But Not Much)
Food craving is not something you can get rid of. All you can do is control it. Sometimes the only way to curb food temptation is eating that food you’re craving. Allow yourself to enjoy your favourite food once in a while, even if it is not the healthiest. Plan a small time in eating your schedule to indulge. Whether it is a cheat day, an after-work treat, or a reward, anything to satisfy your tastebuds for a bit. Although, make sure to still control your portion so you won’t throw your hard work to waste.
Resisting food craving is a tough fight. However, you need to develop the discipline to combat it. While it gives you a momentary feeling of joy, overdoing it causes you more problems in the long run. There’s a way to find those small moments of pleasure without letting your future self suffer from its consequences.