Where do food cravings come from?
It’s near bedtime, and your stomach is growling. You succeeded with that dinner of healthy protein with some veggies … but in truth? You’re not satisfied. All week you’ve secretly wanted to snack on chips.
Sound familiar? Food cravings often feel like they sneak up on you – as in, why are you craving this particular food, and why right now? Until recently, even scientists weren’t sure, according to endocrinologist, Dr Frank Greenway.
However, more recently, research has found an answer that might be the real sweet spot. Says Dr Greenway (who has studied the science of food cravings for decades): “We used to think hunger was controlled by an area of the brain, known as the hypothalamus, as a way to ensure survival. But our most current research suggests it’s actually the brain’s reward system that controls much of our eating habits, including cravings.”
Understanding cravings in this way might make so much sense. Keep reading for more insights to explain your cravings from some of the latest research on this topic, along with input from dietitian Taylor Newhouse Leahy and nutritionist Katie Bressack.
Why you crave what you crave
A couple of insights to start: Dr Greenway says research suggests women are more likely to report food cravings than men are, though most everyone reports more cravings at night than earlier in the day. This may bring even more evidence to back the notion that your brain perceives certain foods as rewards. After all, at the end of a demanding few days, does anything scream Rest and recharge! quite like curling up with a little something decadent to indulge in?
Dr Greenway explains that your cravings can give you a lot of information about yourself, including important things about your mental and physical health (beyond the fact that you have a major sweet tooth). Sometimes, an individual craves food simply because they’re hungry. Other times, there’s more behind the specific craving. Keep reading for some of the usual suspects.
Craving cookies and milk?
Do cravings get more classic? Milk is high in l-tryptophan, a compound that boosts mood, promotes relaxation, and encourages better sleep. So if your food cravings revolve around a tall glass of milk and cookies or a milkshake, it may just be that you’re in need of a little more R&R.
Indulging in a reasonable portion can be a good way to de-stress and feel better (but ideally, grabbing the occasional nap is a good way to feel more rested.