Food cravings have a lot less to do with biology and more to do with psychology.
We all have cravings – in a study published in the journal Appetite, 97% of women and 68% of men reported experiencing them. Cravings are motivational states that push us to seek out and eat a particular food. Overall, the most commonly craved foods are those that are very high in salt, sugar and fat, such as french fries, chips, and chocolate. Across the board, the most craved foods have one thing in common: they are high in calories.
At times, these intense desires to consume a particular food can indicate a nutritional deficiency. For example, if you regularly find yourself craving ice, you may be iron deficient. Or if your diet lacks adequate amounts of sodium, you may feel drawn to seek out salty foods. If our normal cravings were actually indicative of nutritional deficiencies, however, a lot more people would be experiencing an insatiable desire for kale and broccoli. It turns out that cravings have a lot less to do with biology and more to do with psychology.
The science behind this phenomenon has revealed there are a lot of psychological factors that come into play when you’re dealing with a craving. The hippocampus is involved in memory, which impacts how your brain responds to the food you eat. Specific areas of the brain help create emotional connections with food and help form habits. Certain hormones are also released when you eat a food you really enjoy. Hormones, memories and other various mechanisms combine to create a Pavlovian response, or a sensory cue that causes craving. Cravings seem to peak when we are hungry or dieting. In her article, The Craving Brain, Katie Fesler writes, “understanding that memory and hunger have such large roles in eliciting cravings make creating a toolbox to manage them much easier.”*