Are you craving that juicy steak with a mashed potatoes and gravy, or are you fondly thinking of the slice of key lime pie you can't wait to eat?
Depending on your answer researchers can determine if you are a man or a woman or if you are happy or unhappy. Funny, but true!
The results from a large study (Fleurbaix Laventie Ville Santé Study - Int J Eat Disord 29: 195-204, 2001) showed that not only are food cravings strongly associated with mood, but also they were triggered by different feelings in men and women.
Women cravers reported more frequently negative feelings, whereas men reported more frequently positive feelings. Most women have cravings while lonely, depressed or bored. Women may reach for comfort foods to improve a negative mood. Men relate cravings to relaxation and a state of happiness and satisfaction.
There is another difference. Women may feel better while eating, but afterwards most of them feel guilty for giving in to the craving. This is not valid for men.
Now that is something! We women have cravings when unhappy? And men eat more when happy?
(Does Women are from Venus and Men are from Mars ring a bell?)
This is very interesting finding because most studies have focused so far on negative mood state when it comes to cravings for either sweet or rich in fat foods.
I know that it does sound very simplistic, but our feelings are actually the result of chemical reactions in the brain. It is all about neurotransmitters or the brain chemicals like serotonin, endorphins, galanin and NPY that make us feel happy or miserable. These same chemicals, depending on their level, trigger cravings for sweet or fat-rich creamy food.
How does it work?
Had a bad day? Feeling down, sad or lonely?
Get a bowl of ice-cream. No, not this one- the bigger one!
Yes-the bigger the bowl the better you feel. Been there?
Carbohydrates like cookies, pasta and pie raise the level of serotonin. The result? The result is that we feel better.
Women crave more sugar-fat combinations like ice-cream, doughnuts, and pies while men have cravings for protein-fat combination like steak, mashed potatoes and gravy or burgers with fries.
Ok- so not only men and women have different triggers for cravings but they also crave different kinds of food.
Researchers from the Rochfeller University believe that it comes from the time when men needed more protein for muscle mass while hunting and women needed to store more fat for potential pregnancies.
Can your cravings reveal your mood?
You bet they can!
Researchers believe the following cravings could mean you are feeling these moods:
1. Meat could mean you're angry
2. Sweets might be a sign of depression
3. Ice cream might mean you're anxious
4. Salty snacks could mean you're stressed
5. Pasta might signal loneliness or sexual frustration
And the winner is:
Yes. You guessed it right- Chocolate!
Chocolate contains phenylalanine, an amino acid that raises the body's endorphins, our natural antidepressants. It releases endorphins in the brain that make you feel a pleasure, raises the serotonin level that improves your gloomy mood and the creamy texture satisfies the need for fat.
Can you avoid cravings aka unwanted big belly?
Rule # 1
Take care of the four brain "centers" that create our cravings: food, water, sex, sleep. If you are an adult and don't get those things, you're going to have more cravings, mostly for food because food can easily and quickly modify your moods.
Therefore, think long and hard about the way you satisfy those basic centers. Don't let your sleep deprivation make you fat. Don't let your food deprivation make you fat. (I know it sound weird but this is what happens when you go on a drastic diet to lose 10 lb in a week).
Rule # 2
Your cravings are telling you something:
Your serotonin or NPY level is low.
Solution: go get a cookie or a slice of pie and don't feel bad about it.
Crave ice-cream or a steak?
Your galanin and endorphins are low:
Solution: Treat yourself with a cone of chocolate ice-cream or go out for a nice steak.
Don't even think twice. The simple act of depriving oneself of a food can increase cravings for that food.
Rule # 3
Don't try to use will power to overcome a chemical reaction - it simply does not work in a long run. It only gets worse if you don't satisfy a craving. The result is binging. This is what bulimia is about.
Rule # 4
Don't go without any food for more than 4 hours. Cravings usually manifest between 3-6 PM especially if you didn't have a lunch or a breakfast and your blood sugar is low. Instead of resisting the craving and making things worse you better satisfy your craving with a small amount of the craved food to avoid binging.
Have a snack in the mid-afternoon and late in the evening. That could be a spoon of peanut butter, half a banana, or a bagel. That's it.
To sum it up: It does not matter if your happiness or unhappiness triggers your cravings. It does not matter if you are craving a double cheeseburger or triple chocolate fudge toppled with whipped cream. What matters is that there is unresolved stress and your body is telling you that. If you listen you are going to find the source and try to solve it. Denying your body food is not going to work - not on the long run no matter if you are from Venus or from Mars.
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