Have you ever wondered why your brains always crave junk food over healthy foods? Despite our knowledge of how unhealthy foods affects our overall health, we keep doing it every time. This post takes a look at why your brain doesn’t crave healthy food and how to train your brain to crave healthy food.
Why You Have Cravings
A craving can drive you crazy. Well, not literary, but until you lay your hands on a particular food, you may never feel at ease. Sadly, our bodies crave for high-calorie foods, and if you look at the rising rates of obesity, weight gain and the associated diseases, you realize just how serious this can get. Usually, we like to console ourselves with theories as to why we are having these cravings. For pregnant women, they say it’s the child asking for the food.
Hunger is not to be confused with cravings. When someone is hungry, the empty stomach releases ghrelin, the hunger hormone that signals the brain that the body needs food. We eat to survive and a person who’s starving can literally eat anything to stay alive. When you reach your level of satiation, leptin, the feel-full hormone is released, signaling the brain that you’re full.
A craving, on the other hand, is a strong, hard-to-resist urge or desire to eat a particular food just for pleasure. Food cravings are dieters’ worst nightmare since it makes it very difficult to remain on the clean lane.
One study on why our brains crave certain foods conducted at the Monell Chemical Sense Center in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine discovered that food cravings activated certain areas of the brain associated with memory, emotion, and reward. The same areas of the brain are activated by drugs or desire for designer shoes, bags, or anything you fancy.
According to the study, our memories play a part in the cravings. For instance, if a child was given chicken soup when they were coming down with something like a cold, it may lead to chicken soup cravings later in life. The same case happens if you were given sweets, pizza or cookies when you were sad as a child. According to Anna Konova, director of the Addiction and Decision Neuroscience Laboratory at Rutgers University New Jersey, cravings come about due to certain cues rather than a need by your body. If you develop the habit of always eating popcorn when watching a movie, then it grows in you and you won’t feel ‘complete’ watching a movie without eating popcorns.
Food manufacturers take advantage of the science behind what makes your brains crave for junk food and apply it when manufacturing their foods. They usually target your smell and taste buds and know just how much salt, sugar or fat will excite your brain enough to get you to keep coming back for more. Sugary foods and drinks trigger certain responses in the brain that develops into a habit that you can’t easily shake off.
How to Fight the Desire for Junk Food
The good news is that you can actually train your brain to crave healthy foods and snacks. The trick is to slowly start eating less junk food, and within no time, your craving will also reduce. Here are some of the strategies you can start to practice.
Avoid Processed Foods
When you go shopping, avoid the aisles containing processed foods, drinks, and packaged foods. The simple rule is that ‘if you don’t own it, you can’t eat it’. Likewise, if you don’t see it or think about it, you can’t be tempted.
Like we mentioned earlier, cravings are driven by emotions among other factors. When you’re stressed, your body looks for comfort in several things, and food is among them. Since the food choice when you’re stressed is almost unhealthy all the time, it’s better to find a way to avoid getting into stressful situations that could trigger your cravings. You could try things like meditation, exercising or simply going out for a walk.
Change of Attitude
Junk foods, sugary foods, and drinks are linked to feelings of reward and fulfillment. However, when you change your attitude towards junk food and associate unhealthy foods with negative things like weight gain, obesity, cancer, and other diseases, you will slowly start avoiding them.
Practice Mindful Eating
Teach your mind to foster a positive relationship with healthy foods. Learn to control desires, craving, and hunger. Mindful eating will help you understand how to distinguish cravings and hunger and how you should respond to the different sensations. Additionally, here’s what you can do:
- Skip the sugar, refined grains and carbohydrates in your diet.
- Increase the consumption of fermented foods.
- Up your omega-3 intake and other healthy fats.
- Go for low sugar fruits and non-starchy carbs.
The best way to retrain your brain to crave healthy foods is to understand the science behind cravings. With the right mindset, attitude, and determination, you can make lifestyle changes that will promote a healthy you.
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