For you, it’s triggered every time you see a Pizza Hut commercial featuring crusts stuffed with cheese. For your boyfriend, it’s chicken wings slathered in buffalo sauce and ranch dressing during a hockey game.
We all have foods that turn on our cravings and hold onto our thoughts until we are satisfied (i.e., disgusted with ourselves and our poor food choices). And it’s no surprise that we crave greasy, cheesy, salty or rich foods and not broccoli, kale or cucumber, despite some claims that cravings are brought on by deficiencies of that food’s vitamins or minerals.
Understanding what goes on in our brains that cause psychological and physical cravings of certain foods brings us one step closer to learning how to disassociate the triggers from the cravings and better control what foods we put in our bodies.
Apologies for bursting your bubble, but our cravings are no different than that of Pavlov’s dogs salivating at the sight of those technicians that fed them, according to David Kessler, the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner and author of “The End of Overeating.” That trigger is known as a reward-processing activity.
Chemically speaking, dopamine triggered in our brains helps us experience pleasure, but also it ties into the way we learn and our memory. This is the important chemical step from “like” to “crave.”
Cravings originate in our brains and become physical out of habit. That is to say that generally our bodies get used to consuming certain things, whether it’s Friday night pizza for dinner, coffee at 8 a.m., popcorn in a movie theater or smoking a cigarette at a bar. Drugs are proof that of course physical addictions do exist, but for the majority of us, craving pizza does not come anywhere close to desiring alcohol, prescription medication or hard substances.
So how do we break this cycle? The best way to do so is to take care of ourselves and/or switch up our routines. Fill up on healthy foods, exercise and get plenty of sleep, but also pinpoint the behavior associated with the cravings. This means, like someone who quits smoking when they go to a bar might avoid drinking to the point of inebriation, someone trying to kick a nasty Friday night pizza habit might instead bring home groceries and start cooking before the exhaustion of the work week catches up to them.