Food Cravings: What Causes Them?

We’ve all been there. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a food craving strikes hard and fast. Before you know it, you’ve downed handfuls of fries, devoured an entire chocolate bar or shown a pint of ice cream who’s boss. Whether you fall in the sweet, salty or savory foods camp, food cravings are real. But what causes them?

All in Your Head

As it turns out, most cravings have more to do with your brain than your body. Sure, some hankerings may be a signal that your body needs more nutrients — or it may simply mean you’re thirsty. But for the most part, we crave certain foods because they make us feel good. And yes — chocolate tops most people’s lists!

Certain foods may trigger the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine — which helps control our brain’s memory, reward and pleasure centers. When we eat those feel-good treats, our brains light up and beg us to keep going back for more. That’s why we also tend to crave foods we associate with enjoyable or happy memories — like comfort foods that take you back to a specific time or place.

Hunger vs. Craving

So how do you know if your urge to reach for that bag of chips is due to hunger or simply a craving? If you’re pining for a specific snack or have eaten within the last few hours, odds are you’re not actually hungry. That’s because hunger is how your body responds to a lack of food — and when you’re hungry, you’ll eat any type of food.

Cravings, however, are more cognitive and tend to have more to do with your mood than when you last ate. Typically only one food will satisfy your craving, and the more you focus on it, the more your emotions intensify. In many cases, you may just be craving food to relieve stress or boredom, or even to cope with sadness or anxiety. The good news is that cravings will pass if you give it some time — and think about something else!

It’s OK to Indulge

Giving into food cravings now and then is perfectly OK! In fact, allowing yourself to indulge occasionally keeps you from feeling deprived and will make you happier and healthier in the long run. So the next time you’re hankering for the comforts of a warm chicken pot pie or a scratch-made burger, visit your local Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen and let us satisfy your craving.

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