Dissection of food cravings

The RAE defines the term craving as “a pressing and passing desire, usually capricious.” For many people, cravings are one of the main reasons they can’t stick to a specific meal plan. But what are cravings made of? Are they really enemies to fight as if they were wild beasts or small pets that you have to pamper from time to time?

From its conception, the word whim already has a moral judgment: giving in to any whim would then mean a weakness of character, a deviation or even a perversion. Cravings are related to pleasure, and therefore, with different dimensions of responsibility, guilt, or even character temperance depending on their domain. From this moral dimension, we mistakenly conceive food cravings as something to be overcome, since they are generally represented by foods that, in a hygienist order, would be the “most prohibited”.

However, from a biological and social point of view, cravings are the perfect example of how these dimensions overlap with unclear boundaries in the way our bodies and psyches function (if it is useful to separate them at all).

The mechanisms by which cravings are activated in our brain are extremely complex, and some have to do with our reward systems, with our way of regulating emotions and stress, with memory, and even with neurological pathways associated with behaviors addictive Tracking down the origin of a craving is often equivalent to immersing oneself in a series of physiological processes that are often conditioned by psychological and sociological processes. Cravings have to do with our sense of threat or security, with our emotional comfort, or even with the social bonds of people with whom, in a given situation, we might feel a craving for a specific food.

Much research has also been done on the type of foods that trigger cravings, and although it is believed that they are foods with high palatability (that is, foods rich in carbohydrates and fats), the truth is that cravings for specific foods They work in more complex ways, since on many occasions the conditions of the social context, as well as memory, can activate cravings for specific foods.

In addition, it is known that cravings can also be caused by sleep deprivation, or by sensory stimulation. The way in which we react to cravings also has a genetic component, since the neurological and behavioral effects that they trigger in us have an individual response that also depends on a multiplicity of factors.

The way our cravings work has been harnessed to somehow drive desirable behaviors in a specific context. In this way, for example, some non-food stores have aromas that evoke freshly baked bread or butter to encourage the purchase impulse of the buyers. Different investigations into the way cravings work seek to create behaviors that lead to wellness behaviors. The best way in which we relate to cravings is to try to remove them from a conflicting or deprivation dimension (since this causes precisely the opposite effect) and try to put all our senses in the act of eating when the cravings are satisfied.

Liliana Martinez Lomeli

Food and society columnist


Food and society columnist. Gastronaut, observer and foodie. She is a researcher in sociology of food, nutritionist. She is president and founder of Funalid: Foundation for Food and Development.


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