What your food cravings mean and how to beat them
COMPELLED to scoff a block of chocolate or consumed by a need for a bag of chips?
Whether you sit in team sweet or team savoury, chances are you've been gripped by a food craving once or twice in your life, or today.
Defined as an intense desire for a specific food, they are not solely reserved for the pregnant women among us.
And despite your best efforts to trick your brain into accepting something else, in most cases you won't be fully satisfied until you get that food.
Many believe that cravings are the body's way of telling us we are missing something.
But The Sun's nutritionist, Amanda Ursell, said that is a common misconception.
She explained that most of our cravings, often for junk foods like chocolate and crisps, are habitual.
"If in the afternoon you always have a piece of cake then your mind will be used to having it so your perception is you are craving it," she explained.
"It may be that at that time of day your blood sugar level has dropped and your body is telling you that you need something.
"Because you have always had cake, that is what you go for.
"But you could just as easily have a banana which would do the same thing physiologically, which means it would bring your blood sugar levels up."
While your blood sugar levels have gone up and your body no longer feels like it needs to eat, your mind is still focusing on the cake.
And that is where many people's problems lie.
But Amanda said there are a few ways you can try to manage and replace your cravings.
This is probably one of the biggest craving people experience, Ursell said.
In order to curb this craving, as with most, you need to be eating properly at meal times.
If you don't have a good breakfast and good lunch then your blood sugar levels will drop in the afternoon and your chocolate craving will kick in.
"You need to make sure, biochemically, you are in the right place so your blood sugar levels are steady and stable and you're giving yourself a chance to be in control.
"But if you want chocolate and nothing else will do try to wean yourself off the milk chocolate and onto the dark chocolate because it seems to be more satisfying and you eat less of it."
Try snacks like dried fruit or packets of nuts and dark chocolate chips to help curb your sweet tooth.
PACKET OF CHIPS
If you don't have a sweet tooth, chips are probably the thing you crave the most.
But unfortunately, we learn to like salt as we eat it so curbing the cravings is a matter of will power.
"All you can do, I'm afraid, is slug it out," Ursell said.
"When you are born you can perceive bitter and perceive sweet but you can't perceive salt, so you learn to like and want it.
"It takes about six weeks to have a whole new set of tastebuds to allow you to get used to a lower level of salt."
One tip is to add citrus to your cooking as it enhances your taste for saltiness, so you can use less for the same taste, or buy multipacks so you have portion control.
CAKES AND PASTRIES
This craving often comes with a drop in blood sugar levels in the afternoon.
It is more of a behavioural thing, you need to take yourself out of situations where you are going to be temped.
"When you go into a coffee shop and you are faced with that barrage of cakes it is really difficult," Ursell said.
Try opting for a small bag of nuts or dried fruit or a piece of fruit to beat your sugar cravings.
BURGERS, FRIES AND OTHER JUNK
This is another case of being overwhelmed by your choices.
If the food you crave is right in front of you, you are unlikely to say no.
"If you can be the person that goes into a McDonald's and orders something healthy then do it but if you can't then don't go," she said.
Ursell said changing your food habits takes a sustained effort and you will always be temped to eat those treats.
But instead of giving in, try and make healthier versions of these snacks at home.
All the above cravings are contributing to unhealthy diets and expanding waistlines.
The latest statistics show two in three adults are either overweight or obese in Australia.
Obesity comes with a range of health problems including increased risk of stroke, high blood pressure and heart disease and 11 different types of cancer.
Luckily for us, science has also been looking into ways we can reduce our cravings.
HOW TO REDUCE YOUR CRAVINGS
Before you give in and reach for that bar of chocolate, take a look at your lifestyle and ask if that is contributing to your need for that sweet treat.
REDUCE YOUR STRESS LEVELS
Most of us are guilty of reaching for something comforting when emotions are running high.
Stress also causes higher levels of cortisol - the stress hormone - in the body, which can promote belly fat.
So it might be time to look at ways you can manage your stress rather than gorging on a cake.
GET ENOUGH SLEEP
Not getting enough sleep could disrupt your hormone balance, according to one study.
It found those who do not get enough sleep were unable to determine when they had excess energy stores from food and therefore gained weight though overeating.
But when they switched to a better sleep schedule they lost weight as their hormones were brought back into balance.
Not only will it freshen your breath, but it may help you keep cravings at bay.
That's because it keeps your mouth busy and tricks your body into thinking it is satisfied.
EAT ENOUGH PROTEIN
Protein is the health food of the hour thanks to its ability to keep you fuller for longer.
But it seems it may also help curb cravings.
This article originally appeared on The Sun and has been republished with permission.