Cravings describes the sudden, irrepressible urge to eat large amounts of food quickly. This pleasure can be indiscriminate, but in many cases it is aimed at consuming sweet, salty or greasy Food. Cravings can be due to a lack of nutrients, but it can also be a sign of a physical or mental illness, or it can be caused by hormonal changes.
It is important to draw a line between normal hunger and cravings in order to differentiate between healthy and diseased feelings of hunger.
The metabolism is influenced by body structure and individual dispositions, but personal nutritional and eating habits as well as the current mood and stress also play a role. Therefore, he does not always work in the same way and differs from person to person. This also affects feelings of hunger and cravings.
Cravings is a sudden, strong feeling of hunger that can only be satisfied by taking in food quickly. Mostly, the desire is for certain foods, in most cases sweet, salty or fatty. The food cravings often occur outside of normal meal times and are characterized by a general loss of control over the attack itself, over the choice of food and the amount of food that is consumed during an attack.
Most of the time, a change in diet to fresh unprocessed foods helps. Whole grain products and oatmeal in particular keep you full longer, so that food cravings rarely occur.
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Causes of Cravings
Cravings can have various causes, but what they all have in common is the need to supply the body with energy quickly to compensate for the lack of energy in the body. If the body lacks important nutritional components, for example if one has not consumed enough or no food for a long time or has been very active mentally or physically, this can lead to an undersupply. In order to avoid a dangerous lack of energy, the body tries to supply itself with short-term and, above all, quick energy through sudden feeding attacks.
If the food cravings occur only rarely, a normal physical signal can be assumed. Last but not least, in certain situations, such as pregnancy, breastfeeding or growth phases, the body needs more energy than average and tries to meet this additional requirement through cravings.But habituation and psychological factors should also be taken into account when cravings. If you treat yourself to a piece of chocolate more often as a reward, the brain and body combine this process with pleasant feelings, as this addresses reward systems in the brain that release messenger substances known as happiness hormones (dopamine), as well as with energy delivery. The body asks for a repetition in the following, since it combines this stimulus (eating chocolate) with the good feeling of reward (through the messenger substances released by the brain). If this does not happen, for example because there is currently no chocolate in stock that can be eaten, the body responds to the renunciation with a cravings for sweets.
A lack of a certain food component can also lead to cravings. For example, if there is a lack of magnesium, you may crave chocolate, as the cocoa it contains is an excellent source of magnesium. Apart from these natural processes of energy conservation, cravings can also be the sign of a physical or mental illness.
If food cravings occur more frequently, diseases such as diabtes mellitus or an overactive thyroid gland (since the appetite is increased by thyroid hormones, which can lead to food cravings), liver diseases or metabolic diseases, which are associated with a disturbance in satiety responsible messenger substances go hand in hand, be the cause.
But food cravings can also occur in the course of a mental illness. The focus is mostly on the satisfaction or expression of emotional needs through binge eating. In stressful situations, severe boredom or a strongly emotional event (such as the termination of a relationship), everyone has definitely reached for food in order to feel better or to distract themselves at least for a short time. This is also perfectly normal, but it can nonetheless lead to food cravings. You should only seek professional advice if you make excessive use of these comfort mechanisms, as this may be due to a mental illness. In the case of eating-vomiting addiction (bulimia nervosa or bulimia), regular binge eating occur at least once a week in conjunction with vomiting and other measures that are supposed to lead to a loss of weight (such as the use of laxatives).
In binge eating disorder, binge eating attacks occur at least once a week, but on their own, with no additional measures to reduce weight. Other less serious causes of binge eating can also be migraines, lack of sleep, incorrect eating habits and diets, premenstrual syndrome, worm infections, cannabis use, alcohol addiction and certain medications (for example those used for mental illnesses such as depression). A permanently increased food intake, as it can occur, for example, in the course of obesity (obesity), can be associated with binge eating. In order to properly grasp the difference between healthy and sick, it is therefore important to understand the difference between hunger and cravings.
Hunger is a deeply important signal for survival. It shows an imbalance between energy supply and consumption in the body and tries to balance it out. Feelings of hunger can become very uncomfortable if one ignores them for a long time and does not feed the body. Feelings of hunger arise from the complex interplay of various messenger substances, receptors and information in the body. The autonomic nervous system, various hormones and the activities of the liver and digestive system are particularly involved in this process. Hormones that are responsible for mood, emotional states or stress, such as Norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine or cortisone play an influencing role. The reward center in the brain is also activated.
So it's no wonder that physical and emotional sensations overlap when it comes to hunger and appetite. This has been shown in particular in contexts where food intake alone is no longer supposed to ensure survival. Learned behaviors and sensory perceptions also influence appetite. For example, it is much easier to cope with hunger if you don't have your favorite dish on a plate in front of you, which is a visual stimulus that should not be underestimated. In the brain, the information converges in the hypothalamus and the brain stem. The brain regulates the balance between energy expenditure and food intake and tells us whether we are full or hungry. Disruption of these regulatory mechanisms can result in diseases such as those mentioned above.
Carbohydrate-rich foods are an important source of energy. These are broken down in the body into glucose (or grape sugar), the most important source of energy and regulating factor for feelings of hunger. Glucose can be detected in the blood and can lead to cell and organ damage at high concentrations. Carbohydrates are available in easily degradable and more difficult to digest form. The former in particular can only silence the feeling of hunger for a short time, as they are quickly broken down and consumed. When hungry, the desire for these fast energy suppliers is particularly great. A longer-lasting feeling of satiety is achieved by eating more difficult to digest forms of carbohydrates, such as potatoes, brown rice and whole grain products, as they are broken down over a longer period of time and thus only consumed piece by piece.
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Hunger is slowed down by feelings of satiety that arise 10-15 minutes after eating. A full stomach and chemical messengers that are released during digestion signal the body that needs are met and that you are full. With hunger pangs you eat a lot of food in a short time. The body cannot react so quickly with the stop through a feeling of satiety, so that one consumes an inordinate amount of food through such an attack. This is also noticeable in the feeling of fullness that often follows, which can range up to nausea.
Therapy from cravings
Cravings are often just a symptom, so it is important to identify and treat the underlying cause. Therapy is usually not necessary if cravings occur after long meal breaks or physical exertion. Adolescents in the growth phase and especially pregnant women can seek medical advice if there is an increased incidence of food cravings in order to rule out a possible undersupply of important nutrients, malnutrition or a metabolic disease. Usually, however, hormone fluctuations that do not require therapy are the cause. You should take the following tips to heart if you want to counteract food cravings:
- Eat slowly and leisurely. In this way you give the body time to develop a feeling of satiety and eat less overall or, in the best case, eat exactly the amount you need.
- Avoid sweet or salty snacks if possible. When cravings overwhelms them, they prefer to resort to healthy options such as fruits or vegetables.
- Avoid eating in stressful, boring or emotionally upsetting situations. Do not get your body used to food as a reward or a distraction.
More serious illnesses than those mentioned so far cannot be dealt with by these rules of conduct. In the case of diabetes, a diet and exercise plan is usually created initially in order to achieve a reduction in blood sugar and weight loss if possible. In addition, drugs are prescribed in order to adjust the blood sugar to an acceptable level as quickly as possible and to avoid any consequential damage. Appetite suppressants can also be used, or a surgical procedure such as reducing the size of the stomach in extreme cases of obesity can be considered. Medicines are also given with good success if the thyroid is dysfunctional.
If you are dieting or under stress, the doctor can recommend preventive measures for the binge eating. Depression is treated with medication depending on its severity, but psychotherapy can also help. Psychotherapeutic treatment methods, in particular conversation or behavioral therapy, are usually used to treat the eating-vomiting addiction or binge-eating disorder. If medication is itself the cause of the binge eating, a change with the help of a doctor is advisable.
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If you have recurring food cravings that occur frequently, you should seek advice from your family doctor.
To make a diagnosis, the first thing you need to do is to draw up a detailed medical history. Important questions that need to be answered are: When and how often does the cravings occur? How long have the attacks started? What are your normal eating habits? How often and under what conditions do you eat? But you can also ask questions about medication and the symptoms that accompany the binge eating. In addition, a physical examination and blood tests are required to clarify a physical cause, such as a metabolic disease.
A referral to a specialist can be made, if necessary, as the causes discussed above sometimes exceed the knowledge and knowledge of the family doctor.
The prognosis also depends on the underlying cause. It goes without saying that eating attacks in the wake of Growth phases or pregnancy just briefly occur while metabolic diseases such as diabetes mellitus or an overactive thyroid gland require treatment for a long time, possibly even for the rest of life. In general, however, one can assume that the causes of food cravings can only become life-threatening in the most severe cases and if not treated.
Cravings are difficult to stave off, as they can occur in everyday situations such as growing up or after prolonged physical exertion. Of course, preventive measures can be taken, especially the above physical ones Diseases like diabetes not to get. Eating a healthy diet and exercising is the best way to prevent this disease, but neither should you overdo it.
Dieting, an unbalanced diet, and an excessive exercise program can lead to other problems that are detrimental to a healthy life. It is most helpful to pursue a balanced nutritional program and supplement it with exercise that is fun as well as physical exercise. It can help to prepare strategies for stressful and emotionally upsetting situations and not to rely on the emotional comfort of eating.
Meditation or counseling might be considered for help, but this is a decision that everyone should make for themselves. The symptom of cravings per se can only be countered preventively to a limited extent - because it is only a symptom. If you have recurrent attacks, you should look for the underlying cause and treat it if necessary. As in many cases, early detection helps.