The RAE defines the term craving as “an urgent and fleeting desire, usually capricious.” For many people, cravings are some of the main reasons why they can’t stick to a specific eating plan. But what are cravings made of? Are they really enemies to fight as if they were wild beasts or small pets that must be spoiled from time to time?
From its conception, the word craving already has a moral judgment: to give in to any craving, 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 temperance of character depending on their dominance. From this moral dimension, we mistakenly conceive food cravings as something that must be overcome, since generally, they are represented by the foods that, in a hygienic order, would be the “most forbidden”.
However, from a biological and social point of view, cravings are the perfect example of how these dimensions overlap with unclear limits in the way our body and psyche function (if it is useful to separate them).
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. Tracing the origin of a craving, many times is equivalent to immersing in a series of physiological processes that in many cases are conditioned by psychological and sociological processes. Cravings have to do with our feeling of threat or security, with our emotional comfort, or even with the social ties 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 in many cases the conditions of the social context, as well as the memory can activate the cravings for specific foods.
In addition, it is known that cravings can also be motivated by sleep deprivation, or by sensory stimulations. 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 also depending on a multiplicity of factors.
The way in which our cravings work has been used to in a certain way, promote 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 stimulate the impulse of consumption of the buyers. Different investigations into the way in which cravings work seek to create behaviors that lead to well-being behaviors. The best way in which we relate to cravings is to try to remove them from a conflictive or deprivation dimension (as this causes exactly the opposite effect) and to try to put all our senses in the act of eating when the cravings are satisfied.
Food and society columnist
POINT AND HOW
Food and society columnist. Gastronaut, observant and foodie. She is a researcher in the sociology of food, and a nutritionist. She is president and founder of Funalid: Foundation for Food and Development.