Cravings: what you want isn’t necessarily what you need

When it comes to cakes and sweets it’s hard to tell whether our cravings relate to a want or a need.

It’s been suggested that a craving for a particular food is your body’s way of telling you something. Chocolate is high in magnesium, so maybe you’re magnesium deficient. Fries and burgers are oily, so maybe you’re low on calcium. The psychology and neuroscience behind our cravings has largely debunked this myth.

“Foods like cake, pizza, ice-cream, and chocolate aren’t really foods that any of us need to eat, they are just nice foods to have and they tend to be the ones that we crave,” says Associate Professor Eva Kemps from the University of Flinders, Adelaide. So where are these cravings coming from?

Cravings can be caused by heightened emotions, or associations with a place or activity. A study conducted in the United Kingdom suggested that those with higher levels of boredom or anxiety during the day experienced a food craving episode shortly after a drop in mood. We refer to this as emotional eating. Cravings can also be driven by learned behavior or associations with a particular place such as popcorn at a movie theatre, or having cake at a birthday party.

We are continuously exposed to and confronted by food. Whether it be in magazines, shopping centres, on television advertisements, the media is also guilty of triggering cravings for these fast and fatty foods.

The important thing to remember about cravings, is that it’s okay to indulge them every now and again. There is no harm in having these cravings, but there is harm in acting on them every time or too much. It’s okay to have one or two rows of chocolate, but if you sit and eat the whole block every time you could be in trouble.

Eating behaviour such as this can develop into eating disorders where you may eat to the point of excess and overcompensate by fasting, over-exercising, or vomiting, eventually causing more detriment to health. The key to avoiding this result is to remember, “all in moderation.”

Cravings are not evil, and shouldn’t be seen as so. You should not listen to or indulge every craving you have, but don’t deprive yourself of that square of chocolate every time.

For a healthy alternative to kick those cake cravings, try our recipe for a healthy banana bread.