It has been a long day, and all you want to do is come home, crash on the couch, and dig into a big bowl of macaroni and cheese. Have you ever stopped to wonder why you’re craving a cheesy bowl of pasta instead of quinoa salad? Most of our cravings are for salty foods or desserts, not for something healthy — why is that?
When something is off in our body — whether we are tired, we ate poorly, or we had a stressful day — it responds to these imbalances by sending us signals, and sometimes those come in the form of junk food cravings. What exactly is off in our body, however, is not always so clear.
No one wants lust after McDonald's all the time, so with the help of a couple nutritionists, we have come up some of the reasons why you might always be craving junk food.
Lack of sleep
“Lack of sleep can throw your hormones out of whack, causing increased cravings for high-calorie foods,” says Erica Julson, MS, RDN. Research has found that the more sleep-deprived you are, the more you will crave foods like fast food or sugar. Sleeping more at night will leave you feeling more energized in the morning and less likely to grab a donut during that mid-afternoon crash.
Ever find yourself indulging in comfort foods when the going gets rough? “Stress increases the hormone cortisol,” says Sarah Reilly, a certified nutritionist. “When it is elevated for extended periods of time, it can offset your blood sugar regulation and trigger cravings.” Certain foods like sugar and fat can also cause temporary highs, and when you’re stressed, your body craves that relief. Instead of turning to sugary and fatty foods, try eating some nuts or berries, which contain vitamins and nutrients that can help with stress.
Hangovers often leave you feeling tired, dehydrated, and with an upset stomach, which can all lead to unhealthy food cravings. “Alcohol depletes key nutrients needed for the energy cycle in the body, so the body will be hungry to ‘restock’ its fuel sources the next day,” says Reilly. Staying hydrated will help curb these cravings, and eating a proper meal before drinking will help slow the absorption of alcohol in your system, Julson says.
When there’s nothing else to do, people turn to eating as an activity. “Sitting with your emotions can be uncomfortable, so drowning them out with food may seem like an attractive alternative,” says Julson.
If you’re bored, try taking a walk and drinking a glass of lemon water. “Walking distracts the mind and the lemon water helps rehydrate,” Reilly says. “Often times a craving is just dehydration in disguise.
Your blood sugar is low
“This is a classic cause of cravings,” says Reilly. When your blood sugar drops, like when you haven’t eaten all day, your body searches for the quickest source of fuel to replenish your sugar reserves. This often comes in the form of sugary foods or carbohydrates, so make sure you eat frequently or try eating snacks such as nuts and fruit in between meals.
Studies show that junk food is indeed addictive. The more you eat it, the more your body is going to crave it. Certain foods like dairy, gluten, and sugar release dopamine in the brain, giving us that temporary feeling of pleasure. Our brain then becomes trained to want these foods again to attain the same feeling. At first, weaning yourself off these foods may be difficult. Once you start training your brain to respond to other foods, you’ll find that junk food cravings become less frequent.