Cravings and the Blame Game - Part 2: More than Our Biology
This post is part of a series on Cravings and the Blame Game. In Part 1 we discussed why we eat the foods we eat and how our biology plays a role in the food decisions we make. Part 2 will dive deeper into the outside factors that affect our food decisions. Part 3 discusses five ways to regain control over your food cravings.
MORE THAN BIOLOGY
Beyond our hormones and hypothalamuses there are additional factors at play that help us recognize hunger and satiety. Changes in the environment, temperature, stressors, food availability all play a role in why and how much we eat. In a study during Ramadan, a month of fasting in the Muslim faith from sunrise to sunset, women reported feeling hungrier than men. You might think this is a biological difference in males versus females, but it was actually due to women being surrounded by food as they prepared meals for their children and the sunset meals. The men were able to go to work and not be surrounded by the aromas and sight of food, helping them to feel less hungry during the month.(2)
During the winter months you might feel the tendency to “hibernate” and find yourself eating more than the busy summertime. This has a physiologic reason as exposure to colder temperatures increases the speed that food moves from the stomach to the small intestine making you feel hungrier and want to consume more.(2) Isn’t it crazy the ways our body interacts with the world around us? And you thought it was just about willpower….
Have you ever though about why you drink water? Maybe it’s after a long run and you’re looking to rehydrate. Maybe it’s out of boredom in class, to give yourself something to do. Maybe you just realized as you drink your third cup of coffee that you never drink water. We drink water for both physiological and psychological reasons. Our body needs to maintain homeostasis or balance in the body. Because we are 70% water, hydration plays a key role in our bodily functions including health status, cognitive function, and overall mood. The goal of homeostatic thirst is to restore the balance of water in the body and it is triggered when there is a loss of even just 1% of water in body.(2)
Non-homeostatic drinking is everything that is not driven by a physiological need. It could be because you’re always carrying around your Hydroflask and you have become accustomed to always taking a swig while you’re at your desk. It could be because you’ve trained yourself into the habit of drinking a glass of water first thing when you wake up. Or just from sheer boredom and you enjoy the sensation. An important distinction to note is that a dry mouth, which is often our driver to reach for a glass of water and soothe a parched mouth, is not the driver of thirst but a symptom of it.(2)
With blanket statements of aiming for 8 glasses of water a day, most people forget that we take in water when we eat food. Especially fresh fruits and vegetables are loaded with extra hydration helping fill our quota. In the United States it is estimated Americans get 22% of their water intake from foods, and in European countries, such as Greece or Italy this number is even higher because of the emphasis on fruits and vegetables in their diets.(8)
It’s important to stay hydrated whether through food or beverages because of the key role water plays on temperature regulation and cognitive function. When we get overheated from exercise or the weather our body produces sweat and when sweat evaporates it helps to cool the body. When your body does not have enough fluids, it can’t produce the same volume of sweat to cool down resulting in you becoming overheated. Another example of this tight regulation of water is how you might experience a headache when you’ve become dehydrated. Even just a small dip in fluid levels can impact our cognitive abilities and negatively impact mood.(8)
A MORE REFINED PALATE
Are you one of those people that for the life of you just cannot get behind our favorite leafy green kale? You might be a supertaster! About a fourth of people have a genetic mutation that enables you to have a more keen sense of taste.(2). Vegetables might taste bitter to you due to an increase in fungiform papillae or taste buds on your tongue. People who are supertasters may avoid strong flavors, but the bitterness of a nutrient dense vegetable can be cut by adding a buttery sauce or your favorite condiment to mask the intense flavor.
Mom and dad might also be to thank for your veggie aversion. Taste training begins young, with research pinpointing breastfeeding or even in the womb for taste preferences later in life. In one experiment of babies who had never eaten carrots, the ones who had been exposed to many different vegetables enjoyed the carrots more than those who had previously eaten a more limited diet.(9) This illustrates like most things, genetics is just one piece of the puzzle – we are also shaped by our behaviors and upbringing.
We have all heard the saying, you are what you eat. But truthfully, we should say “we are what our gut bugs eat.” The microbes in your gut help play apart in what is referred to as the gut brain axis. These good and bad bugs can increase cravings for foods that kill off their bug competitors. They can make you feel cranky and thinking about that brownie until you eat the food that they want you to eat. Basically they are conniving little buggers but what’s important is that you maintain a healthy balance of good to bad microbes, as well as a big diversity of different species of microbes. Each bacteria feeds on a different food source. Prevotella for example, loves carbohydrates and Bifidobacteria wants fiber.(6) No, it’s not crazy science fiction to say that what you think you want to eat might not be your own idea at all but that of the millions of microbes living in your intestines.
Stay tuned for Part 3 for five tips on how to gain more control with your food cravings!
1. Hunger | Definition of Hunger by Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hunger. Accessed October 30, 2018.
2. Logue A. The Psychology of Eating and Drinking. Fourth. New York, NY: Routledge; 2015.
3. The Science of Appetite - The Science of Appetite - TIME. http://content.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1626795_1627112_1626670,00.html. Accessed October 29, 2018.
4. Satiety | Definition of Satiety by Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/satiety. Accessed October 30, 2018.
5. White, W. Psychology of Eating: Taste and Smell. Presented at the: October 2, 2018; National University of Natural Medicine.
6. Gut–brain nutrient signaling. Appetition vs. satiation - ScienceDirect. https://www-sciencedirect-com.nunm.idm.oclc.org/science/article/pii/S0195666312001936. Accessed October 30, 2018.
7. Broussard JL, Kilkus JM, Delebecque F, et al. Elevated ghrelin predicts food intake during experimental sleep restriction: Sleep Restriction, Ghrelin, and Food Intake. Obesity. 2016;24(1):132-138. doi:10.1002/oby.21321
8. Popkin BM, D’Anci KE, Rosenberg IH. Water, hydration, and health: Nutrition Reviews©, Vol. 68, No. 8.Nutrition Reviews. 2010;68(8):439-458. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x
9. Beckman M. Are you a superstar? Just stick out your tongue and say “yuck.” Scientific American. Accessed October 29, 2018.