Since the beginning of time, food has been a source of comfort and satisfaction. We all have fond memories from childhood that are linked to certain foods. Sometimes events are tied to these memories as well, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas.
But it’s a scientific fact that we seek out certain foods when we feel depressed, and this can lead to overeating and binge eating as we try to suppress our feelings or make ourselves feel better with the comfortable pleasure that food provides.
I Crave Broccoli, Said no one, ever.
It turns out that there’s real science behind our cravings for certain foods, such as sugary or salty treats. In fact, while you’d think hunger is the main reason why we’d have a hankering for a plate of French fries, the real driving source could be a number of factors.
Many people seek out foods as solace after a bad day or when they’re particularly stressed out, but depression also plays a major factor when it comes to food cravings. One line of thinking researchers have come up with is that we seek out sugary snacks or carbohydrate-laden meals in an effort to release serotonin, a feel-good chemical that’s been shown to regulate mood.
This may be a way that our bodies know we’re in some sort of distress and decide it’s time to self-medicate, thereby producing cravings for donuts and ice cream.
The Role Of Serotonin
Serotonin plays an important role in our bodies, and when levels are low it can have an impact on many areas of our health.
Lowered serotonin levels can be a result of poor dietary choices. Certain foods such as processed sugar, processed foods, alcohol, and caffeine can reduce serotonin levels in otherwise healthy people. High-stress levels can also wreak havoc on serotonin levels.
We tend to think of serotonin as a brain chemical, but the truth is that most of the serotonin in our bodies is manufactured in our gut. Scientists and researchers now believe that a compromised gastrointestinal system could play a major role in many diseases.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that works in conjunction with serotonin, and without it, serotonin would not be produced. It’s known as an essential amino acid because the body cannot produce it and you must obtain it through your diet.
Serotonin can also play a critical role in muscular and cardiovascular function.
Depression And Carbohydrates
If you find yourself craving carbs, pay attention to the driving forces behind the craving. What time of the day is it? Most of us have experienced an afternoon letdown and raid the candy jars or vending machines at work. Is it the same time every day? Or is it tied to an event? Did you just have an argument with your spouse and it left you feeling angry or sad? Are you trying to figure out your finances, but realizing there is more month left at the end of the money? That alone can be cause for depression!
Depression alone may not be the cause of you loading up on carbs. It could just be a habit formed early on in life when you associate consuming carbohydrates with a pleasurable experience.
Also, pay attention to the intensity of your cravings. It’s a take it or leave it option, or will you walk through the pouring rain to the grocery store for a tub of ice cream?
This could be a sign of depression.
Studies indicate that people report feeling better after about 20 minutes from when they consumed their carbohydrate treats. This is because carbs stimulate the production of serotonin, your feel-good hormone. When it reaches your brain and fueled by tryptophan in your system, your mood magically improves.
No wonder it’s called a sugar high!
An occasional slice of pizza or ice cream sundae is not going to do too much harm, and it may actually be good as a reward. But be careful if you’re rewarding yourself every day, as this could be a sign of going down the wrong road.
Things to do to ward off carb cravings:
- Try some physical exercise. There’s nothing like a walk around the block to create a little diversion and take your mind off your cravings.
- Snack on something healthy. Your carb cravings won’t be nearly as bad if you’re not starving, so try to keep healthy snacks with you at all times.
- Try a piece of fruit. Instead of something sugary like a handful of cookies or a chocolate bar, try a few pieces of mango or pineapple. These sweet treats do contain carbs, but also a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals, plus fiber.
- Give in to the temptation. It’s ok to give in every once in a while. Just be sure to make it count. Choose a high-quality treat, like a good dark chocolate.
Cravings Tell Stories
Pay attention to your cravings so you can identify exactly what the cause could be. If you feel as though depression may be at the root of your cravings, be sure to seek the help of a qualified medical professional to help you sort the problem out.