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Conquer Your Cravings

The Martha Stewart Show, November 2007

Many cravings are related to emotions or behavioral habits; if you understand your triggers, you can control the craving. A study released October 2007 has tied the desire for chocolate to the type of bacteria inhabiting your stomach. In the future, cravings and appetite may be able to be controlled by controlling the bacteria in our digestive tract. Most cravings last eight to 14 minutes, so if you can withstand the temptation for that long, you will likely be out of the danger zone. If a craving strikes, try walking around the office or telling yourself that you have to complete another task before you give in to it. One study published earlier this year found that chewing gum suppressed appetite, specifically the desire for sweets.

1. It's in Our Genes
Thousands of years ago, when high-calorie foods were more scarce, the human brain became programmed to crave these foods in order to boost energy stores. As a result, when we go a long time without eating, we crave fatty foods because they have more calories and the brain thinks eating them will help make up for lost calories. This is a reason that nutritionists always advise people not to skip meals.

2. Dieting
You always want what you cannot have. If you're on a diet in which you have sworn off sweets, it's natural that you will crave sweets. Our inability to suppress these desires is what makes most of us fail when we try diets that make us eliminate an entire category of food.

3. Old Habits Die Hard
If you go without the spoonful of Ben & Jerry's that always ends your day, you're going to crave it. We're creatures of habit.

4. Deficiencies
Although there are few studies that can prove that a particular nutrient deficiency can make you have a specific craving, it does make sense physiologically. Cravings for beef may indicate that your body is low in phosphorus; strong cravings for milk may mean your stores of calcium are low, or indicate a problem with your parathyroid glands; strong cravings for fish or shrimp could accompany hypothyroidism; overwhelming cravings for salt could be the result of problems with the adrenal glands; and, of course, uncontrollable sugar cravings could be a warning sign of diabetes. There's a condition that occurs in some women during pregnancy called PICA. It's a craving for nonfood items like dirt, clay, laundry starch, coffee grounds, and even cigarette butts. In some studies, these cravings have been linked to iron deficiency, but they are inconclusive, and none of the items craved are high in iron.

5. Emotions
By far the most common reason we crave something is because of our emotions. In fact, it's estimated that up to 75 percent of cravings are tied to our emotions. A certain sight, sound, smell, or situation can trigger the desire for a food that we associate with that sensation. But it doesn't have to be the cake or chips -- it could be carrots, if you associate them with a positive memory.

Special Thanks
Special thanks to Dr. Brent Ridge for sharing this information.