It is the end of an equally elated and dizzy night out and you are craving for some delicious fat food, or you have just had a 9-5 day at the University and your stomach rumbles as it begs for nourishment. After having that delicious meal your stomach quietens down, satisfied. Why does our body put us through that experience? The hippocampus, insula and caudate regions in your brain are involved in regulating the chemicals and cravings in your body. Monell Chemical Senses Centre found memory and pleasure are important in reducing cravings, the former being more important.
Within the gastrointestinal tract, serotonin is a neurotransmitter that induces positive feelings. Consuming delicious food containing lots of carbohydrates and sugars increase neurotransmitter release. We have low serotonin levels when feeling down inducing hunger pangs and try to raise them by eating delightful, substance filling foods. Ice cream, pizza and chips fit in the category of heavy food. Eating carbohydrates increases hormone secretion, which reduces stress and anxiety. The University of California tested food preference in rats finding preference for sugars and fats over healthier, nutritious food. Rats that have had sugar and fat produced less stress-related hormones like testosterone.
Many people avoid eating chips, chocolate and ice cream, believing the carbohydrates and fat to be too much. However, foods containing a higher content of fat are more important to satisfy empty stomachs than healthy foods. Fat is more filling than carbs and the GI tract will therefore release more serotonin giving a better feeling of enjoyment. Dieters tend to experience more cravings than non-dieters do because the food is not as delicious as regular food. However, research by Barbara Rolls, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, has shown that diet food can produce an equally pleasing feeling as regular food if the taste is similar, which links back to the importance of memory. Low-calorie life choice can be sustainable if the individual feels similar pleasure when eating high-calorie foods.
It does not help that in today’s society, fast food restaurants like McDonalds and Pizza Hut are abundant. Unhealthy food is highly promoted due to its easy, cheap consumption and pleasing taste. Such food releases endorphins. Endorphins are human produced opiates that relieve stress. The popularity of fast foods lies in how the human body reacts to the positive chemical secretions. Research has shown sugar consumption to express an even greater rewarding feeling than cocaine. The combination of fat and sugar that comes from fast foods releases endorphins in significant amounts. Additionally, Dairy products have the protein casein, which result in production of a certain opiated group called casomorphins in the gut. A happy and healthy gut will produce fewer cravings as regular levels of serotonin and opiates are produced consistently.
The human body has turned fat into an evolutionary advantage. Humans have a history of surviving famines. The body can store excess body fats (brown fats) to convert into energy when the body is lacking. Study has shown that storing fats is in our genes. We use fat to our advantage, it helped people who experience harsh winters and seasons of low water survive.
Feeling down reduces serotonin levels increasing your desire to eat. Ways to counteract this are through healthy eating and activities that boost your mood. Regulating eating habits can help reduce the cravings you feel. A diary recording when cravings appear and what emotions are felt at that particular time can give good insight into stopping them. Eating several small meals in one day reduces binge eating as your body releases positive chemicals regularly without reducing their potency. It is also important to give yourself a break every now and then by meeting friends for coffee, immersing yourself in books or interesting magazines and taking a hike. All these activities are ways to reduce stress and anxieties thereby reducing the need to binge eat.