Food for thought: why we get cravings - FOX 13 News

Food for thought: why we get cravings

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

They're the stomach rumbling urges, which are powerful enough to stop your day, and wake you at night. Most people associate food cravings with pregnancy. However, experts estimate up to 15 million Americans are binge eaters, giving into cravings that prove satisfying, yet sinful.

"I tend to find that a lot of women go with the salt and sugar cravings, and men tend to go with the savory cravings," explains registered dietitian Batina Timmons.

Timmons says feeding those cravings can calm stress, and reduce tension. But to understand the desire, don't look to your stomach; instead, go deep into the brain.

"Memory plays a big part of this," says Dr. Maria Pelchat of Philadelphia's Monell Chemical Senses Center. "Cravings are learned. If you walk into the house every day and have orange juice, and then you don't have orange juice, you are going to crave it."

Pelchat used high-tech brain scans to study cravings. She discovered food fantasy lights up the emotional center of our brain.

"The experience of a craving is remembering how good an experience was... how good it felt to eat that chocolate, how good it felt to eat that pate at the fancy restaurant," she said.

Essentially, think food for thought, instead of nourishment.

"People crave movie theater popcorn," explain Pelchat. "It's a habit that everyone has. You smell it, you see other people eat it, you get in a line. If you're late for the movies, you're going to crave it."

These tastes are based on repetition, and personal preference. Pelchat says people don't crave things they don't eat.

"You can't unlearn cravings, they never go away completely. Just like an alcoholic might go on a 12-step program and always be an alcoholic," explains Pelchat. "The problem is not to crave something, the problem is if you can't resist it if it's there."

We tend to crave the opposite of what we actually eat. If we eat a salty diet, we tend to crave the sweet. And if we eat a sweet diet, we tend to crave salt.

The good news: researchers find cravings subside as we get older. If will power doesn't do the trick, modern medicine can help. A common drug doctors use to treat drug addicts and alcoholics appears to help fight food cravings.

Naltrexone blocks a receptor in the brain that triggers binge eating. So far it's worked in rats.

Boston University researchers believe the drug will someday help patients control urges, and cut down on the amount of food they consume.

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