Reason # 2: Stress

Another factor in the desire for fatty or sugary foods is stress. When we are under periods of stress, the body responds by producing a hormone called cortisol. The primary functions of cortisol are to increase the amount of sugar in the blood that can be used for energy, and to aid in protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism. Cortisol also blocks the release of insulin and leptin, which increases hunger. This is why our appetites lean towards sweets and other high-calorie/high-energy foods when we’re stressed; it’s the body’s way of accumulating extra “fuel” to help combat any perceived threats to our well-being.

The best response to combat this dilemma is to identify the source of stress, and then take measures to avoid it as much as possible. For example, if you discover that a particular activity, relationship or environment seems to trigger a stressful response, it may be best to minimize your interaction with it (or them) in order to keep your peace of mind intact.

Reason # 3: Mental Habits

As the old saying goes, old habits die hard. Some of us grew up in homes where food was used as a reward or a “treat” for doing something good, or to celebrate some milestone. More often than not, these foods were usually high in fat and sugar. Even now in our adult lives, we may have psychological connections to the “reward foods” of our childhood, and any time we feel the need to be “rewarded” (even if it’s just for making it through a hard day), we will seek out those foods. The most effective antidote to this addictive practice is to remain acutely aware of when you’re about to enter into that familiar pattern, and choose to do something different instead. This could mean reaching for a piece of fruit instead of for that cupcake, or choosing not to eat altogether.

Reason # 4: Nutritional Deficiencies

Sometimes certain cravings can indicate a lack of a specific type of nutrient or set of nutrients. Many pregnant women experience this phenomenon, where a lack of iron or other minerals can produce strange food cravings. Ironically, many times when we’re intolerant of a certain food, we’ll crave more of it; for instance, if we are wheat intolerant, we may crave pizza or pasta. A digestive intolerance communicates to the body that it’s not getting what it needs from the food, so it will crave more of that food in an attempt to make up for the deficiency. In these cases, it may be best to seek healthy substitutes for those foods that you crave.

Reason # 5: Negative Moods

We’ve all heard of “mood foods”–those foods you eat when a certain mood strikes you. More often that not, when we are in a bad mood, we crave junk food. This is because sweet foods actually releases opioids into our system, which are chemicals that give us feelings of euphoria and well-being. Learning to substitute healthy alternatives for these sugary foods can help keep mood-induced cravings at bay.