Typically they hit at 3pm or 4pm. But they could strike you mid-morning. They are unhealthy food cravings and, usually they involve crips, chocolate, pastries or other high fat, high salt, or high sugar foods.
Nutritionist Christina Turner, of SOL North Coast Nutrition, says most of the unhealthy foods we reach for are also high carbohydrate, because the energy in them is released quickly.
Here’s a bit of science for you: brain scans have found that cravings cause an area of the brain, called the orbitofrontal cortex, to light up in much the same way as a drug addicts. So don’t be too quick to blame lack of willpower for your inability to kick a craved food!
Often cravings are also caused by stress
If you often reach for sweet, sugary snacks when you’re stressed, you’re not alone. In fact snacking when under stress at work is such an issue that The Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health (University of Aberdeen, Scotland) has won funding of one million euros to investigate how workplace stress can drive people to the chocolate vending machine. The research will be part of a five-year, six million euro European study on obesity.
Alexandra Johnstone, a nutrition scientist, said that the institute was planning to study those workers who reach for a snack when they feel stressed, and those who do not eat at all when under pressure. “Some of our volunteers will be shift workers, and we will be examining whether tiredness rather than hunger causes some of them to crave more food in the middle of the night,” said Dr Johnstone.
Poor eating habits at work are a significant contributor to weight gain, and do little to boost your concentration or ease stress levels. Research from the International Labour Office in Geneva, Switzerland, showed that simple things such as skipping meals, which triggers low blood sugar, can shorten attention span and slow the speed with which you process information. Coffee and sugary snacks are among the worst choices. Too much caffeine can make your pulse race, while sugary carbs can make your brain sluggish.
Because physical cravings are believed to be the result of a decrease or dip in blood sugar levels, the secret is to be prepared. Healthy but yummy snacks include a hummus dip with chunky strips of carrot or low-fat crackers; or low-fat yoghurt and fruit. For staying power, a handful of nuts such as almonds or pecans, or a dried fig (which is full of iron for energy) is the go.