It happens when you least expect it—driving in the car, flipping through a magazine at your desk, catching up on the latest episode of “Jersey Shore.” Out of nowhere, it strikes. Boom.
Enter, the Craving.
That intense, I-want-no-I-NEED-sugar-fat-right-NOW feeling grips you like an iron maiden, peeling away the willpower that keeps your sweet tooth in check all day. But no matter how valiant your efforts or worthy your cause, eventually, you break.
We’ve all caved into one craving or another, making a beeline for the fattiest, sweetest, most caloric food within reach. And then, naturally, in floods the guilt.
What’s the Deal?
Before you hang your head and curse your lack of willpower, new research shows that giving into the craving may not be due to a crack in our resolve, after all: We may be evolutionarily hardwired to crave high-caloric foods. In other words, you can blame our prehistoric ancestors (we're looking at you, Lucy, for genetically predisposing us to seek out fatty foods to quell hunger).
“In prehistory, calories were in intermittent supply and very essential for survival,” explains Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at Tufts University and author of “The ‘I’ Diet” book and program. “So it makes sense to have a mechanism to ensure that we really love calories and are willing to work to get them!”
In Fred Flintstone’s prehistoric era, high-caloric food was in high demand and in short supply. Unlike readily available, yet low-calorie plant-based foods, it took some doing to reign in a hefty dose of fat and calories, which usually came in the form of meat.
So when good old Fred (or hey, Wilma, too) had a successful hunting party, the brain responded to the sudden caloric-upsurge by flooding the body with the feel-good chemicals dopamine and serotonin. This deluge of happy hormones created an almost Pavlovian effect, linking high-fat, high-caloric foods with rewarding feelings of happiness and contentment. A match was made.
“Our earlier ancestors were hard-wired to search for sugar, fat and protein,” says Anthony Salerno, a marketing doctoral student who researches survival instincts at the University of Miami. “It was adaptive at that time because of their rarity, but fast forward to 2011 and it’s no longer the case because there’s food everywhere,” leaving us stranded somewhere between a 24-hour doughnut shop and McDonald’s ever-glowing arches.
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