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The Real Reason You Can’t Stop Craving Unhealthy Food

burger und pommes auf einem tablett
Content Editor & Ecotrophologist
Leyla is an ecotrophologist. She writes articles for foodspring about nutrition and healthy living. She also creates free food programs to help you eat healthy.

Have you ever found yourself eating an entire bar of chocolate when you only planned to take a small piece to round out your lunch? You’re not alone! Huge cravings for unhealthy food can seem impossible to curb and often come up unexpectedly.

Why does it feel so hard to enjoy unhealthy foods in a balanced way? And why don’t we get this same insatiable appetite when it comes to healthier options? Before we get to the bottom of this question together, let’s explain what constitutes unhealthy food in the first place!

There is no official definition of “unhealthy” foods. But on the whole, it can be deduced that unhealthy foods are characterized by a high degree of processing, sugar, and fat content. These kinds of foods also provide you with a lot of calories with hardly any nutrients at the same time.

Nevertheless, whether a food is unhealthy for you or not is determined by many factors, including your behavior. It also depends on how you eat in general, how you prepare your food, and what your daily routines look like. In the end, moderation is the key, as strictly abstaining from specific foods isn’t the only way to eat healthier in the long run.

What will help you bring more balance to your diet? Our sinfully delicious and healthy recipes!

To help you understand your body better, here are 5 reasons why it’s no wonder you have a hard time satisfying your cravings for unhealthy food.

#1 You reward yourself

Numerous studies show that unhealthy eating behavior triggers the brain’s reward system, resulting in increased release of hormones such as dopamine and serotonin. That wonderful feeling when eating pudding, chocolate, or chips tells our brain we want more. Some studies even report similar mechanisms at play to those in the brain of a drug addict. Over time, after giving in to the rewards of eating unhealthy foods, the strength of the craving increases, causing excessive consumption.

#2 Unhealthy foods make you hungry instead of full

Several studies have shown that when food is available in unlimited quantities, subjects don’t orient themselves to the number of calories, but to the weight of the food. This ‘energy density’ is expressed as the energy (meaning, the number of calories) per gram of the food. Unhealthy foods are characterized by a high energy density because their amount of energy per unit weight is comparatively high. Diets consisting predominantly of such foods are more likely to lead to obesity than those with foods of low energy density. In science, this is in part attributed to the fact that high energy densities lead to slower satiety.

#3 Unhealthy foods are designed this way

Once the chips bag is ripped open – there’s no stopping until it’s empty. Sound familiar? Researchers at the University of Erlangen attribute this phenomenon to the proportion of carbohydrates and fats in chips. According to this study, a carbohydrate-to-fat ratio of 45:35 leads to insatiable cravings. It’s also interesting to note that similar proportions of carbohydrates to fats are also found in chocolate and other snacks, such as peanuts. Whether other qualities of these foods also have a significant influence on their consumption and, consequently, on the response in the brain, has not been studied. What do we also have a hard time getting enough of? Our homemade avocado chocolate mousse cups.


Avocado Schoko Mousse Cups

#4 You’re not getting enough sleep

Why on some days do you feel like you’re way more in tune with when you’re full than others? And on the days you’re not…well, your appetite is just unstoppable? Feelings of hunger and satiety are dependent on a lot of things, and external factors that have nothing at all to do with the food itself can sometimes determine whether a piece of chocolate is enough or whether it has to be the whole bar.

Our hunger and satiety hormones are influenced by how much sleep we get. Shorter sleep reduces the amount of the hormone leptin and increases the amount of ghrelin, the hunger hormone. This also explains why too little sleep is associated with a higher probability of obesity.

#5 You’re moving less

You heard right. Although your caloric requirements decrease with less physical activity, a direct comparison study shows that appetite and food intake actually increase. So, if you let your training slide for a few weeks, you might be hungrier for the unhealthy.

The solution to the problem? We like to focus on a healthy relationship with food, which includes chocolate when you feel like it. Conscious eating and enjoyment of your food should be in the foreground. According to this Canadian study, restrictions cause more desire for the forbidden food than a completely unrestricted diet.

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