Ask the Head Doctor: Are food cravings normal? How can I get control of them?

Back in the day, you’d have said “yes” to any of these questions. Now, thanks to smartphones, it’s an enraging exercise trying to figure out what’s causing our niggling aches, pains and weird food cravings. And your body doesn’t talk back – at least, not much.

What do the symptoms have in common?

More often than not, they have a common theme: in the case of food cravings or other food-related issues, they usually relate to an appetite that appears either insatiable, unfettered by hunger, or simply an unrealistic picture of what would be fulfilling. For example, you’re in the middle of a beautiful day, but you still want to eat all the ice cream you can eat. For restlessness, you’re tired or restless and can’t shake it. And there may be more than one mechanism that’s behind them. As your brain tells your stomach, food will satisfy you in order to complete your activity tasks; while food cravings tap into some very interesting hormonal pathways that go unacknowledged by your other brain parts. Even so, the fact that some symptoms persist or worsen after eating a meal might mean they are having physiological impact.

Are you trying to control something or someone in your head?

Yes. Most people can think of a way they’d like their body to do something – perhaps a family member, a sexual partner, a friendship or a boss – but not all of us really feel like taking action in those situations. When our minds say: “I want you to eat that,” we don’t think “I want you to eat that good stuff” or even ” I want you to eat that good stuff” and that’s a key piece of this puzzle. One of the top five reasons why people don’t exercise is because the brain usually overrides the body, and these urges sometimes become so strong that they even become a physical act of resistance.

Is it just your body trying to tell you something?

It’s a sign of what neurologists call partial paralysis or overtomotor control syndrome. It happens when a single thought or command from the brain overrides the entire body, like the ability to drive or cycle by motor control. Pain and muscle atrophy can follow the “button” action (the story of sock where mind and body are connected can be found at http://bit.ly/2S2zQtu), along with inhibitions to eat and exercise.

Is my chronic pain a condition?

Yes. Pain that remains chronic and that keeps your muscles and nerves tired and weak will limit your ability to function as well as take care of yourself.

Are these common body issues caused by my tummy?

It’s not as simple as that. Many causes come under the umbrella of obesity – regardless of whether they are weight-related or not. In some cases, the cause is a related illness, such as being overweight. In others, dieting or a desire to be thin can be key. Dieting makes your body believe that it will eat less. The problem? The brain is naturally carnivorous and that appetite is still there in excess when you’re on a diet. And weight gain and weight loss are different problems, and eating the right foods is key to maintaining a healthy weight and healthy joints. There are more than a few situations in which every family member or close friend could be genetically predisposed to developing a problem with overeating and maintaining a healthy weight. Some tummy bugs can also lead to a spike in your appetite.

I’m really not hungry.

If you’ve bitten into a meal that’s made you “hungry”, then it’s probably gone for good. In the worst cases, though, it’s possible that your brain just believes that you are and your body isn’t giving you a clear signal that you need to stop eating. For example, if you’re having food cravings but your stomach’s still not feeling full, your brain might think you’re full or doing well but your stomach has actually filled out nicely. Your brain is a very smart organ, but sometimes it can be a bit too clever.

Are the food cravings just for you?

No. If your brain thinks you have food cravings, just because you feel like you do, then it’s time to pay attention to it. By not understanding what’s going on in your brain, you may be giving the signals to your brain that allow it to make a food decision, even if the food is unappetising and it makes you physically sick to your stomach.

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