The Science Behind Your Body’s Cravings

While our ancestors mainly ate for survival, we have easier access to food (hello, Postmates) and a lot of reasons to eat these days. Aside from being hungry, we may eat because we’re angry, bored, stressed, depressed, watching a movie, busy, not busy enough or with friends (the list goes on). There are five brain chemicals that influence our emotions of when we eat, what we eat, and how much we eat.


The “fight-or-flight” hormone. It told our ancestors whether they should fight off a predator or run for cover.


This neurotransmitter makes you feel good. It’s a major target of antidepressant drugs.


Also known as gamma-aminobutyric acid, this amino acid makes you feel like a zombie. It’s one of the ways anesthesia may work to decrease your responsiveness to the world. Gaba is in whole grains, soy, lentils, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes and more.

Nitric oxide:

This is the meditation-like chemical that calms you. This neuropeptide is usually a very short-lived gas that relaxes the blood vessels of the body. Food like beets, garlic, meat, and citrus fruits contain nitric oxide.

So how do these chemicals work to determine if you choose an apple or slice of apple pie? When your serotonin transmitters fire signals, they tell your brain you feel good. But when the brain takes the serotonin and starts breaking it down, that oh-so-good feeling you’ve been experiencing will disappear. According to Harvard Health Publishing at Harvard Medical School, “Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.”

For many of us, we want to choose a food that will quickly make you feel good, to counteract this drop. Which foods will give you this rush? Anything with lots of sugar will give you a jolt and stimulate the release of serotonin. The chemical downfall can make you anxious and seek out more sugar or carbs. Knowing how your emotions affect your brain chemistry and food cravings will help you have more control over your food choices.

The goal is to keep your feel-good hormones stable. This way you’re consistently satisfied without the highs and lows that could make you lose control of your eating.

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