Who hasn't been there: in the throes of a food craving so intense that having Jillian Michaels appear in the flesh wouldn't hold you back from that bag of chips ... or greasy slice of pizza ... or chocolate confection. But why exactly are these common food joneses so powerful?
"Cravings definitely have a physical component, but they also give some insight into the type of person you are," says Alan R. Hirsch, M.D., head of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago and the author of "What Flavor Is Your Personality?" Hirsch should know: He's studied the cravings, food choices, and personalities of more than 18,000 people for over 25 years. Here's something to take away from your midday vending-machine runs or late-night fridge raids besides extra calories.
When you crave salty food
What it says about your body: If nothing but the saltiest french fry will do, you may have a mineral deficiency. Studies have shown that women who eat low-calcium diets want salty foods more than those who get enough of the bone builder, says Michael Tordoff, Ph. D., a researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, an institute that studies taste and smell. One possible reason: Sodium temporarily increases calcium levels in the blood, which tricks the body into thinking the problem is solved. But you may have a shortage of other minerals too. In animal studies, researchers have found that a lack of potassium, calcium, and iron causes test subjects to devour table salt
What it says about you: You go with the flow. Hirsch's research describes salt lovers as having an "external locus of control," meaning they believe that outside forces, not their own actions, determine their fate.
When you crave chocolate
What it says about your body: You reach for the chocolate because the flavor makes you swoon — but it does that because it stimulates the release of serotonin, Hirsch says. It's basically an antidepressant in dessert form that your body instinctively seeks out when your happy chemicals are bottoming out and you need a quick lift.
What it says about you: That depends on what type of chocolate you long for:
- Dark chocolate: You're the life of the party, a social butterfly, and right in the mix of the team project at work.
- Milk chocolate: You're the quiet, introspective type. Your idea of a perfect afternoon is a solo run or one-on-one time with a good book.
When you crave spicy food
What it says about your body: If you're having trouble cooling down, your body may crave a fiery taste to make you perspire. That may seem counterintuitive, but it helps explain why Mexican food would be popular even when temps are scorching. Some research also suggests that people become addicted to the rush of spicy food — the spiked blood pressure, accelerated heart rate, and rapid breathing, says Tammy Lakatos Shames, R.D., a co-author of “The Secret to Skinny.”
What it says about you: You love order, dislike wasting time, and sweat the details.
When you crave sweets
What it says about your body: This is a lot like a chocolate craving — lusting after sweets could indicate that you're looking to boost your mood. Or it could be that you're just low on energy. The body absorbs refined sugars of the candy variety faster than any other type of food, giving you immediate fuel, Shames says.
What it says about you: Sugar fiends tend to walk toward the wild side, Hirsch says. He describes them as hedonistic, with few regrets. They also like to stand out and feel special.
When you crave sweet + salty
What it says about your body: Your body needs glucose and sodium to function properly, so when the cells get sluggish (and you get tired), you reach for the chocolate-covered pretzels to get them revving, Hirsch says.
What it says about you: You're a loner, but a whiz, too. According to Hirsch's data, people who think a potato chip dipped in chocolate sauce is a match made in sensory heaven tend to be creative but private, to the point that they appear standoffish.
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