Are We In Control Of Our Food Cravings?


One of the most common complaints I hear from people when it comes to dieting is that they do well for a few weeks, but then it seems like after one bad weekend they just can’t get back into it.  Well, there may be a scientific reason behind this.

While it is true that dieting is extremely psychological, we may not be in control of our cravings.  Let me explain.  Inside all of our digestive systems live millions of different kinds of bacteria.  While this may be kind of disgusting to think about, these bacteria play a very important role in our digestive processes.

Each bacteria plays a role in the breakdown of different foods.  For example, one type of bacteria may break down carbs/sugars, while a different type may break down protein in meat.  Most people understand this much.

However, what you probably didn’t know is that the type of foods you eat affect which types of bacteria populate the majority of your gut.

For example, when you eat healthy, the bacteria that break down these healthy foods actually reproduce and multiply, making up the majority of the bacteria in your gut.

Inversely, if you eat fatty, greasy, high sugary foods, the bacteria in your gut that feed on these substrates will multiply and make up the majority of the bacteria in your gut.

So why is this a problem?  This is where my research comes in.

The bacteria in your gut get hungry just like we do.  Remember, since these bacteria only feed on certain substrates, they need certain types of food otherwise they die and can no longer reproduce.

So how does a bacteria that feeds on greasy fat survive if you’re eating fruits and vegetables?  Well, if these bacteria make up the majority of the bacterium in your gut, they send signals to your brain in the form of chemicals in your blood telling your brain to eat that food.

How does this equate for you?  Well, do you ever crave sugar?  Fat?  Grease?<

While these bacteria don’t know what foods contain fatty grease, your brain does.  These bacteria trick your brain into craving certain foods in order to satisfy their hunger.

So in reality, your cravings for bad food may not be your fault.  HOWEVER, we can combat these bacteria in a number of ways.

First, start by eating healthy foods.  Fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, sweet potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal, etc can help you grow the healthy bacteria in your gut that feed on these complex sugars while slowly starving the bad bacteria that feed on simple sugars.

The longer you stay on a good diet, the less you will crave bad foods (we normally just say we have acquired the taste for these foods when in reality the healthy bacteria in our guts are signalling our brain to eat good foods).

Second, you can promote the growth and reproduction of healthy gut bacteria by taking probiotics.  It seems that in the last few years probiotics have exploded in today’s grocery stores.

You can find probiotics in Greek yogurt.  But beware, buying flavored Greek yogurt is full of added sugars.  I suggest buying plain Greek yogurt and then adding your own natural sweetener or fruit.

Also, make sure you check the yogurt container so that it says “contains live colonies of bacteria x.”  This way, you know you are getting healthy bacteria that will feed on the bad bacteria in your gut and promote healthy bacteria health.  If it doesn’t say that it contains live colonies, then it is full of dead, worthless bacteria.

So to summarize… your cravings for fast food or fatty/sugary foods may not always be your fault.  However, you can control what you do or don’t eat.

Remember, falling off of your diet for one night is not the end of the world.  But, beware that after that you may crave more of that food initially since the bacteria that feed on that type of food are thriving and are sending chemical signals to your brain to consume these foods.

The longer you stick to your healthy diet, the less you will crave bad foods and the more your body will respond to good foods.  So the next time you have a craving….are you going to let some little disgusting bacteria control your actions?

Posted by permission and researched by Jordan Mitzel, Athletic Trainer