You’re sitting at your desk going about your workday when suddenly, out of nowhere, you’re overcome with the desire—no, need is more like it—to devour a giant sticky bun. Your mouth is watering just thinking about the gooey-sweet glaze, the ribbons of butter and cinnamon. Is it your imagination, or is your heart beating faster?
That’s when the bargaining begins: I’ll have just a bite and freeze the rest. Or maybe I’ll eat half of it—I’ve been good today—no, all of it, but I’ll skip dinner tonight…
Cravings. Research is only just beginning to shed light on why so many of us succumb to them. Although scientists are still piecing together the puzzle of what exactly happens when you’re in the throes of a craving, this much they know for sure: Every craving begins with a cue. The cue for a sticky bun may be something as simple as getting a whiff of its buttery aroma as you walk past your favorite bakery, or catching a glimpse of a TV commercial featuring one.
“Any cue that’s repeatedly associated with high-fat and/or sugary foods can trigger a craving,” explains Ashley Gearhardt, PhD, a psychologist and food addiction expert at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University.
In other words, if you like to celebrate the end of a workweek with margaritas and Tex-Mex, eventually a craving for those things will automatically kick in every Friday afternoon. If you grew up equating, even subconsciously, your mother’s homemade chocolate layer cake with comfort, you’ll likely crave some version of that whenever you have a bad day.