Healthy Living: Craving junk food? Here's why!

SEATTLE, Wash. --  Junk food cravings can seem impossible to control.  New research shows the way our ancestors ate may have something to do with it.

It happens all the time, waking up in the middle of the night needing something to snack on.  Dr. James (Jim) Polo is the Behavioral Medical Director for Regence BlueShield.

“It starts with a desire for something that we either want to taste or smell or munch on, and it finishes with a sense of satisfaction… satiety," he said.

One of the issues we contend with is that manufacturers know exactly what they need to do to keep you wanting more.

“It’s all about the taste, the smell, the color, the texture in such a way that it touches on that craving but it doesn’t really give you that sense of satisfaction, you tend to overeat it.”

As the Rolling Stones say, "You will try and you will try," but you will be hard-pressed to get any satisfaction from junk because it is so low in nutritional value.

"With society today, you can have just about any food readily available, readily made… Our cravings are immediately matched by the ability to get it right away," Dr. Polo said.

Now you can blame your ancestors for the desire.

“We tended to crave things that our bodies needed," he said.

Our ancestors foraged for starchy foods, sweet berries, and fatty fish.  New research shows a lack of sleep triggers ancient instincts that yearn for rich, sweet, fatty foods.

Dr. Polo says what is available now versus back then is vastly different.

“You might have also wanted an apple because your body needed vitamin C, and your body needed sugar or healthy sugar and it wasn’t readily available," he said.

So, while we cannot change the way our ancestors did things, we can do some things to get a hold on what our body craves.

Dr. Polo says it is important to reduce stress. When our stress levels are low, we tend to stray away from overeating junk that we think will fill us up and give us rapid energy.  Another thing you can do is drink a lot of water.

Dr. Polo says water gives you a sense of fullness and it actually decreases your appetite.  Being mindful while eating can also help.

“Thinking about what you’re eating how much you’re eating while you’re eating it can really be helpful to slow down and not overeat,” Dr. Polo said.

“At least focus on moderation, recognize what you’re eating that it’s not necessarily of nutritional value, try to have a little bit of it then go looking for something that is gonna be more nutritious," Dr. Polo suggests.

Dr. Polo says the most obvious thing you can do if you are tired: get rest!  He also says there are hormones that drive hunger and hormones that shut off the hunger response.  He says the best thing to do is to keep your body healthy, so those hormone levels are normal.