Image by Instagram user illustrationsbymajali
Fairy tales are full of irrational desires from Rapunzel’s mother longing for a taste of the witch’s garden, to Cinderella’s yearning to attend the ball. A number of scientific studies on cravings over the last ten years have reveal a variety of causes for desiring. I tend to think of craving as being primarily related to food, but I often crave other things: companionship, affection, change of scenery.
Sometimes yearning seems like and expression of boredom or self-sabotage, these longings are easier to resist. Other times, my desires feel more akin to need, as if my body is communicating some sort of deficiency. These cravings are the most satisfying to give into, although I have no way of knowing whether how I perceive a particular desire has any correlation to necessity.
There is a theory that the foods we crave are actually the ones we are intolerant to. If our body finds a food difficult to break down, it floods our brain with pleasure hormones to counteract the stress, which makes us want them again.
But a competing theory supposes that our desire for a specific food is biologically, that our desires are predisposed and reinforced by early life eating habits.
Some evidence supports need as a cause of cravings, but even when there is a connection between need and want, the longings are usually distortions of deprivations: wanting sweets when blood sugar is low, craving french fries when the body needs salt.
Fairy tales offer unexpected outcomes to succumbing to longing. The princess desperate for her golden ball ends up with a handsome prince while the mother who longs for a child black as ebony, white as snow and red as blood ends up dead.
I often associate craving with guilt. I feel bad for wanting, especially when I want what is bad for me. Since discovering I have a wheat intolerance, I crave pizza and sandwiches more than ever. I feel bad for wanting what I know will make me sick. I get annoyed with my body for not “breaking the cycle.” It’s been a year and I still have a hard time watching people eat muffins.
I remember before my own IBS symptoms began (about 1 ½ years ago) I had very little sympathy for people—including my own sister—whose bodies reacted badly to certain foods. I didn’t understand why she couldn’t just sit with me while I ate a big salad or a greasy burger, consuming her bland dinner of chicken and rice. I didn’t understand that her intolerance of those foods didn’t translate to reduced desires for them, that want and need often conflict.