Why Do We Crave What We Know Is Bad For Us?

It seems to be an inevitable fact of life that many of the things we crave also happen to be bad for us. The unhealthier something is, the more we seem to want it. Believe it or not, though, there may actually be some logical explanations behind some of these cravings. From food to relationships, researchers are beginning to uncover the truths behind these dangerous yearnings.

First, there is ever-perplexing draw of the stereotypical bad-boy (or girl).

From an evolutionary point of view, women want big, burly aggressive men because our ancestors counted on such men to keep them protected in the face of predatory animals and environmental disasters. And while today we may be less likely to be attacked by a vicious lion, it is still important to feel protected.

But what about those people who we are attracted to simply because they have a dangerous edge or attitude?  Dr. Helen Fisher, the main scientific advisor for the dating site Chemisty.com, shares some interesting points on this issue in her book Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love.

This phenomenon of feeling attracted to someone we know is bad news is something that Fisher calls “frustration attraction.”  “It’s a very common part of romantic love,” she explains. “Even if you don’t like someone that much, if you find out she doesn’t like you or people are telling you to dump her, you suddenly want her more!”

Some people may engage in “frustration attraction” for the challenge.  Others may like the feeling of being needed, or may want to help this troubled soul to solve their inner emotional issues.  Still others may just enjoy the thrill.

Either way though these relationships rarely end well, and the true key to a happy relationship is to find someone with whom you share the same interests, values, and goals.

Moving on. Are you ever frustrated by the fact that most things that taste amazing also happen to be super unhealthy? You and me both. Believe it or not, though, there is actually a biological basis for our craving foods high in fat.

Human bodies were designed to crave and store calories. Ten thousand years ago, our ancestors never knew when the next meal was coming. Whenever possible, they had to store excess calories as body fat. These fat cells would then keep them alive during times when food was scarce.

Clearly evolution has not caught up to us yet in the United States where, for many, food is plentiful and obesity rates are skyrocketing.  But if you look at it from an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense that we would crave foods high in fat.

One food that many of us crave is chocolate.  David Benton, a Professor of Psychology at the university of Wales, is an expert on the biology and psychology behind the all too familiar chocolate craving.  According to Benton, chocolate is the number one food that people report craving.

Although this is often attributed to drug-like activity of chocolate on the brain, Benton argues that these theories have no scientific basis.

Instead, chocolate contains the ideal mixture of sugar and fat that our bodies, and our taste buds, love.  Eating something so pleasurable releases endorphins, which make us feel good.  And if it makes us feel good once, we know it will do so again.

chocolate

So by an early age we learn that eating chocolate makes us feel good, and we crave it in order to obtain this good feeling once again.  This is why we are especially prone to wanting chocolate when we’re stressed– to make us feel better!

So, if you find yourself craving things that you know aren’t good for you, don’t fret- you’re not alone!  There are real evolutionary reasons behind these cravings.  Learning and being aware of those reasons is a good way to keep track of when it’s okay to indulge, and when your ancestral cravings are better left unfulfilled.

 

COURTNEY ANDREWS

578444_10200305740359725_878772024_nContributing Author

Courtney Andrews is a senior at Wake Forest University. She is a double major in English and psychology and is currently working on a research project with children struggling with autism. She hopes to be a clinical psychologist after attending grad school.

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