There used to be a restaurant we'd visit when i was a teen, that served an amazing hot ham and swiss sandwich on pumpernickel. I think of it from time to time -- i don't know why it was so much better than any other sandwich of its like, but it WAS. If that thing were offered to me right now, i have little doubt i'd devour it, wheat and all.
Earlier today (late afternoon) something made me think of the gooey cheese on a good pizza, and i WANTED it. Not the pizza, just the hot mozzarella-blend that had been flavored by the toppings and sauce underneath it. I settled for a bowl of (innocent) chili with an ounce or so of grated cheddar stirred in, which hit the spot.
Why does this happen? Sometimes it's obvious -- an ad for a foodstuff may attract us directly. Or perhaps a suggestion in one's surroundings may spark a string of associations that trigger a longing for some dish, even if the immediate link has nothing to do with it directly. There are some books and movies which i associate with particular foods in an emotional way; i'm reminded of the book and the thought of the food comes leaping to mind. Our imaginations are our worst tempters to dietary "sin"!
There are times when i have no doubt that it is a nutritional lack which drives a craving. One day last summer when i was feeling crummy i got a fierce craving for a big rare steak; i had one, and promptly felt better. People report similar experiences with chocolate. When i'm stressed to the point that i get carb or alcohol cravings, experience tells me it's a B-vitamin fix that i REALLY need.
Occasionally the associations of time-of-day or a particular activity affect me, just like the book/movie associations do. And when our bodies are weary, our brains know that a carby snack will perk us up, even if we don't think about it consciously. Don't dare think about the taste, texture, look, smell, or mouth-feel of a particular treat, because your subconscious mind may latch on to the idea and not let go....
There are probably an infinite number of possible triggers -- that's academic. The important point is, what to do to take away their power before they nag you to do something you'll regret!
I'd say that the first thing to do is to determine if honest hunger may be the cause of the craving. Duh! :-) Nutritional need may be present, even if one has eaten recently, though. If i feel unsatisfied after a meal, nine times out of ten it means that i didn't get enough of either protein or fat (or both). On most occasions of this nature, a cup of coffee with a generous amount of cream tops off the meal perfectly. If some kind of stress has me frantic for either a cookie or a cocktail, popping a b-complex vitamin has been known to make things better.
Breaking the associations between food and unrelated activities is a subject that deserves some study. Perhaps my longing for peppermint ice cream when i read that book might be derailed if i sip some peppermint iced tea instead? I already know that when i get home from a busy afternoon out, a cup of HOT tea is just as relaxing as a glass of wine. Sitting down to watch a favorite holiday movie, it's easier to forgo popcorn or party mix or some other "evil" snack if my hands are busy with a knitting, crocheting, or tatting project.
Distraction is sometimes a viable technique for disable a craving -- doing something that requires close concentration can be helpful. Reading in a different room, or even in a different chair sometimes removes one of the "reminders to snack." I can imagine that rearranging the furniture in the sitting-room might help!
Anybody out there have favorite tricks or inspired ideas? Please share! We're getting to the time of year when temptations are even greater!