Coffee and Burritos: The Science of Cravings

    Half of my coffee addiction is fueled by my need for caffeine to stay awake, which I can easily alleviate with an apple or some green tea. But the other half is purely for the taste: I absolutely love the smell of coffee— the rich creamers and the caramel, the macchiatos and the mochas. Just writing this now is making me crave the stuff.

    The online publication “Lifehacker” published an article about the science behind cravings. In the article, Assistant Professor Wilhelm Hofmann from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Dr. Kelly McGonigal of Stanford University deconstructed how cravings work in the brain, explaining that they’re linked to the brain’s reward system. The brain’s reward system associates the subject of the craving, like potato chips, for example, with good feelings by releasing dopamine while a person is thinking about that craving. And the desire or longing that comes from the craving blocks the part of the brain that would logically evaluate whether or not it’s a good idea to actually indulge.

    Interestingly, the article discusses that most of our cravings are psychological, not physical. A cocaine addict might get physical withdrawal symptoms when trying to kick their habit, but most of our addictions are much easier to control as they are rooted in our minds rather than our bodies. If we can teach our bodies how to treat a craving and convince them that we don’t need to need what we’re craving, we can conquer them. Make sure to check out the entire article, “Hack Your Brains to Use Cravings to Your Advantage,” to get all the tips that they recommend for controlling cravings. But one strategy that I particularly liked was their explanation of how to use memory and mindfulness to take note of consequences of indulging cravings.

    Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a hopeless burrito addict. If I’m awake, I’m craving a burrito. But this weekend, I decided to really slowly savor the burritos (yes, multiple burritos in one weekend) I ate. I took note of how I felt eating the burrito and I made myself finish the entire thing. Afterwards, when I was uncomfortably stuffed, I took note of whether or not listening to that nagging voice in my head that forced me to walk over to Los Primos, break my vegetarian diet, and fork over half an hour’s worth of pay for a California burrito was worth it. Considering how slow I felt for the rest of the day and how guilty I felt from inhaling so many calories, I realized that it wasn’t. If you slow down the process, you force your brain to create memory of the reality of indulging cravings. Next time the burrito craving strikes, I’ll have an archive of memories in my head that’ll remind me that I can do without.

    Since my coffee addiction makes me feel jittery, gives me terrible crashes and slowly drains my wallet, I’ll be working to “hack” my brain and convince myself against that tantalizing Dirty Chai. I can already feel the caffeine dependence losing its grip. But when it comes to Mexican fast food, I have some work to do. Because it’s almost finals week, and I could sure use a soyrizo burrito.

    More to Discover
    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $210
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal

    Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $210
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal