*That’s me above on my seventh birthday, loving the cake and ice cream.

Cravings are not your fault. It comes down to chemistry and biology. Your body craves sugary or starchy foods when it is lacking certain chemicals necessary for your body and emotions to function properly. When you indulge in carbohydrates, your blood sugar levels are quickly stabilized. Your brain receives a “quick fix” of energy; your taste buds stimulate the production of feel good hormones in your brain (i.e. serotonin and various endorphins), and your entire nervous system feels soothed. Glucose, a type of simple sugar, is such an important fuel for your body that even your intestines can detect sugar the same way the taste buds on your tongue do!

Your mental and physical experiences from eating sweet foods tend to be so rewarding that it’s understandable you crave sugar when you’re hungry, cold, or stressed.

Your appetite and cravings are regulated and influenced by a complex suite of factors. Serotonin is a chemical produced in your brain that helps to regulate appetite and satiation. It also plays a role in emotions. However, serotonin is also produced in your intestines, and as its levels in your blood rise, you feel satisfied and relaxed. Certain foods and pharmaceutical drugs will affect the production of serotonin in your gut, providing a direct link between food and mood.

If you have trouble sleeping at night and find yourself reaching for bread or sweets after 8:00 p.m., you may actually be looking for a way to soothe your nerves with serotonin. Dr. Judith Wurtman, cell biologist and nutritionist, explains: “In some people, the carbohydrate-serotonin mechanism may go awry and they develop frequent carbohydrate cravings that prompt them to eat when they’re not hungry. Those with nighttime carbohydrate cravings may unconsciously be using carbohydrates as a sedative, capitalizing on serotonin’s sleep-inducing property.”

Cravings can be like a bad lover that you are yearning for one minute and then desperate to get away from the next.

Understanding how you can control your cravings instead of letting them control you can help you become aware of your actions and their consequences. Giving your body all the nutrients it needs in the right proportions and at the right times throughout the day will help you avoid drops in blood sugar that put you in sugar-craving mode.

Cravings are a natural part of living and eating. In my experience, my cravings continued even after I committed to conscious eating. Instead of reaching for the refined foods I used to love, I gradually began to choose foods that were nourishing rather than depleting. The same is possible for you.

Nutritionist Julie Daniluk hosts The Healthy Gourmet on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), a reality cooking show that looks at the ongoing battle between taste and nutrition. Her first book, Meals that Heal Inflammation, advises on allergy-free foods that both taste great and assist the body in the healing process. Check out more amazing recipes, nutrition tips, and her Anti-Inflammatory Quick Start Program at www.juliedaniluk.com and follow her on Facebook at Julie Daniluk Nutrition and on Twitter @juliedaniluk.