The Totally Scientific Reason You Can’t Stop Eating Pizza (and How to Control Your Cravings)

African american woman eating pizza

Woman eating pizza | m-imagephotography/iStock/Getty Images

Pizza combines almost everything you could ever want in your mouth into one easy-to-consume pie. Millions of Americans likely burn their tongues on melted mozzarella every day. Many of us end up consuming more in one sitting than they originally intended to — it’s just that good.

Have you ever wondered why foods like pizza and burgers seem so impossible to eat in moderation? Your inability to control your cravings might literally be all in your head.

A study published in Cell Metabolism suggested eating fat and carbs together might increase your cravings for more fat and carbs.

Which means pizza — possibly the world’s greatest combination of sugar and oils, let’s be honest — basically makes you crave more pizza as you eat it.

And it’s all your brain’s fault.

The study asked people to look at specific foods and say how much they’d be willing to pay for each one. Their brain activity throughout might help scientists understand why pizza and desserts are so difficult to resist.

Pizza in a white plate

Pizza | iStock/Getty Images

Researchers looked at two areas of the brain when evaluating participants’ responses to different foods. They found that the combination of fat and carbs in food activated both areas and triggered the release of dopamine.

That’s right: The poor brain chemical everyone blames for their addictions. It’s the pleasure-regulating substance that signals to your brain, “Yep, this thing you’re doing is great. Let’s keep doing it.”

Carbs and fat on their own have this effect. But for some reason, together, they turn manageable cravings into unyielding desires for everything you know you shouldn’t eat in double portions but can’t help yourself because your brain chemicals say it’s good for you.

It’s possible food manufacturers and restaurant chefs already knew this phenomenon existed. Why else would they dangle colorful bags of chips, brightly colored drinks, and larger-than-necessary portions of everything on the menu in front of our eager-to-empty wallets?

Are they entirely to blame for the rising epidemic of chronic diseases like obesity and heart disease, though? Sure, our brains respond accordingly to the foods we feed them. But some of us might have a much easier time saying no if we avoid our “trigger foods” entirely — at least until we can trust ourselves not to lose control.

Couple with dog and pizza

Young couple athome eating pizza | Katie_Martynova/iStock/Getty Images

Pizza is great; you don’t have to stop eating it. But you can take pleasure in its goodness without making every sized pie a personal one.

You already know that once a food appears in front of you, your chances of leaving even a crumb behind — not until you’re so full it hurts, anyway — all but disappear. That doesn’t mean you’re completely powerless in the fight against your junk food cravings.

With a little practice, you can regain control of the foods even science can’t blame you for over-consuming. Start by making small changes to your shopping and dining-out routines.

  • Don’t buy the foods you know you can’t resist. Recruit someone to shop with you whom you can trust to keep all “danger foods” out of your cart.
  • Order your pizzas, desserts, and sugar-saturated drinks in the smallest sizes possible.
  • Adopt a single-portion policy. You can set and stick to your own limits, even if you think you can’t.

When dopamine says yes, it’s tempting to immediately reach for your wallet. You might consider establishing a junk food budget — a set amount of money you’re allowed to spend on high-carb and high-fat foods each week. Anything to deter your spending and consuming is worth a try.

Even though you might want the whole pizza, don’t give your brain the satisfaction it craves. The more intensely you train yourself to resist, the more you’ll be able to enjoy your favorite foods in much more reasonable amounts.

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