Tongue on fire so why am I craving spicy food? 4 Reasons

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Ever wonder “Why am I craving spicy foods?”

It seems crazy at first because spicy foods involve pain. Why would you crave pain!?

However, there is one good and simple explanation behind all spicy food cravings. 

You’re Craving Endorphin “Chemicals”

hot spicy peppers

Spicy foods will “burn” your tongue but then your brain will release “pain-reducing” endorphins.

It’s these endorphins that you start to crave, not the spicy foods per se.

This can be confusing, and we’ll talk about addiction, pregnancy, and the ‘cooling down benefits’ of spicy foods later on in this piece.

But these issues are all secondary to the chemical ‘dependency’ towards endorphins.

And I put ‘dependency’ in quotations because spicy foods (and hot sauce for that matter) are not actually addictive.

However, the endorphin chemical release can cause certain craving tendencies similar to addictive behaviors.

So Exactly Why Does A Person Crave Spicy Food? 

Here’s how it all goes down:

1 – First, the chemical ‘capsaicin’ is found in spicy peppers. For example, jalapeño and other chili peppers are high in capsaicin. 

But interestingly, capsaicin is found only in peppers!

This means that spicy foods like ‘Spicy Chicken McNuggets’ are spicy because they have the ‘capsaicin’ chemical found in peppers!

Or your favorite hot sauce. It’s hot because of the capsaicin extracts used in the hot sauce!

After you eat the capsaicin …

2 – After you eat the spicy food, your tongue and other regions in your mouth like the top of your tongue will start to absorb the ‘capsaicin’.

If the capsaicin is still contained in the peppers in the food, you will need to chew the pepper to release the capsaicin.

Of course many foods don’t actually have peppers in them, but simply rely on capsaicin extracts which are more easily digestible and don’t need chewing at all – like your favorite hot sauce.  

3 – The capsaicin gets absorbed by your mouth, tongue and throat. 

This chemical triggers the pain receptors in your mouth. The pain receptors then send a signal up to your brain that your tongue is on fire!

4 – Your brain, thinking your tongue is on fire, sends endorphins to cool the pain down.

Endorphins are essentially ‘pain-reducing’ chemicals which get released and seemingly cause cravings.

Endorphins also get released during exercise. In exercise, your muscles start to hurt so your body releases endorphins to reduce the pain in your muscles.

This is why after exercising you feel good and energized and have an improved mood. It’s because of those endorphins!

These endorphins are why spicy foods actually boost your mood after you consume them!

Ever notice how after a spicy bite you tingle for a while, but then you feel good?

  • Your mood improves
  • You get a bit more energy

The biggest thing I have noticed after eating non-spicy food is that I miss the ‘high’ of having spicy food in my mouth. Food sort of becomes boring after a great spicy sensation.

Here’s the big take away: endorphins are the primary reason you crave spicy food. However, there are other benefits to eating hot peppers too!

Now with all this talk about chemicals and highs, you might be wondering …

Can you be addicted to spicy food because of endorphin chemicals?

The answer is no. You cannot be addicted to spicy foods because of endorphins.

Here is why:

Endorphins are naturally occurring substances in your body. Other substance addictions, such as to alcohol and caffeine, introduce foreign chemicals into your body that your body comes to crave.

Plus, if you stop eating spicy food you won’t suffer withdrawals like you would with an alcohol addiction.

This is very good news because I like salsa but would hate to become dependent on it! Read here if you are craving hot sauce.

Spicy food and addiction similarities

spicy food dishes
  • You do crave spicy foods more after some time
  • It’s possible to miss the spice
  • You feel normal foods are boring

Plus, if you start eating spicy foods regularly then your tolerance to spice will build up.

I remember when I traveled in Thailand, at first I could only stand to eat one red pepper. 

With a single red pepper my eyes would start to water up. I would start to sneeze and cough.

But the children I saw in Thailand would sometimes eat 3-4 red peppers! 

And even by the end of the trip I was starting to feel more comfortable with at least one red pepper because of my growing spice tolerance.

It’s easy to see how you would need to keep eating hotter more spicy foods.

Your body can get accustomed to one spicy feeling and develop a tolerance.

And only another even spicier food would be able to cool those cravings down!

But here’s why I say spicy foods are not addictive, despite eliciting these craving qualities that also can be found in truly addictive behaviors.

The simple reason is this: aren’t all things that release endorphins somewhat pleasing? 

When do we draw the line between an addictive behavior and something we do for good fun?

For example, here are some behaviors that could be considered addicting, but are in fact behaviors we do mainly for good fun.

  • Movies
  • Exercise
  • Other non-spicy foods

These activities all release endorphins, and yes, they can be addictive in the sense of you wanting to do them more often. But we don’t say that people get ‘addicted’ to movies per se. 

People don’t get ‘addicted’ to exercise (even though plenty of people do over-exercise, but that’s more for emotional reasons rather than physical dependency). 

The bottom line is that spicy foods don’t have withdrawal symptoms.

And let’s be honest too – the ‘serious cravings’ that you may feel towards spicy foods are nothing in comparison to the very serious life or death cravings people have towards addictive substances that actually do have withdrawal symptoms.

While sugar can seem addictive, if you are craving sugar please know it’s not the same addiction as alcohol or other truly addictive substances.

Now that we have addressed the primary reason behind why you crave foods, let’s talk about two other commonly asked questions regarding spicy food.

Is craving spicy food really a sign of pregnancy? 

No. This is an old wives; tale. 

In my blog post about meat cravings, I noted how different cultures have different food cravings in relation to pregnancy.

For example, in Western countries, pregnant women typically put chocolate as their #1 food craving. 

However, in Egypt only 6% of pregnant women said they craved chocolate. 

This type of evidence strongly suggests that pregnancy cravings may have definite cultural factors and have less to do with the specific foods.

With that being said, pregnant women do have an increased appetite. They are eating for two after all!

Now if you think about how, many spicy foods are high in calories as well?

  • Pizza
  • Chicken wings
  • Chips/salsa/nachos

If you’re pregnant then you need to eat more calories and more food overall. Since spicy foods generally speaking are a bit higher in calories, then it would make sense you’d crave spicier foods.

Why am I craving spicy food all of a sudden?

It could be that you’re feeling stressed and need something hot and spicy to take your mind off of whatever is bothering you.

Or, it could be that you’re happy and feel like celebrating with a delicious, spicy treat.

Either way, cravings for spicy food can be due to an emotional response.

So if you find yourself reaching for the hot sauce more often than usual, take a moment to check in with yourself and see how you’re really feeling.

Chances are, your body is trying to tell you something!

What does it mean when you crave spicy food?

There could be a few reasons why you’re suddenly craving spicy food. Maybe you’ve developed a tolerance and need the capsaicin in higher amounts.

Or, of course, spicy foods generally taste good, possibly increase metabolism, and so you might just be craving the flavor!

Whatever the reason, if you’re feeling the urge for some spice, there’s no harm in indulging every once in a while. Just be sure to listen to your body and stop if you start to feel any discomfort.

Oh, and if you’re craving milk, then perhaps it’s because you just had something spicey to eat!

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About the Author

Hey, I'm Jared and I'm a writer and coach.

I help yo yo dieters stop binge eating and emotional eating through journaling, which works because it's so easy, simple and effective for lasting habit change.


Check out my free Masterclass for my entire journey from yo yo dieting wrestler to Buddhist Monk and finally, to Eating Enlightenment. .

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