In this article, you will learn why we crave food and How to Stop Food Cravings
Food Craving Meaning
To Crave something means to long for; want greatly; desire eagerly
Food craving is often defined as a strong desire to eat.
The word DESIRE is important here.
The foods that we commonly crave include chocolate, cookies, peanut butter, pizza, ice cream, chips etc. These foods are usually high in calories, sugar, salt, and fat.
These foods may not be automatically bad for you but the problem is that they are very easy to overeat. When we overeat these foods, it;s very easy to gain weight and even suffer some health problems in the long term.
When we decide to go on a diet, these are the foods that we cut out initially. The problem with this is that this leads to intense food cravings that affect the best of us.
Hunger vs Food Cravings
Cravings are not the same as hunger.
Most people are aware of Hunger, which is a necessity. Hunger is a biological need for energy, without which we cannot survive.
Food cravings, on the other hand, is more of a desire for certain foods even though you may not be physically hungry.
This is also referred to as ‘Selective Hunger’ where we’re hungry for certain foods and are not hungry for others.
Cravings usually refer to the body demanding certain foods that were deprived of when dieting. There are some hormones such as Seratonin and Dopamine that are released when we eat certain foods. There is also a strong psychological aspect to cravings.
This comes down to the difference between Physical Hunger vs Emotional Hunger
Physical Hunger is a need and Emotional Hunger is a Craving.
What Causes Food Cravings?
When on a diet, it’s common to have food cravings. Here are some reasons why.
In order to lose any significant amount of fat, we have to be in a sustained caloric deficit. This simply means that we have to eat fewer calories than our body needs.
Sound simple right?
Not really. What happens when we start eating less?
The body is smarter than you think. As soon as it senses less energy coming in, it starts to slow down your metabolism and makes you more hungry.
Even if you follow a sensible and balanced diet, simply being in a caloric deficit will make you more hungry and increase your food cravings.
In terms of the caloric deficit, some people create a very large caloric deficit to lose weight fast. The greater the deficit, the more you will crave foods that are high in calories.
Excessive Food Restrictions
If you want to lose weight or even maintain a healthy weight, you will have to practice some sort of restriction. Sometimes, we may have to restrict ourselves from eating certain foods altogether.
That being said, we don’t need to restrict more than what is necessary to lose weight. Many times people avoid certain foods completely for no good reason.
What happens when you know you cant have something? You want it even more.
It’s basic psychology. We crave what we cannot have.
For example, if I told you that you can eat anything you want but you can never have cookies again.
What do you crave now? It’s probably cookies.
You may not even like cookies that much, but the fact that you can’t have them makes you crave them.
Fad diets promise amazing results in a short time. If you ever come across a diet that promises – “Lose 20 Pounds in 2 weeks” or some BS like that, it’s probably too good to be true.
The problem with fad diets is that they are usually not based on any sound nutritional principles. They usually have some sort of crazy restrictions such as consuming only liquid calories or eating for your blood type.
These restrictions are totally unnecessary to reach your goals. In fact, they will stop you from reaching your goals in the long-term because these approaches are not sustainable.
With fad diets, eventually, the cravings will get very high, causing you to go off the diet and derail your progress.
The foods you crave could be an indicator of some Vitamin and Mineral deficiencies in your diet.
This may not always be the case and it’s best to check with a Doctor or get some blood tests done.
Dieting for Too Long
Some people diet for a really long time. As time goes on, your cravings increase because you’ve been restricting yourself for so long.
Existing Food Habits
Your existing diet is based on your food habits. There are certain foods that you probably eat regularly. Often times, when going on a diet, we tend to completely change our diet. This is very hard to deal with because we’re not used to eating a certain way.
In addition to this, if we’re used to eating certain foods and we cut them out, we still crave them because they are a part of our daily lives. For example, if you’re used to eating ice-cream after dinner every night and you cut it out suddenly, you will really crave it.
Stress eating is very common. When we’re stressed, our willpower is generally lowered. The body also releases hormones such as cortisol.
One of the ways we deal with this is by eating. This is especially true if we eat certain ‘junk foods’, which give us pleasure.
In my own Weight Loss experience and also with my coaching clients, sleep quality plays a huge role in dealing with hunger and cravings
Poor sleep not only increases stress but it also reduces your willpower and the ability to make smart decisions. Poor sleep is also tied to increased Ghrelin levels, which is one of the main hunger hormones.
Learn more about how to Sleep Better
If you haven’t read the book Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink, you need to read it ASAP!
The book has many examples based on research that show why we eat has a lot more to do than physical hunger.
Eating is a social experience and we are affected by the foods we have access to at home, at work etc. Also, the different sights smells and even sounds can make you crave some foods.
If you were walking down the street and passed by a bakery, the aroma of the freshly baked bread, cookies, muffins etc. will make you crave the food.
We’re also bombarded with food commercials on TV, Magazines, Newspapers, Blogs, Social Media etc.
All of these exposures to the different sights smells, and sounds make you crave these foods.
Your environment also refers to your loved ones. The foods that your friends and family eat are also the foods you’re used to having around you. Even if you may not eat them, because the people around you eat them, you will be more tempted to eat them.
The fact is that even though we eat with our mouths, food cravings start with the different sights, smells, and sounds associated with food.
Why do you eat when you are bored?
An empty mind is the Devil’s Workshop. Eating is one of the things we do when we’re bored. It’s a way to keep our minds occupied.
In most cases, we are not physiologically addicted to food but some people develop something which can be compared to an addiction. Certain comfort foods such as Chocolate trigger the release Dopamine, Seratonin, Endorphins and other chemicals which enhance your mood and make you feel good.
This is not just because of the high sugar and fat content but also because of compounds such as Theobromine, which is a mild stimulant like caffeine. It’s easy to get addicted to the high even if it is small.
Food Cravings During Pregnancy
Pregnancy and Food Cravings fo hand-in-hand according to WebMD
The hormonal shifts during pregnancy can cause some intense and weird cravings for foods which a woman may not have even craved for before. Hormones such as estrogen and cortisol fluctuate quite a bit during pregnancy and are known to cause cravings. Pickles are a well known as a food that pregnant women crave.
Even outside of pregnancy, studies have shown that men report more craving for savory foods, whereas women report more craving for sweet foods.
Blood Sugar Levels
When we eat a meal, especially if it’s high in carbs and sugar, your pancreas release insulin to help bring your blood sugar levels down. Sometimes, if your blood sugar levels drop too quickly, it only increases your craving for more sugar.
If you go too long without eating, it will cause your blood sugar levels to drop, thereby increasing your hunger and food cravings.
Hidden Sources of Sugar
Most people are aware of table sugar (Sucrose) and foods that contain them including Candy, Cookies, Cake, Ice Cream, Soda etc.
What You may be surprised at is how many other food products have added sugar in them.
Common foods with added sugar include Ketchup, Yogurt, Meal Replacement Shakes, Sports Drinks, Energy Drinks, Granola Bars, Protein Bars, Pasta Sauce, Soups, Flavored Oats, Cereal, Salad Dressings etc.
Sugar can also be found in Fruit (Fructose), Milk & Dairy (Lactose), Honey, Agave, Molasses, Jaggery, Dry Fruits etc.
Psychological issues such as depression can affect our food cravings. Some people also have genuine Eating Disorders such as Anorexia, Bulimia, Orthorexia, Binge Eating Disorder, etc.
If you suspect that you have any degree of these disorders or even if you have an unhealthy relationship with fo, it’s best to seek help from a professional who can help you.
An increasing amount of research is coming out indicating how big of an impact your gut and the trillions of bacteria in it on your health. The bacteria in your gut is collectively called the microbiome.
Just as what we eat can affect the type of gut bacteria, gut bacteria can also influence what we
Time of Day – Food Cravings At Night
In my experience as a Coach, people tend to fo off the diets at night. They may be eating very well most of the day but they can’t seem to control themselves at night.
Initially, it takes a lot of willpower to avoid certain foods throughout the day. We have to face temptations many times per day. The problem with willpower is that it is a limited resource that gets drained throughout the day.
By the time it’s night, your willpower has been slowly draining way until you just don’t have any more left in you. If your day is stressful, this will also increase your cravings at night. This is why we crave these foods at night.
Your mood has a big impact on the foods you crave. If you have a positive mood, you will tend to eat healthier. If you are experiencing a bad mood, you will tend to crave more comfort foods, which are usually not very good for you.
How Do I stop Food Cravings?
Here are some ways you can try when trying to stop food cravings. You don’t have to do them all. Just pick 1-2 at a time and see if they work for you.
Drink Plenty of Water
Being dehydrated and thirsty can increase hunger cravings.
Hunger is often times just thirst. Being dehydrated can make you crave sugar and other sweet things.
The next time you crave something, have some water and see if this reduces your cravings.
Try some Tea, Coffee or Calorie-Free Beverages
These beverages are very effective at reducing hunger and cravings The caffeine and antioxidants found in Coffee and Tea can give you a mood boost.
Try not to add too much sugar to these drinks as sugar can reduce your cravings in the short term but you will crave more sugar later.
Diet sodas are also fine in moderation. They are a great tool for controlling your hunger while dieting and losing weight.
Caffeine can also help with Appetite Control, Fat Burning and Boosting your Metabolism.
Enjoy Some Fun Foods in Moderation
This is basic psychology. We crave what we can’t have. However, if we enjoy our favorite foods in moderation, we can still enjoy them while still meeting our goals.
One of the basic human needs is to experience variety in life. Without variety, our lives will be monotonous.
The good news is that you can still enjoy your favorite foods in moderation without sabotaging your weight loss goals. This concept is known as Flexible Dieting.
Instead of looking at food in terms of good or bad, look at your entire diet. If you’re mostly eating foods that are good for you, you have a good diet.
This is how I help my clients stay on track, while still enjoying their favorite foods that they crave.
For example, for me personally, I love Chocolate. I like to have a little bit almost every day. Does this mean that I have the entire chocolate bar? No. I can have 1-2 small pieces and satisfy my cravings.
If you’re on a weight loss diet you can have even some of these foods on your refeed days.
Stay Busy or Pick up a Hobby
Boredom eating is a real thing. If your mind is occupied with other activities, your cravings will go down.
This may not apply to mindless activities such as watching TV, These activities may actually make increase your food desires even more. This is especially true if you see content or ads with food in them.
I personally like to play Guitar as my hobby. It’s enjoyable and challenging at the same time.
Wait 10 Minutes
Often times, cravings are impulsive and don’t last too long. Next time you’re craving something, try waiting 10 minutes. Chances are that you will no longer crave it as much.
Learn Some Healthy Recipes
Learning how to cook is one of the most important skills you can develop to improve your fitness. You can make healthy food taste great with some simple recipes.
At the very least, you can make simple modifications to your favorite recipes to significantly reduce the calorie count without sacrificing the taste.
If you’re eating good tasting foods, you’re less likely to feel deprived and crave foods.
Brush your Teeth
This will make your mouth feel fresh. You also won’t feel like eating since you’ve already brushed your teeth. It’s just a major inconvenience to eat and brush your teeth again.
You can take this one step further by flossing.
Exercise & Stay Active
People crave certain foods when they’re bored or have a bad mood.
Exercise releases endorphins, which makes you feel good and a natural high. Foods such as Chocolate have a similar effect.
The Next time you’re craving something, go for a short, 5-10 minute walk outside.
I’ve found through my personal experience and coaching others that it is much easier to stick to your diet when you exercise. In addition to making you feel good, the fact that you’re putting in hard work will motivate you to not let it go to waste.
Have Some Discipline
Let’s face it. Dieting and getting healthier is hard, especially in this day and age.
You have to learn to say NO. Sometimes it just takes a bit of discipline to say no when you should. This is harder than it seems but ultimately you have control over what you put in your body.
Make it a Habit
Avoiding cravings is harder initially but it gets easier over time. Often times, we crave foods which we eat habitually. Habits can also work in your favor. If you have good food habits, it’s actually harder to break them.
Fitness is ultimately a lifestyle. This means that you have to do things consistently over a long period of time to reach your goals.
Try to form 1 habit at a time and stick for it for about a month. Once that gets easier, you can focus on other habits.
Remove Unhealthy Foods from Your Environment
This is probably the easiest way of getting rid of your cravings. As we discussed earlier, our environment plays a huge role in what we eat and how much we eat.
If you have unhealthy foods at home, just get rid of them. To Quote the book Mindless Eating – “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”.For example, if you want some ice cream, you can go out to eat it but don’t keep it at home. In most cases, this is an inconvenience that will prevent you from eating it. Even if you actually go out for some ice cream, you enjoy the experience more than eating it at home.
Take Diet Breaks
The longer you stay on a diet, the more deprived you will feel over time. In general, you should take a break from dieting every 12 weeks or so. You simply stop dieting for 2-3 weeks to recover before re-starting the diet.
This does not mean that you start eating everything in sight. You simply raise your calories back up to your maintenance calories. You’re still eating mostly healthy foods but you don’t feel as deprived. This will also allow your hormone levels to reset a bit and your stress levels to go down.
All of these factors will help you to reduce your food cravings.
Try Different Meal Frequencies
Meal frequency refers to how often you eat in a day. Most people eat 3-4 meals in a day including Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and a snack. This means that we eat every 4-5 hours on average.
Some people do better while eating more frequently whereas others do better on a lower frequency.
On one extreme, there are people who only eat 1-2 meals per day, similar to Intermittent Fasting. This approach works because it puts restrictions on when you can eat or can’t eat. Even if you crave something, you may not eat it simply because it’s outside your eating window.
That being said, this approach does not work for everyone because if you go too long without food, it may cause your blood sugar levels to drop, thereby increasing your food cravings.
On the other end of the spectrum, you can see bodybuilders who eat 6-8 meals per day.
If you eat too frequently, you may constantly find yourself getting hungry every 2-3 hours.
For most people, the standard 4 meals a day works fine but you may have to find what meal frequency allows you to feel and perform your best while minimizing hunger and food cravings.
Eat Only at Meal Times
This is a great way to avoid snacking on junk food. Don’t consume any calories between meals. You can have water, coffee, tea etc if you want.
Since you’re restricting yourself in terms of timing, you are less likely to eat unhealthy foods.
Avoid Extreme Diets
This is one of the biggest Weight Loss Mistakes
Avoids diets that are overly restrictive. They might work in the short-term but almost always fail in the long-term.
Choose a more sustainable approach that will not make you feel too deprived.
I highly suggest you download a free copy of my book
Get Enough Sleep
As we discussed earlier, Sleep is absolutely crucial when it comes to managing hunger and cravings. If you get enough quality sleep, you will find it much easier to stick to your diet.
If you want to track the quality of your sleep, Check out the Sleep Cycle App
Check for Nutritional Deficiencies
If you’re not dieting and still crave certain foods, get a blood test done to determine if you have any nutritional deficiencies.
Also, make sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables every day.
What are some of your ways of reducing food cravings on a diet? Leve them in the comments below!