How to deal with food cravings

Published on January 20, 2021

When you crave food, it means that you have a powerful desire for that food. Sometimes, this desire may be so strong that you cannot control it, so strong that it may seem as if the only way to satisfy your hunger is to eat that particular food.

Food cravings are very common. At least 90% of people experience it. Our experiences differ as per how we crave food or the kind of foods we crave for. But then, most of the cravings revolve around foods that are loaded with salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats.

Studies have shown that both genders crave different foods. Males may crave savoury foods, while women may want foods that are sweet and high in fats.

The problem with food cravings is that it tempts a person to eat unhealthy foods. And so, you may get to abandon your healthy diet. This article will examine why people crave food and how you can handle these cravings.

What causes food cravings?

Several factors contribute to food cravings. These factors can be split into physical and mental factors. Understanding these factors will help you to quell your triggers.

Physical causes of food craving

  • Hormonal imbalances: An imbalance in hunger hormones can cause a person to experience food cravings. Hormones that trigger these cravings include ghrelin and leptin (1).
  • Pregnancy: Women experience hormonal changes during pregnancy. These hormonal changes affect their sense of taste and smell. This causes intense cravings for certain foods (2).  
  • Lack of sleep: Not sleeping well can cause fluctuations in your hormone levels. The hormones most affected are those responsible for regulating satiety, hunger, and sleep-wake cycles. These hormonal fluctuations intensify your cravings for certain foods, mostly in the evenings (34).
  • Premenstrual syndrome: Fluctuations in progesterone and estrogen levels may make you crave high carb foods (56).
  • Dehydration: Not taking an adequate quantity of fluids can make you crave more for certain foods. It can also intensify hunger feelings (7).
  • Taking a diet low in nutrients: Fiber and protein help you to feel fuller. If your diet is deficient in these nutrients, you may feel hungry in no time, and you will also experience cravings until you load up with calories (89).
  • Gut flora: Some studies have shown that your cravings and hunger level may be influenced by the kind of bacteria you have in your gut. However, this claim still needs to be validated with further research (10).
  • Processed foods: There is evidence that foods loaded with sugar and fats may cause addiction. This, in turn, leads to cravings (11).
  • Physical activity: Exercising more can help decrease your cravings for certain foods. Living a sedentary life may increase your cravings for certain foods (12).

Mental causes of food cravings

  • Stress: Stress is a major cause of food cravings. It increases cortisol levels in your blood. High cortisol level is associated with hunger, binge eating, and cravings (1).
  • Mood: Some moods are associated with cravings. For instance, sad moods or negative feelings make a person crave comforting foods (13).

What are the best ways to deal with food cravings?

There are many ways of dealing with food cravings. You can try the following tips:

Reduce your stress levels

Stress has a big influence on your health, and so does emotional eating. When you are stressed, you may crave comfort foods. A study conducted in 2015 found that stress had a great influence over a person’s eating habits, and in fact, caused an increase in the body mass index in participants (14). It is also important to note that stress can trigger weight gain even if you don’t crave food. When you are stressed, your blood cortisol level increases. Cortisol promotes the formation of abdominal fat.

Drink enough water

You see, the sensations produced by hunger and thirst are somewhat similar. So, one may be thirsty but confuses it for hunger. Many people have discovered that their cravings for certain foods reduce when they stay properly hydrated.

Sleep is important

study conducted in 2013 found that depriving oneself of sleep could distort the body’s hormonal balance. This may lead to overeating and weight gain. The studies showed that getting adequate sleep enhanced weight loss, implying that adequate sleep restored hormonal balance.

Increase your protein intake

You must have plenty of protein in your diet. You see, proteins have this filling effect, which means that they can reduce cravings. A study conducted in 2020 found that protein has a suppressing effect on the appetite. It reduces ghrelin, the hormone that arouses one’s appetite.

Chew gum

Gum keeps the mouth busy and reduces cravings for salt and sweets. A study conducted in 2011 found that people who chewed gum craved very little for salty and sweet snacks. Gum chewers felt less hungry and did not crave much for snacks than those who did not chew gum.

Takeaway

Many people experience food cravings occasionally. Cravings lead to the desire for unhealthy foods, which can trigger weight gain.

You can fight these cravings by following some of the tips outlined above. You can also substitute healthy foods for junk or unhealthy foods.


Photo by Christopher Flowers from StockSnap