Food cravings are annoying. We all get them now and then, but some of us find them harder to control than others. There’s no denying that our food cravings can cause weight gain and hormonal issues.
Women tend to have more cravings than men. This is due to our hormones fluctuating far more than the male hormones, especially when it comes to estrogen. Our hormones tend to control the way we think and feel, which in turn links to what we want to do and eat.
There are various reasons for the actual cravings to occur, though, and it’s not all due to hormones. In fact, the reasons are so vast that researchers don’t really understand everything about cravings. But over time, we have all learned what works for us and what our cravings really mean.
Now it’s time for you to take control of your cravings. It’s time to learn what food cravings you have and why, and the steps that you can take to make sure you get over them right away.
This all in one guide will share all about food cravings, their reasons, and overcoming them.
Just What Are Food Cravings, to Begin With?
Do you ever get that feeling where you really want a certain type of food? Usually, it’s cake, some chocolate, or a certain ingredient. Some of these cravings can seem weird, but for others, they are just general parts of their day.
You know what I’m talking about. You get to that 3pm slump, and you just crave a piece of chocolate. Or you really want the freshly made bread that you smell when walking past the bakery. You crave those donuts that you see being freshly made when you walk past the store.
These are your food cravings. Some of them can be healthy, but the majority of them are unhealthy. You can also get some weird and wonderful ones, especially during pregnancy.
Your brain tells you that you really want and need a certain type of food. No matter what you seem to do instead, your brain is telling you that only the food will satisfy you. There are high chances that the food will do nothing for you, but your brain makes you believe it will. You don’t care how you get the food, as long as you get it.
For some people, food cravings take over their lives. They look through kitchen cupboards for some sort of replacement because they don’t have exactly what they want. Or they constantly give into their cravings.
For others, the cravings are just minimal parts of the day. You’ve learned how to avoid them completely, because you know when and why they are more likely to occur. You also learn how to get over them when they do occur because you’re not perfect and you can’t avoid them all the time.
Not all food cravings are actually for food. You want to eat something that isn’t quite normal and can be quite dangerous. This is known as pica and is more commonly noted in pregnancy. Various medical shows like Grey’s Anatomy have covered it briefly, but don’t really go into the details of it.
Pica is when you crave something that isn’t quite food. You think your body needs it and it can be very difficult to control. Ice is one of the safest pica cravings, but some people crave cotton wool, soap, sand, and even coal. You can see just how dangerous it can get if you end up giving into the cravings regularly.
What Exactly Do Cravings Mean?
So, now you know what they are, it’s time to find out more about them. What do they mean and why do food cravings occur?
This is the part that researchers aren’t completely aware of. There’s still so much about the human brain and the way it works that we need to learn and understand. It’s this part that controls the food cravings.
Craving Food Full of Nutrients
Some scientists believe that it means someone isn’t getting the right amount of nutrients. The body starts craving the foods that would give those nutrients.
For example, you could start craving more water-based foods because you’re dehydrated. Your brain is trying to get the message to you that you need to drink more. If you’re not going to drink water, then it wants you to eat something that will get the water intake to help support your body.
The great news with this type of craving is that you can and should give into it. Rather than eating the water-based foods, you can always drink a glass of water or two and see if that settles your issue. You may find that the cravings completely disappear.
If you have deficient in other nutrients, your body may keep craving certain items until you get those nutrients. This could be craving foods full of vitamin C to support the immune system or foods that are high in calcium to support the bones.
The downside is when you’re deficient in iron or selenium. There are high chances that your hormones and energy levels change the type of cravings you experience.
This leads us to another reason for food cravings: energy drops.
Craving Foods for the Quick Burst of Energy
Around 11am and 3pm you may hit an energy slump. These slumps are perfectly normal but you will often find yourself craving anything that will wake you up. Of course, rather than something that can help to keep you awake and alert in the long term, your body wants an instant fix. You end up craving sugary foods.
The sugar will certainly give you a quick energy boost. It instantly starts to metabolize, giving you the boost that you need to get through the next part of the day.
But there’s a major issue. The sugar is only temporary. It metabolizes so quickly that within an hour you start to witness another energy slump. This slump is even worse because you get a sugar crash. Your brain instantly tells you that you need something else that will give you another rush, and that means you start craving more sugar.
If you don’t crave the sugar, you may have a craving for caffeine. Your body thinks that this will be how you will get the burst of energy you need.
Yes, the caffeine does the same as the sugar. You end up with a crash afterward. Caffeine isn’t as bad in the way of empty calories, but it’s still not good for you in large amounts.
You need to figure out ways to avoid the energy slumps. One of the best things you can do is have a stash of healthy snacks. Nuts and seeds will give you prolonged energy boosts to get you through the slump.
Craving Foods to Boost Your Mood
It’s not just about your energy levels. Our emotions are tied to our cravings. There’s no denying that you’ve used your emotions as a reason to eat.
You eat because you’re sad, or because you’re stressed, or even because you’re happy. There is always some sort of reason to break out certain types of foods and usually the bad ones.
In fact, cravings occur because of our emotions. When we’re bored, we start reaching for something to keep ourselves busy. The snacking on things like crisps and chocolate helps keep our hands busy. We feel like we’re doing something. Of course, the more we do this, the more our brain tells us that we need to do it more.
It worked the first time, so it must work again. Before we know it, we’ve had bags and bags of empty calories that have just led to weight gain!
When you’re sad, your brain wants to find a way to cheer you up. The last time you were happy, you were eating chocolate, so your brain tells you that you need this. You start craving this particular type of food as a way to get through the current situation.
You don’t actually need the food. You may not even be hungry, but your brain is telling you that it is essential.
How about when you’re happy or celebrating something? Chances are you’ve had a craving. Your brain links food to celebrations, usually snacky food or fizzy drinks. We tend to get into a state of living where we celebrate through treats. It’s important to get out of this habit to help curb the cravings.
Craving Food Because We’re Hungry
Let’s not forget about hunger. Genuine hunger is a common reason for cravings.
Humans have this fear of starving. This was once a perfectly understandable fear, but now it has become irrational. Most of the time we know where our next meal is coming from, but the brain doesn’t know that.
Instead, we get the cravings to fill up and make sure we don’t go hungry. While some of the cravings can be healthy, more often than not we get a craving to get something quick and easy.
It doesn’t help that our mood slumps when we start getting hungry. Our brain releases the stress hormones, as it fears that we won’t get what we need. Instead of looking for something substantial, we start craving junk food or microwaveable meals just for something right there and then.
This is one of the reasons experts recommend that we don’t go grocery shopping on an empty stomach. More often than not we pick up food that we wouldn’t usually because we’ve got a craving for it due to the hunger pangs!
Craving the Foods You’ve Banned
If you’re on a diet, there are high chances that you’ve banned certain foods. These could have been chocolate bars, cakes, or even cookies. You don’t want them in the house because you know they’re just going to cause some weight gain.
Now that you’ve said no, your brain is throwing a tantrum. When usually it would have been fine not thinking about them for prolonged periods of the day, your brain doesn’t know when it is next going to get the food. You’ve not said, “not right now.” Instead, you’ve completely banned the food, and it isn’t happy. It’s human nature to fight against someone who tells us no, including ourselves.
So, you start craving all the food that you’ve told yourself you’re not allowed. This makes dieting hard, and you need to have the willpower to stick to your plan. You can allow yourself food in moderation, but at controlled times when you’ve decided that you will have them.
Craving Foods During Pregnancy
When you think about cravings, you likely think about the symptom of pregnancy. It is very common to start craving some items when you are carrying a baby, and this is actually likely linked to your hormones.
Your hormones go haywire when you’re pregnant. Think about how often you’re happy one minute and crying the next. Just the slightest thing can set you off, and your brain struggles to deal with all that. Instead of just letting you get on with your day, your brain starts telling you that you need certain foods.
You’ll also be tired, which leads to issues of getting energy boosts. You start to crave the tubs of ice cream, chocolate bars, and more sugary food as you try to keep your energy levels up.
Pregnancy is when pica is likely to occur. Scientists don’t really know why pica occurs but believe that it could be linked to hormones and nutrient deficiencies.
Do You Really Need to Act on Your Cravings?
Before you reach for the food that your brain is telling you that you need to eat, it’s important to think about why you’re getting the cravings. Is this something that your body really needs or are you getting it because of hormonal issues and energy slumps? Is there another way that you can help improve your cravings?
There will be some cravings that you can and should act on. Let’s remember the reasons for the cravings. You get them because of nutrient deficiencies or hunger.
When you start to craving fruits or other water-based fruits, it’s worth questioning your water intake. Is it possible that you’re dehydrated? Eating the water-based foods could give you the water that you need to help get over the cravings. You’ll also get some water that your body needs.
If you’re craving quick food because you’re hungry, you can sort of act on that craving. Instead of reaching for something quick and easy to make, look for an actual meal. You could even bulk cook on the weekend and then create your own healthy microwaveable meals. Pop them in, and it will feel like you’re having a store-bought microwaveable meal.
What you really want to consider is if the food is something you actually need. Think about other ways to get around the food cravings. This is a method of acting on that craving, but not in the way that your brain wants you to initially.
What Giving Into Food Cravings Really Does
Now that you know about food cravings, it’s time to look at what giving into them is really doing to you. Remember that the majority of the cravings are going to be junk or sugary foods. You’ll eat the empty calories that give you no nutritious benefits.
While there are some good ones, we’ll focus on the bad ones for the rest of this article. That’s because the good cravings are ones that you can give into to help support your health.
What do the bad cravings do to you?
Gain Weight Eating Food You Don’t Need
One of the biggest issues is weight gain. When you get your cravings, you will want food that does your body no good. Your body doesn’t really need it, despite what your brain tells you.
Sugar is one of the most common cravings. It doesn’t matter what form you get that sugar in, as long as you get it. But sugar increases the insulin response and forces your body to store the extra calories you’re eating. You end up not using those calories later, so your body stores them for the long term.
You end up gaining weight and being unhappy with yourself. Of course, this causes more sugar cravings as you find a way to make yourself feel better.
It’s a vicious cycle that you need to get over. The cravings are making you fat. Sure, you may have some negative feelings while giving them up, but it will be worth it to shed the pounds, right?
There’s Damage to Your Health
Another major problem is to your health. Remember that insulin response that we just mentioned? Well, this isn’t just a problem for your weight gain but also for your overall health.
When you eat more sugar, your body has to keep producing insulin. Eventually, it becomes resistant to the insulin, and the body has to produce more. You end up running the risk of developing Type II diabetes.
On top of that, there are other health risks due to the food that you’re eating. Most of your food won’t just be high in sugar. It will be high in saturated fats and bad cholesterol. You’ll end up clogging your arteries, putting you at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure and having a stroke or heart attack.
The weight gain that you experience won’t help, either. Obesity has been linked to various health problems including heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and high cholesterol levels.
Let’s not forget about the chronic pain that you could suffer. The sugar and weight gain cause a hormonal response. Rather than releasing endorphins, your body releases stress hormones. You end up suffering from inflammation in the body, leading to chronic pain since the nerves have pressure put on them by the inflammation.
It’s best to avoid the cravings all together considering the long-term health problems associated with most of the foods.
You Feel Worse in the Long Run
Let’s not just overlook or breeze past the hormonal changes. While you initially feel better when you eat the food you want, you don’t quite get the long term benefits that you want.
That sugar will leave your body extremely quickly. All you’re left with is the memory of how you felt, as your energy levels crash even further. You end up craving more of the sweet stuff.
This does lead to a cycle of craving, feeding the craving, and craving food again. You don’t quite solve the reason behind the craving. In the long run, you feel worse, while putting your health at risk.
Your body will start to release more stress hormones throughout the day. You will find that you crave more and your mood slumps even further. You know that the cravings aren’t going to do you any good, but you just want a quick pick me up.
If you suffer from mental health problems, especially depression or anxiety, you may find that giving into the cravings make them worse. You end up fueling the hormonal imbalance that affects the severity of the mental health problems.
So instead of giving into your cravings, you’ll want to look at ways to curb them and then overcome them completely. That’s what we’ll look into now. Yes, it really is possible to prevent the cravings from even happening!
Start By Curbing Your Food Cravings
Before you take steps to stop food cravings ever happening, you need to look at the ways to curb them when they do occur. After all, stopping them completely takes longer, and you will get some cravings in the meantime.
The great news is that plenty of people have tried and succeeded at curbing their food cravings. This is something that you can do without any hassle at all, as long as you’re willing to put in the effort. It’s not something that will happen overnight, and you will experience some side effects.
Stop Letting Yourself Give In
Start by learning to say “no.” While on a diet we tend to say “not right now” instead of “no,” when it comes to these types of cravings you want to cut the food out completely.
It’s up to you to stop yourself from giving into the cravings. Nobody else can do this part for you, which is where the willpower comes in. You know that you don’t actually need the food and your brain is really just throwing a tantrum about not being allowed it. Treat it like you would a toddler.
The more you tell yourself, no, the more your sugar cravings will start to disappear. At first, you get the sugar withdrawals, and you will need to learn how to overcome them. Once you do, you will get to the point where you forget what it was like wanting the sugars. You will enjoy them more when you do eat them, and that’s if you choose to eat them again.
If you really struggle to say no, then you need to start distancing yourself from the items that you want. This could involve getting them out of your house completely. If they’re not there to tempt you, then you will likely avoid eating them at all. If you can’t get them out of the house—the kids’ sweets are always the worst—then you could take yourself out of the situation.
This leads us to the next way to curb your cravings.
Start Exercising Instead—or Find Something Else to Do
Take your mind off the craving. If you can do that, then you will start forgetting what you wanted in the first place.
Remember that your cravings can happen because you’re bored, upset, or because your hormones are all over the place. Exercise helps to balance everything. You get something to do, and you boost the happy hormones that are released in your body.
If you can’t exercise, do something else that you enjoy. Read a book or write in your diary. You can even track your feelings and the cravings that you get to look back on. This is a great way to get over the cravings in the future.
What you really want to do is just take your mind out of the situation. The more you sit and think about it, the harder you will find it to get over your cravings. This leads to higher stress levels, and you end up struggling to move past the thoughts and feelings that you have, especially the resent you have for yourself for not giving into the cravings!
Try Eating Something Else that’s Good for You
Rather than giving into the exact craving, why not try eating something else? Sugar-free gum could be the perfect option to control your cravings.
The benefit with sugar-free gum is that it is like food. Your mind things that you’ve given into the craving that you have, while your body things that you’re making way for food. You speed up your metabolism and get your brain back in gear. You’ll even find that you have a little more energy, as you become more alert.
However, you’re not getting any actual food. Sugar-free gum doesn’t give you the calories that the sweet foods that you really want will give.
This doesn’t really work when you are genuinely hungry. Once you’ve finished chewing gum, you will end up wanting an actual meal, so you’ll need to think about this before you pull out a stick. Considering the timing and whether you’re going to eat an actual meal afterward.
If you can’t have or don’t want gum, why not try some fruit or a handful of nuts instead. These aren’t as sweet as chocolate, but they also don’t have the calories. They will still give you an energy burst but a longer one thanks to the fiber and proteins in them. They can also help to cure the problem of low nutrients!
Drink Plenty of Water
Before you reach for the food, why not consider thirst. We tend to feel hungry when we’re actually thirsty because the body hasn’t figured out how to distinguish between the two.
You could end up craving something because your body really needs a glass of water. Have one before you reach for anything else and see what you feel like afterward. This is also a great trick when you feel hungry, and you think you want a snack between meals.
Getting enough water will help to balance your hormones, keep you feeling fuller, and improve your alertness. All your organs benefit, including your skin. Your hormonal balance will mean fewer stress hormones, while you focus on getting the happy and pain killer hormones around your body.
It’s also worth grabbing a glass of water before you eat a meal. This is a useful trick for dieters since it helps to fill up the stomach partially, so you don’t feel the need to eat as much.
Plan Out Your Meals to Avoid Going Hungry
Since hunger is one of the craving triggers, it’s important to avoid it from happening. Your body only needs food once every four hours. We tend to stick with a three-hour rule to balance out the hours that you sleep.
Plan out small meals that you can eat every three hours that you’re awake. Avoid skipping any of them, as that will just lead to hunger and more cravings.
When planning out your meals, think about getting all your food groups. Make sure your snacks are healthy ones that you can enjoy. Remember that not all sugary stuff is bad for you. In moderation they can be useful for keeping your blood sugar levels up and keeping your energy more balanced, getting the spikes when you actually need them.
Planning some sweet foods into your day will also help to balance your mood. You know that you will get something eventually, getting rid of the spontaneity when it comes to cravings.
When you plan all your meals, you also take out the issue of having to think about what you want. The more you think, the more your brain will look for the easier options—those that it remembers being filling and satisfying. These satisfying meals are usually ones that aren’t exactly healthy for you, and they tend to mean a trip somewhere to spend money that you don’t necessarily have.
Taking the guess work out of your meals will mean that you can focus on nutritious food. There’s no chance for your brain to panic and think that you aren’t going to get a meal or that you’re going to go hungry.
It’s Time to Stop the Cravings from Affecting You
Now that you have steps to curb the cravings when they do happen, it’s time to take steps to prevent them from ever happening. This means that you need to change the way you think and do things.
This is the part that is especially hard. You will need plenty of willpower to be able to overcome some of the responses your body has. It will take thetime to find new ways of dealing with situations.
But that’s what I’m here for. I want to share with you some of the ways that I stopped my cravings. Sure, I have lapses now and then but most of the time I’m completely in control.
Change Your Emotive Responses
So, we’ve already looked at why your cravings happen. Your emotions and hormones have a lot to do with them, especially the junk food cravings. It’s time to change your emotive responses; the ways that you deal with your emotions.
Rather than reaching for food to deal with the sadness or anger, find another way to use the energy or feelings that you have. Some people opt for cleaning instead. It keeps their hands busy and means they can put some effort into the scrubbing to get rid of the anger.
Stress is an emotion that leads to some people gorging. Instead, you could opt for some exercise. This is far more productive, since it will burn calories, and will help to release happy hormones. When you have more happy hormones, the stress hormones deplete. It’s a win-win situation.
But what about when you’re happy? How do you deal with that emotive response? Find another way to celebrate. Opt for some window shopping (or real shopping if you have the money) and look at new clothes. Treat yourself to a new book or a new DVD. It’s all about finding other ways to celebrate an achievement or goal.
The hardest emotion to change your responses for is boredom. You need to find another way to keep yourself busy, which isn’t always going to be easy. Some people tend to journal, while others will knit or sew. They want to keep their hands busy when they can’t be necessary get up and exercise. Adult coloring books are now widely available because it’s another way to deal with the idle hands.
Get the Right Nutrients in Your Meals
While planning your meals can help you curb your cravings, it can also help you prevent them happening. This joins in with another common reason for getting cravings: nutrient deficiencies.
While some nutrient deficiencies lead to eating healthy food, there are some that the side effects of the deficiencies take over. A lack of selenium and iron lead to low energy levels, which is when we tend to be at our weakest. Rather than cravings foods like spinach, kale, and nuts, we crave the foods that are going to give us the quick boosts of energy.
It’s important to plan our meals with a nutritional balance. Make sure you get all the vitamins and minerals that you need. If you find you’re lacking, you’ll need to make a few changes to your meal plan.
This could mean talking to a dietician and your doctor. You may want to find out just how deficient you are in certain nutrients. If the problems consist, you may need to take supplements or medication to help.
At the same time, you want to make sure you get plenty of complex carbs, proteins, and fiber. All these break down slowly in the body. They leave you feeling fuller for longer and far more satisfied quicker. You eat fewer calories and have fewer cravings because you don’t get hungry as soon as you usually would.
It’s all about a healthy and balanced diet.
Make Sure You’re Healthy
Some health problems can lead to food cravings. One thing that you first want to rule out is pregnancy. This can lead to some weird cravings but also ones for high fatty foods. While you can’t change this, at least you know your cravings are temporary. You just need to find ways to curb the cravings until the pregnancy is over.
However, other health problems could be more long term. For example, depression can continue for months and even years. You may be fine for a prolonged period of time and then suffer a relapse. When you suffer from depression, your brain will try to balance the hormones and help release more happy hormones. It will look for ways to give you more energy to help boost your feelings.
Likewise, if you have an underactive thyroid, you will likely find that your energy levels slump. You’re more likely to reach for the sugar and caffeine for a boost, instead of all the good stuff that could actually help.
Getting treatment for your health problems is essential in overcoming your cravings. With the right treatment, you will help to balance out your hormones and improve your emotions. You’ll also feel more in control with your life because of the healthier changes that you have made.
Now It’s Time to Take Control of Your Food Cravings
You should now understand why you’re getting your food cravings and what they are doing to you. We all tend to get cravings now and then. Even when we take steps to prevent them, we can have relapses.
What you need to do is take control. It’s up to you to say no to what your brain tells you it wants. It’s up to you to make the decision over whether the craving is for a good or bad reason and find ways to tackle the problem instead.
Once you do that, you will be well on your way to a healthier lifestyle overall. It really is worth the hard work in the end.