How to deal with food cravings

We’ve all been there. We’re going about our day when suddenly the mood for something hits – maybe something sugary or salty, but whatever it is, it’s a craving. We aren’t necessarily hungry but we feel like we need that specific food.

Studies have shown that food cravings strike over 90% of the world’s population. While usually harmless, cravings can play a major role in complicated relationships withto food and nutrition – including food addiction, binge eating and weight gain. If you want your body to operate on an optimum level, you need to learn how to stop food cravings.

Examples of common food cravings

When most people think of food cravings, unhealthy foods like cookies, fries or chocolate come to mind. However, cravings can take many forms..

Some of the most common food cravings are:

  • Baked goods such as cake, pie or pastries
  • Candy
  • Spicy foods
  • Salty foods like pretzels or potato chips
  • Caffeine
  • Crunchy foods
  • Chocolate 
  • Starches
  • Cheese
  • Ice cream

sweet candy

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This list is not all-inclusive. Food cravings can vary and most people have their own personal preferences. They are often based on cultural or social traditions and norms, though in some cases, they could indicate a nutritional deficiency.

The best way to stop food cravings is to figure out why you’re having them in the first place.

Craving something crunchy

When you crave something crunchy like pretzels or potato chips, you could be wanting salt. This could also indicate you are thirsty and need to drink more water. However, you could also be stressed and want the release that biting into something with a crunch produces.

Craving something sweet

Sugar releases the feel-good chemical serotonin, which fires off in your brain. If you’re craving sweets, you may actually need a mood boost. Because sweets are often given as rewards in our youth, you could also crave a sweet treat when you feel you’ve done something worth celebrating.

Craving starches

If you want starchy white carbs like bread, pasta or crackers, your craving comes from the same place as your craving for sweets and your body treats them the same way. You may crave these calorie-dense foods when you’re mentally or emotionally exhausted and looking for a boost.

Craving comfort food

When you’re feeling down, you may crave the foods your parents made for you when you were sick or sad as a child. Chicken noodle soup, meat loaf, lasagna, mac and cheese and mashed potatoes are all examples of heavy comfort foods that remind many Americans of younger days. There’s an equivalent for every culture. 

Occasional food cravings can be normal, but when they become constant and overwhelming to the point that your life has begun to revolve around food or if they are leading to weight gain, it’s time to seek a solution. Here’s everything you need to know about how to stop food cravings.

Accept that food cravings are rarely physical

Let’s think back to the times when you were unable to stop cravings and gave in to your eating impulses. It’s usually not a craving for something healthy. In fact, food cravings often result in binging, or eating so much that you feel like you can’t control yourself. After a while, when you feel like you can’t take it any longer, you buy yourself the burrito and a side of nachos or mindlessly eat an entire container of ice cream while watching television.

Here’s the thing about binging: You’re not seeking to consume a certain type of food. You’re looking for a specific emotion.

When learning how to control food cravings, you need to understand that what you really crave is a feeling. You think a particular food is the only way to fulfill this need, even though you rationally know better. That’s why you turn to food when you’re feeling anxious, stressed or like you need to reconnect with yourself.

You think that a certain type of food will be able to reset your emotions, but that’s hardly ever the case. In fact, you usually feel pretty terrible after an episode of binging, and find yourself wondering how to stop craving junk food altogether.

How to stop food cravings naturally

The best way to learn how to control food cravings is to modify your behavior. When you can control your triggers and learn to be in charge of your own emotions, you can stop food cravings naturally. 

Drink water

It seems straightforward, but drinking water can help with many health challenges. It will also fill the void in your stomach that wants to be filled by your craving. Water will increase your energy, reduce fatigue and help flush out toxins. A lot of times when you have a craving, your body is actually just thirsty. Give it what it wants and drink up.

Eat enough calories

Cravings can pop up at any time but they seem to be stronger when you’re hungry. Combat this early by ensuring that you’re eating enough calories from nutrient-dense foods throughout the day. When you properly fuel your body, you don’t give it a chance to crave foods that are less nutritious.

Examine your focus

comfort food

When you’re experiencing food cravings, it’s because you’re allowing your mind to focus entirely on the sensation of eating. Remember, where focus goes, energy flows. Your desire takes the form of thinking about what it would be like to smell and taste your preferred food and how you will feel rewarded once you give in to the craving.

The next time you begin to feel like this, notice your bad habit and ask yourself these questions:

  • What kind of mood are you in when your food cravings kick in?
  • Is it a certain type of food that you usually crave?
  • When do you begin to lose focus on your daily life and start shifting your thoughts toward food? 

The more you recognize these negative thought patterns, the quicker you’ll be able to stop them in the future.

Find what makes you feel good

Now, what if instead of giving in to your food cravings, you found another outlet that made you attain the emotion you’re after?

How to stop food cravings involves finding a suitable – and healthier – replacement that fills your deeper need. If you’re looking to feel more joyful, why not try swapping out binge eating for a walk around the block or reading a story to your children? If you’re overeating because you think it will take your mind off stressful thoughts, why not try doing something like finding a podcast or a new author you’re wild about?

It’s going to take practice at first. You’re used to giving in to your cravings and seeking out comfort in food. But over time, your mind will shift once you begin to integrate new, healthier habits into your life.

Now when you’re stressed, you know you have an upcoming episode of your favorite podcast to fall back on instead of stopping through the drive-thru for a burger.

coffee and a notebook

Have a plan in place

have a plan

When it comes to how to control food cravings, if you don’t have a plan, then you plan to fail.

If your cravings hit at a certain time every day, make sure you have a healthy snack close by that you can turn to instead of seeking out junk. If your cravings are triggered by a certain event – such as your co-worker putting donuts in the break room or the ice cream truck rolling up in your office’s parking lot – plan to be out of the office at that time.

Many people give in to food cravings because they are unprepared. They forget to pack a lunch based on their sustainable health diet so they end up hitting the nearest fast food joint because their hunger triggers a craving for junk food.

Develop your willpower

Sometimes, how to stop craving junk food is just a matter of willpower.

You know it will taste wonderful but you don’t necessarily like how you feel afterward. How do you forgo the immediate gratification and just say no?

One way to increase your willpower is to visualize your end goal. Do you want to lose weight? Lower your cholesterol? Have more energy to play with your kids? Keep this image in your head when faced with temptation and it will be easier to turn it down.

Another way to increase willpower is to occasionally give yourself a treat. Let yourself have one of those office donuts on Friday morning, for example, but not the rest of the week. When you know you won’t be deprived of the treat forever, you can more easily cut the craving off before it takes over.

develop willpower

You’re in control

woman eating

The biggest thing to remember when it comes to how to fight food cravings is that you’re in control. As Tony Robbins says, “You can’t always control the wind, but you can control the sails.” You’ll always have good and bad days and sometimes you’ll be tempted to fall back into old habits. Maybe there’s a major transition going on at work, and the old you would have wanted to unwind with a cheesecake after leaving the office. But the new you recognizes that eating that cheesecake won’t make you feel any better. You know you need to process your emotions in a constructive way instead.

You’re in charge of your emotions. You have the power to stop giving in to your food cravings.

There will always be times when you feel the desire to hit the drive-thru or eat junk food. But now you know that just because you’re experiencing a craving doesn’t mean you need to indulge in unhealthy behavior.

Commit to creating new, lasting habits that will make you feel better physically and emotionally today.

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