We probably all know the desire to give in to our sweet tooth — we need sweets and we need them NOW! We might also have cravings for pizza or some other type of greasy, salty food.
Nasty cravings seem to appear when we least expect them and usually when we are unequipped to resist them.
What Causes Food Cravings
Are cravings caused by nutrient deficiencies?
Although this would seem like one of the most obvious explanations, there is no conclusive evidence that cravings are caused by nutrient deficiencies. Only some conditions, such as sodium deficiency and pica, have been shown to cause cravings.(1, 2, 3, 4)
- Lack of sleep(5)
- Hormonal changes
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Leptin and ghrelin imbalances(7)
As there are many things that can bring on food cravings, we also have many tips on how you can fight the urge to reach for a bar of chocolate.
10 tips to stop food cravings
These tips to help you reduce cravings are ordered based on how fast you can act on them. So while you may be tempted to reach for the fastest ones, we encourage you to give all of them a try over the next few weeks for best results.
What you can do to stop cravings in 5 minutes or less
1. Drink some water
The easiest thing you can do to curb your cravings is to have a large glass of water and wait for a couple of minutes. Even if the craving doesn’t completely go away, the fullness of your stomach will make it less intense.
2. Play a game on your phone
Who knew that playing a game on your phone can help reduce cravings? Whether you had a glass of water or not, it’s important to take your mind off the cravings for a couple of minutes. A study found that playing Tetris on your smartphone for just 3 minutes can weaken different types of cravings, including food cravings.(9) It’s too easy not to try, right?
3. Drink some coffee
Coffee might have a stronger influence on your appetite and food intake than water. Although more research needs to be done, it seems that coffee can suppress acute energy intake.(10) What does that mean? Right after drinking a cup of coffee people will eat less than they would have without it. So even if you end up giving in to a craving, you have a higher chance of keeping the size of your treat moderate and not going overboard. Another study found that decaffeinated coffee might help suppress the appetite even more!(11)
4. Brush your teeth
This trick will work in two ways. First of all, it might trick your brain into thinking that the meal is over. But even if your brain is not easily tricked, the cool mint toothpaste flavor left in your mouth will make it hard to eat anything afterwards. At least it won’t taste nearly as good…
Craving something sweet?
Cravings can range from sweet to savory and fatty. But sugar cravings are usually the ones that are the hardest to deal with — that’s why we have extra tips (and food alternatives) to curb your sugar cravings!
What you can do to stop cravings all day long
5. Eat more protein
Protein is your ally against crazy cravings, here’s why:
- Increasing protein intake can reduce cravings(12)
- Eating more protein can help fight the desire to eat at night (13)
- Protein keeps you full longer (13)
6. Do a light workout
Before you start rocking 100 burpees, think about this: an intense workout might make you feel even hungrier, but a low intensity activity, such as a brisk walk or short bodyweight home workout can have the opposite effect. One study found that it might actually make you eat only half the amount of chocolate that you would have eaten otherwise.(15)
7. Avoid getting too hungry
The hungrier you get, the higher the chance that you can’t fight off that intense craving. It’s as simple as that. So don’t look for solutions when it’s almost too late. Plan your meals ahead and make sure to have a healthy snack by your side if you are prone to hunger pangs. Often it can also help to eat several small meals per day (for instance, three main meals and two snacks between meals) to keep your blood sugar level constant. That way you won’t get sudden food cravings in the first place.
What you can do to stop cravings long term
8. Get enough sleep
Insufficient sleep can affect your appetite and increase cravings. (16) Unfortunately, the importance of sleep is often neglected when it comes to fitness and weight loss.
The problem is that we easily get used to sleeping less and fail to notice the real effect it has on us. We get cranky, are constantly hungry, unhappy, and start to blame it on work, stress, or lack of time. But more often than not, the real reason is the lack of sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, these 7 foods can help you sleep better!
9. Mindful eating
Mindful eating is related to the general practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness in general is about practicing awareness and being present in the moment without judgment. This can also be done in relation to food and eating.(17)
A study from Indiana State University tested the effect of mini-meditations prior to eating or when the urge to binge occurs. It involved focusing one’s awareness on behavior, beliefs, and emotions associated with food intake. The results suggested a positive effect, as the hunger attacks decreased in frequency and severity for the meditation group.(18)
Even though binge eating and cravings are not the same thing, they may show up together. And other more recent studies have been exploring the potential meditation has to change these behaviors. (15)
10. Think long term
It would be unrealistic to expect that a craving can be stopped by thinking about it rationally, but taking a step back and visualizing the long-term consequences helps some people manage their cravings better.
Some of the consequences may include:
- reduced energy levels
- mood swings and more negativity
- health risks of obesity and diabetes
Did you know?
A study has shown that “comfort food” such as junk food doesn’t necessarily provide a better “comfort feeling” than eating other types of food. This “myth of comfort food” is now being researched in other experiments. Try satisfying your craving with a healthier version of the same food.(20)
The main thing is that you learn to tell the difference between actual hunger and cravings for sweet or salty foods. Follow our tips and soon you too will be able to understand your body’s signals.