Managing Food Cravings

If you’ve ever felt you had to have chocolate or pasta or a bag of potato chips, you’ve had a food craving.

Although there’s nothing wrong with wanting a particular food, giving in to cravings can make it difficult to maintain a healthy weight.

Hunger vs. craving

There's a big difference between cravings and hunger pangs. When you’re hungry, you’re responding to a physical need, but cravings are usually from an emotional or psychological trigger and are often for a specific type of food, like chips or chocolate.

In addition, because cravings aren’t usually related to hunger, it’s likely that the amount of food you eat will be more than a reasonable portion.

The following suggestions can help you manage cravings:

  • Learn the difference between physical hunger and cravings. Before you start to eat, stop and ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?”

  • Note when you get food cravings so you can anticipate them and take steps to manage them. For example, do you have cravings at a certain time of day? Midafternoon is a common time. Women also often have cravings just before a menstrual period begins.

  • Be mindful of why you’re eating. Cravings can be physical or psychological. Physical cravings are satisfied by a healthy snack. Many people, however, use food as a distraction from uncomfortable feelings, such as stress, boredom, depression, or sadness. Becoming aware of what triggers your cravings can help you to determine the negative emotion behind the urge, and help you take action to address your emotional needs in a positive way.

  • Choose a healthy substitute. If you want ice cream, spoon up some fat-free frozen yogurt or sorbet. If you crave double chocolate ice cream, try a fat-free fudge pop instead.

  • Eat well-balanced meals. Include protein, carbohydrates, and a small amount of unsaturated fat in each meal. A meal plan such as a low-carb diet that avoids some foods can put you at a deficit for certain nutrients and cause cravings.

  • Drink about 64 ounces of fluids a day. Avoid beverages with sugar or a high fat content.

  • Don’t get too hungry, and don't skip meals. If you're still hungry between meals, have a meal or a snack every three or four hours. This can keep you from getting so hungry that cravings and hunger set in at the same time.

  • Get exercise every day. It can help control your appetite and your weight.

What works for you?

Cravings happen to almost everyone. Some experts suggest giving in to food cravings moderately, while others support the notion of letting the craving pass. You have to decide what will work for you, and the answer may lie somewhere between giving in and letting go. You can allow yourself to indulge on rare occasions, but most of the time, stick with healthy alternatives.