Suffering from food cravings is something we all experience, and it can be a vicious cycle trying to fight them. To know how to fight cravings for food, it’s important to understand what causes them and what environmental situations and events elicit cravings in your body. This can be difficult to pinpoint as there are a multitude of contributing factors which could be causing you to crave food.
Food cravings can be particularly detrimental to people trying to lose weight or follow a food plan as it often derails their progress. But fear not, as this article provides you with evidence-based research and information on factors that could be contributing to your food cravings. That’s not all though; after reading this article, you’ll be equipped with tips and techniques not only eliminate and minimise your food cravings, but also to fight food cravings when they do present themselves.
Get enough sleep
Sleep is one of the most effective methods of fighting and eliminating food cravings. Hormone imbalances are prevalent in individuals who fail to achieve sufficient levels of sleep. Hunger hormones tend to fluctuate throughout the day in all individuals, and are influential in affecting your appetite. However, these fluctuations are disrupted by a lack of sleep, which helps to regulate these hormones, and can increase urges for food and poor decision-making.
A study was conducted to ascertain the impacts of insufficient sleep on the hormones, leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is responsible for inhibiting hunger. Ghrelin, which is known as the hunger hormone, is attributed to elevated food intake and stimulating appetite. The study concluded that depleted leptin levels and elevated ghrelin levels were evident in participants who lacked sleep, and this was a significant factor in contributing to obesity levels.
These hormone interruptions can be combatted by adopting a good sleeping routine and getting adequate, quality sleep.
Reduce stress levels
Often when people are stressed, they experience an increased craving for food and seek comfort in treats, which is known as emotional eating.
Studies have compared the effects of food consumption in stressed females in comparison to non-stressed females. They revealed that stressed women are exposed to elevated cravings for food, and they also consume a substantially greater quantity of calories as a result. Not only can excess calorie consumption result in weight gain, the stress hormone, cortisol, is also released, which is associated with elevated weight gain, particularly in the stomach area.
Controlling and reducing stress levels will not only attenuate your urges for food, it will also prevent them from being present in the first place.
Mindful eating is a type of meditation which is intended to increase your awareness of your emotions and physical sensations towards food, while being present in the moment with your food. This is in direct contrast to people who subliminally throw back excessive quantities of food without paying any attention to their food or their body; instead they focus their attention on the likes of a tv show or their computer screen. By targeting 3 primary areas, including binge eating, unhealthy labels towards food and emotional eating, mindful eating promotes an elevated connection between food, mind and body.
Are you curious about how effective mindful eating really is? Then head over to ways to stop emotional eating – could mindful eating revolutionise your life? to learn about how mindful eating is taking the world by storm and could be the secret to smashing your diet goals. Learn about the various unhealthy eating habits that it can tackle, and also discover if you are a mindful eater with a fun quick food exercise (it’s a great excuse to eat your favourite snack).
Assess your diet
Are you consuming enough calories? Undereating a leading contributor to food cravings and ultimately binge eating. In addition to this, consuming a balanced diet is imperative to regulating bodily functioning and satiety levels. Find out if you’re consuming enough calories by seeking help from a registered dietitian or health professional. There are also calculators online that determine the calories you need, whether it’s for weight loss, weight maintenance or weight gain.
Fortunately, increasing backlash is erupting from professional dietitians and health professionals in response to fad diets and weight loss programmes which endorse low calorie diets, such as 1200 calorie diets, in a bid to attract males and females desperately trying to lose weight. The issue with endorsing 1200 calorie diets is that for the majority of the population, this amount of calories is far too low, and in fact dangerous, as many people require a basal metabolic rate of greater than 1200 calories, and that’s just to maintain normal bodily functioning!
Do you genuinely feel hungry throughout the day? If this is the case, it can lead to overeating and even exacerbate food cravings and snacking. Adopt a routine feeding regime whereby you eat at regular intervals as opposed to eating lights meals or even skipping meals throughout the day and consuming your largest meal late at night. This should banish feelings of genuine hunger and dips in blood sugar levels.
Tip: Keep healthy snacks on hand for times when you may start to get hungry.
Increase protein intake
Recent studies have found that satiety levels are enhanced with elevated consumption of protein due to the effect it elicits on thermogenesis. Another study evaluated the effects of high-protein diets on weight loss and weight management. The study concluded that diets which are moderately increased in protein and slightly decreased in fat and carbohydrate consumption can induce positive effects on body weight and body composition.
In a study on overweight men who increased their protein consumption to 25% of their calories, it was found to attenuate their food cravings by an impressive 60%. Additionally, a reduction in 50% was observed for the desire to snack at night.
Protein is also attributed to significantly reducing food cravings in individuals who increased the percentage of protein in their diet. An excellent technique is to start your day with a breakfast high in protein, this could include:
- cottage cheese
- greek yoghurt
- protein pancakes
- protein porridge
- protein powder
- scrambled tofu
- turkey rashers
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Additionally, including protein in every meal can ensure satiety and fullness is achieved throughout the day, while diminishing food cravings.
When food cravings hit, they often only last for short bouts of time. During that duration of time, it’s often wise to find a distraction to take your mind off the food desires. Some simple things you can do to divert your attention away from your cravings include:
- Get some exercise or a walk in – this not only distracts you, it also can assist in decreasing appetite
- Do some housekeeping activities, but try to keep out of the rooms where the tempting foods reside
- Chewing gum has been suggested in some studies to reduce appetite
- Have a cup of tea or coffee
- Talk to a friend or family member
- Take a shower
Additionally, for some people, cravings tend to kick in at certain times, e.g. after dinner or late at night. Avoid these trigger times by changing up your routine. For instance, if you crave chocolate after your dinner, get into the habit of going for a walk immediately after dinner; this way you’ll be almost guaranteed to have forgotten about your cravings when you return. Additionally, you could always opt to have a healthy treat after your dinner, e.g. a small bowl of fruit and yoghurt.
Remove or reduce unhealthy foods
If you constantly find yourself bingeing on certain foods, an effective technique it to remove them from the house. If you don’t buy them, you can’t eat them.
Alternatively, if you’re capable of controlling food portions, you could ration the quantities of the food you crave as opposed to completely eliminating them from your diet. For example, only eating 2 squares of chocolate instead of the whole bar.
If all else fails, you can always opt for a healthy food or drink swap.
Foods to curb cravings
Fruit: Many of us reach for foods that are often high in sugar, fat or salt when we are in the midst of a food craving fight. These foods are typically high in calories and low in terms of satiety. Instead, tackle that sugar craving by substituting a bar of chocolate for a naturally sweet piece of fruit. Fruit is also high in fibre, which assists in feeling fuller for longer. Examples of fruits that can target that craving include apples, bananas and grapes as they are slightly sweeter than other fruits, and also more filling.
Dark chocolate: If you must reach for chocolate and the likes of fruit won’t suffice, then try swapping out regular chocolate for dark chocolate, which is generally considered healthier as it is higher in cocoa and lower in sugar, compared to regular milk chocolate. However, don’t forget that is still contains a significant amount of calories, so try applying portion control and limit yourself to a couple of squares instead of the whole bar!
Meat, fish, poultry: As you now know, consuming protein is an almost guaranteed technique to curb your cravings. So why not opt for a meal or snack high in protein? Always ensure there’s a source of protein present in all your meals, and if possible, also incorporate protein into your snacks as well. For example, opt for a couple of hard-boiled eggs as a mid-morning or afternoon snack, season it with your favourite topping for some added flavour.
Popcorn: This is a healthier alternative to a packet of crisps and is also higher in fibre and lower in calories. Avoid opting for the sweetened versions, if at all possible, as they are laden with sugar. Why not try making your own popcorn at home and adding your own healthy fun flavouring? I personally love cinnamon or paprika as a topping.
Protein bars: An excellent snack option if you’re trying to get some added protein in, protein bars offer greater satiety than a standard chocolate or cereal bar, while also creating the impression that you’re having a treat!
Smoothie: If you’re craving something sweet, then a smoothie can be a great way to tackle those sugar cravings. Smoothies are a better option than juices insofar that they often contain milk or yoghurt which provide a protein source; some smoothies also include nuts which contain fibre and healthy fats.
Trail mix: If you’re looking for something with a bit of crunch or sweetness, then instead of reaching for a bag of gummy sweets or a bag of crisps, why not try a portion of trail mix? The nuts offer a healthy source of fat, while the dried fruit caters to your sugar cravings.
Drinks to curb cravings
Caffeine: Although research is still inconclusive as to the effects of caffeine on appetite and weight loss, it has widely been suggested that caffeinated drinks, such as tea and coffee, are capable of suppressing feelings of hunger and appetite, however, it is only for a brief duration. This could prove beneficial if you’re unsure whether you feel hungry or thirsty. Additionally, if you’re waiting on a meal, e.g. takeaway delivery or lunchtime to roll but don’t want to spoil it by having a snack, a cup of coffee or tea may just tide you over for a short period of time.
Water: Hunger and thirst elicit similar responses in the body and so your body may be confused whether it needs food or fluids. In many situations, you may not be hungry at all, you may simply be thirsty, but your mind misinterprets it for hunger. A simple, yet effective method to eliminate this is to drink plenty of water throughout the day. It’s preferable to continuously sip of water and drinks over the course of the day as opposed to attempting to achieve your target water intake in one or two sittings.
Remember that other drinks, such as tea and coffee, also contribute to hydrating the body, and it doesn’t need to be water alone that you consume all day. Additionally, sparkling water with an added lemon can sometimes be easier and tastier to drink than still unflavoured water.
Tip: Keep a water bottle with you as often as possible and this will facililtate the ability to take sips every now and again and eliminate the risk of getting thirsty.
- Eating mindfully and eliminating emotional eating can significantly reduce food cravings
- Lack of sleep is attributed to increased cravings for food and poor food choices
- Dehydration can often be misconstrued by the body for hunger
- Protein offers the higher satiety levels and feelings of fullness when compared with carbohydrates and fat
- Ensuring an adequate calorie consumption and balanced diet is being achieved can eliminate food cravings
- Remove foods from that house that you frequently yearn for or binge on
- When food cravings strike, opt for healthy food swaps instead of high fat, sugar or salt treats
The key to managing food cravings is understanding what instigates them in the first place. If you can address the root cause, it will immensely reduce the frequency of urges to eat such foods. Effective techniques such as getting adequate sleep, mindful eating and assessing your diet are fundamental parameters that influence the frequency and strength of food cravings. If all else fails, then opt for healthy foods and drinks to satisfy the yearning you have for food.
How do you fight food cravings? Do you have a sweet tooth that can only be satisfied with a sweet treat? Do you find tiredness increases your desire for food? I’d love to hear your experiences and feedback below!
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