Do you have intense food cravings that are hard to control? The occasional food craving is expected, but if you experience them regularly you may find it harder to maintain healthy eating habits. Not to worry – you can learn how to stop food cravings with the right strategy, diet, and lifestyle.
Research tells us women find it much harder to fight food cravings than men, which can get in the way of your efforts to eat well or maintain a healthy weight. This can feel frustrating, but it’s really just a matter of understanding why you’re having these cravings and then finding easy ways to manage them.
In this article, we’ll discuss the biggest causes of food cravings and share 10 ways to stop constant cravings.
What causes food cravings?
Before we get into how to stop food cravings, it’s essential to understand why you may be experiencing them in the first place.
Food cravings occur for many reasons. They may be true physical cravings at times when your body is really in need of something. Other times, they could be more mental and come out when you’re feeling stressed or anxious.
Either way, becoming aware of them can help you determine the biggest culprits for your food cravings. Here are a few of them.
Chronic stress raises the hormone cortisol, which increases the desire for carbs and sweets. Your body may also trick you into thinking you’re craving something because eating stimulates the reward center of the brain. Temporarily, giving in to your craving increases dopamine, the feel-good hormone, but this is short-lived.
If you are a woman, depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle, your hormones can get the best of you when it comes to food cravings. Female reproductive hormones are constantly changing throughout the month, resulting in intermittent cravings for sweet, salty, or fatty foods. The perimenopause or menopause stage of life can also bring about more frequent cravings.
While rare, some people have a hormonal imbalance called leptin resistance. Leptin is the hormone that makes us full. When there is too little of this hormone in the body, it can be hard to feel satisfied no matter how much you eat.
Low blood sugar can also cause food cravings, especially for sweets. This can happen if you go a long time without eating, exercise without enough fuel, or are eating too many processed carbs. Your body needs energy when your blood sugar is low, and so these cravings are how your body says “feed me!”.
Have you ever heard that when you think you’re hungry, you might actually be dehydrated? This is because the signals for hunger and thirst are very similar and it can be difficult to know the difference. If your diet has been lacking in the water department, there’s a pretty big chance that this is one of the triggers for your cravings.
Lack of sleep can drive food cravings. If you’re tired, your body is looking for energy in the quickest way possible – often in the form of simple carbs and sugars. Poor sleep also increases cortisol levels, which is associated with an increased appetite. When you haven’t gotten enough sleep, it can be very difficult to control your cravings, so be sure you are getting enough rest.
If you’re craving a particular type of food often, a vitamin or mineral deficiency may be to blame. Your body naturally craves the nutrients it lacks, and so it’s your body’s way of warning you that something is off.
10 ways to control constant cravings
Learning how to stop food cravings is simple with these 10 diet and lifestyle strategies.
Eating more protein can help curb your appetite and reduce cravings. Protein takes longer to digest than carbs, and so it results in more steady energy that satisfies you for longer.
Everyone’s protein needs are different but aim to make at least ¼ of your plate healthy protein such as chicken, fish, eggs, Greek yogurt, nuts, seeds, tofu, or turkey.
A lack of sleep can increase appetite and result in powerful cravings. Studies show poor sleep also decreases leptin levels, the hormone that makes us full and reduces cravings.
Establish a relaxing nighttime routine such as setting a wind-down alarm, limiting screens at night, and reading a book or meditating before bed.
Drinking more water may reduce constant cravings. If you feel the urge to eat, try drinking a glass of water first and waiting 20 minutes. In some cases, the food craving may fade away if you are in fact thirsty, not hungry.
Even more so, drinking water before meals has been seen to reduce appetite and help you eat less.
If your blood sugar is out of balance, it can lead to some pretty major cravings. And while cravings are more common when your blood sugar is low, they can also happen when it’s too high. Both of these situations result in cravings and hunger pangs as your body tries to keep your blood sugar in balance.
Eating balanced meals containing protein and fiber provide you with steady energy throughout the day. This is because protein and fiber help to slow glucose (i.e. sugar) digestion in the body, which can reduce blood sugar spikes and crashes.
Enjoy lean proteins like chicken breast, fish, eggs, tofu, and low-fat dairy as well as high fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to nip those cravings in the bud.
In addition, the trace mineral chromium may also help keep your blood sugar in check, especially in those with diabetes. Chromium is present in several foods such as meat, grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and spices, but can also be taken as chromium picolinate in a supplement.
How we eat is very much tied to our mental state, and it is common to eat based on emotional reasons rather than physical ones. When this happens, you’re eating food you don’t truly need, which leads to feelings of guilt around food or weight gain.
In order to fix this, it’s essential to feel your feelings and become more aware of your food triggers. Maybe you had a bad day at work and want to eat as a way to escape, or you haven’t had any time to yourself in days and are craving comfort foods to reward yourself. Either way, if these feelings take over they can sabotage your best efforts to eat well.
Before you reach for a snack, try to get into a habit of checking in with yourself first. Acknowledge how you’re feeling, see if you’re truly hungry, and allow yourself to feel your feelings instead of suppressing them.
Ask yourself if the food would really make you feel better, or if you need to take a break, call a friend, or go for a walk instead. This is not always easy but is necessary and quite effective in terms of reducing emotional eating.
If you’re asking yourself how to stop food cravings, upping your fiber intake is one of the best ways to do this. Fiber has so many benefits, but one of the best things about it is it is incredibly filling!
Include at least 25-35 grams per day of fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
If you’re not a huge fruit and vegetable fan, a particular type of fiber called glucomannan may also provide these same benefits.
Because glucomannan is a highly viscous fiber that expands in the belly, it may help keep you full and reduce cravings. When taken as a supplement, studies show it may reduce food intake and support weight loss at a dose of 2000-4000 mg per day.
Before you give into your constant cravings, pause and take a step back. This will ensure you evaluate the situation first instead of mindlessly eating. Taking a quick pause away from the kitchen can help you determine if you’re truly hungry or if there is some other reason why you’re craving something.
Don’t worry, as you continue to do this more it will get easier and will become an automatic habit.
Going too long without eating is a recipe for food craving mayhem. When you skip meals or have an erratic eating schedule, your blood sugar drops and your body jumps into action to get you to eat something. It is usually never something particularly healthy!
Set yourself up for success by getting into a regular meal schedule, where you’re ideally eating your meals around the same time each day. This way you know you won’t be scrambling last minute and you’ll always have a healthy meal ready to go.
Starting with breakfast within an hour of waking, aim to eat a meal every 3-4 hours and 2-3 snacks in between, depending on your hunger and activity level.
9. Don’t restrict yourself
An overly strict diet leads to powerful cravings and puts you at risk of overeating. This is your body trying to warn you that your diet is lacking in something, and it’s hard to ignore.
Research has found that those who are dieting can experience more cravings that are harder to control. If your cravings are out of control, and you’re on a diet, you are probably being too strict.
If you’re trying to lose weight or improve your nutrition, make sure to include enough variety in your diet. You don’t have to deprive yourself in order to meet your goals – instead focus on what to include more of in your diet – delicious proteins, smoothies, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.
10. Create non-food rewards
Are you craving food out to reward yourself? Is eating your coping mechanism or a way to provide comfort after a long day? If so, you’re not alone in this, and it’s very common to reward yourself with food.
If you need to de-stress or want a treat, make a short list of non-food rewards you can turn to instead. For example, you can watch your favorite tv show, do some gentle stretching or yoga, or meditate as a way to unwind. When you have a go-to list of activities you enjoy, any time you’re in need of a pick-me-up, you have other tools in your arsenal.
Being able to control and reduce your food cravings will enable you to enjoy your meals, become more in tune with your body, and make it easier to reach your health goals. Knowing how to stop food cravings may feel challenging at first, but there are effective ways to gain control.
The first step is identifying what the main triggers for your cravings are, then determining the best course of action to kick those cravings to the curb. Some key ways to reduce constant cravings include eating more fiber and protein, prioritizing sleep, and reducing stress.
Incorporating key ingredients like chromium and glucomannan also support healthy blood sugar levels and may keep you feeling fuller longer.
Remember that it’s okay to feel your feelings and take a pause before eating. This will only help you fine-tune your hunger signals and differentiate between physical and emotional hunger.
If you are craving a particular type of food often, consult with your doctor to get your nutrient levels checked. If you have a true deficiency, correcting the deficiency can help drive cravings down.
If you need additional support in managing your food cravings, taking a quality supplement like Leanbean can help you meet your goals. It contains chromium and glucomannan in clinically relevant doses that can help curb appetite and cravings.
Disclaimer: The information on the Leanbean blog does not constitute medical advice and should not be used as such. If you would like to learn more about your dietary requirements and related aspects of your health, speak with a registered medical professional.