If you experience food cravings, be assured you are not alone. Some surveys estimate that close to 100% of young women and 70% of young men have experienced a craving for food during the past year. So regardless of your age, experiencing a craving for a specific food is common. The big questions are why we crave and how to manage these cravings.
First, I need to define cravings as an intense urge to eat a certain food—and usually right away. These foods are most often sugary, salty, or fatty, or all three. And the urge can occur at any time and for a multitude of reasons, none of which are related to hunger.
The potential cause of your cravings is far more complicated.
- Physiological: The brain regions responsible for memory, pleasure, and reward play a role in food cravings.
- Cravings can involve the appetite centers of the brain, even though they tend to be separate from hunger
- An imbalance of hormones can be a contributing factor
- Emotional: feelings such as stress, anxiety, anger, frustration
- Sensory stimulation: seeing, smelling, or hearing about a specific food
As a certified dietitian who has worked with patients for years to develop individualized diet plans and help my patients modify their eating behaviors, these are some of my suggestions that will help you curb and control your cravings:
Plan: Eating a balanced diet helps to keep cravings at bay. So does making room in your diet for small portions of favorite foods, like chocolate. For women, chocolate cravings seem to intensify premenstrually, so plan for that monthly indulgence.
Disconnect: Years of seeking solace from foods intensify longings during stressful times. Learning what lures you to the cookie jar or candy counter is the first step toward controlling your cravings. A pint of premium ice cream after a fight with your spouse? Late-night candy binges after a bad day at work? Become aware of such associations between food and mood by keeping a log of your cravings and your emotions at that time.
Distract: Cravings often last only 20 to 30 minutes. If you can take your mind off eating for that long, you may be able to wait the craving out. Being physical at that time is a double bonus. Try taking a walk, gardening, running errands, or calling a friend (pace while on the phone and stay out of the kitchen!
Deny: Keep tempting foods out of reach to make it easier to resist cravings. Better yet, don’t even keep them in the house, especially if you know you won’t be able to limit yourself to a small serving.
Substitute: A “fun-size” candy bar may satisfy that chocolate craving just as well -as the king-size bar. Or try popping just a small handful of semisweet morsels. Low-calorie foods can often quell a craving just as well as the real thing yet lessen the dietary damage. For example, chocolate frozen yogurt or a low-fat fudgesicle may be a suitable stand-in for super-premium Rocky Road.
More resources about cravings: