The science behind food cravings (Plus five tips to banish them forever!)

The science behind food cravings (Plus five tips to banish them forever!)

Food cravings are a real pain. You're hungry and want to eat something delicious, but instead of a balanced meal, you go straight for the ice cream or chips. If this happens to you often, don’t worry – We’ve all been there.

Learning the science behind food cravings can help you understand why they happen and how to conquer them. Get excited! Once you’ve read this article, your cravings won’t have anything on you!

Why do we get food cravings?

Physiological cues like stress, sleep deprivation, and hormonal imbalances trigger food cravings.

  • Sleep deprivation: A lack of sleep suppresses leptin, a hormone that triggers satiety or “fullness,” and triggers ghrelin, which drives hunger. Plus, recent studies1 have found that a lack of sleep increases certain endocannabinoids, chemical compounds similar to the cannabinoids produced with cannabis consumption. These can heighten your sense of smell and boost your appetite.

  • Stress: When you’re stressed, your body produces mood-altering hormones like cortisol. To compensate, your body craves sweet, fatty, or high-carb foods that cause your body to produce feel-good hormones like endorphins or serotonin, helping to stabilize your mood.

    So, if you’ve got a hankering for carbs that won’t quit, it’s probably because sweet and starchy carbs increase serotonin levels, helping to stabilize your mood. On the other hand, if fatty foods are your kryptonite, it’s because the foods trigger the release of endorphins. These are the same brain chemicals that make you feel “high” after a great workout.

  • Hormonal imbalances: In essence, hormonal imbalance can result in low serotonin. And the easiest way for your body to boost serotonin? Sugar. These hormonal imbalances are the driving force behind women's insatiable cravings during PMS or perimenopause.

Pro Tip: The truth behind the nutrient theory

Contrary to popular belief, nutritional advice published by Psychology Today2 debunked the myth that cravings are caused by nutrient deficiency in 2014. After all, there’s nothing nutrient-dense about a bag of potato chips or a decadent piece of chocolate cake. 

Don’t get us wrong… We love cake, too!

But what we DON’T love are addictive and completely processed foods. Instead, we’re all about celebrating the incredible power of real food: Food that tastes good, feels good in your stomach, and makes you feel great.

The problem with cravings is that they often interfere with our health goals, making us indulge in addictive, unhealthy foods. If you’re tired of the endless cycle of craving, indulging, and bingeing – then being overcome with guilt and shame because of something so harmless as a craving, the following tips were made for you. 

5 Ways to conquer your most persistent cravings

As frustrating as they can be, food cravings often serve an important purpose, reminding us that our bodies and minds need consistent care and attention. So rather than feeling frustrated toward your body, take your cravings as a sign that it’s time to look after yourself a little better – And watch as they disappear on their own over time.

Implementing these tips into your daily life can dramatically improve your health and your relationship with food. However, they’re most effective when applied over long periods of time to help you create lasting change. 


  1. Stop all-or-nothing thinking.

While it’s true that certain foods should be avoided, sometimes, the only way to get rid of a craving is to give in. And that’s okay! What’s important is not to go overboard.

So the next time you think, "I can't eat this; it's not a part of my diet," try to resist that all-or-nothing thinking. To foster a healthier relationship with food, extremes such as "I'll never have ice cream again" or "I'm going to eat this entire cake" must be reframed. Instead, think about how many bites are okay versus how many bites are too many. If you think about it that way, one bite or portion of something you “shouldn't” eat isn't the end of the world—it's just a bite!

If this type of thinking still doesn't sit right with you and there's something specific about your food cravings that concerns you (for example, if they’re a huge cause of guilt), consider talking with a therapist who specializes in eating disorders or body image issues.


  1. Practice mindful eating.

Eating mindfully3 means focusing on the food you eat - How it looks, smells and tastes – without distraction. Take your time, enjoy your meal, and pay attention to signals from your body that tell you when to stop eating or slow down.

This technique helps reduce stress levels, increases appreciation for healthful, nutritious, real foods, and allows for better communication between the brain and stomach.


  1. Out of sight, out of mind.

Limiting access to a bad habit is the easiest way to break it. Doing so decreases environmental triggers or cues that cause you to crave certain foods. So if you struggle with recurring sugar cravings, hide your sweets deep in a cupboard where you won’t see them. Or better yet, don’t keep them in the house! If the source of your bad habit isn't there in the first place, then you don't have to worry about bingeing on unhealthy foods at the end of a long day or when you are bored and stressed.


  1. Opt for a healthier option.

Did you know that some nutrient-dense, whole foods like soy products, pineapple, leafy greens, nuts, and seeds naturally help your body produce serotonin? So instead of getting your serotonin fix from unhealthy foods lacking nutritional value, reach for one of these!


  1. Distract yourself for 10 minutes.

One of the most foolproof ways to immediately conquer food cravings is to distract yourself for 10 minutes. Work on a hobby, go for a walk, do some yoga, take a shower, call a friend… Do anything that will keep your mind busy and reduce your stress levels. This method is super-effective since cravings can only exist in your mind for a short time, so long as they’re not encouraged.


Need more help conquering your cravings?

Try the Real Food Love app!

Packed with valuable advice to help you become a healthier version of yourself, our app is designed to help you overcome even the most stubborn cravings. The Real Food Love app helps you achieve pure wellness by allowing you to find the root source of your cravings, then offering real, actionable, and science-backed methods and tips to overcome them - For good. 

With simple yet powerful advice that works to create lasting change, this app will help you create the change you’ve been wishing for – no matter your starting point.




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