How Do Food Cravings Work and How Can You Stop Them? A Guide

food cravings

Do you suffer from food cravings? If so you’re not alone. 

Roughly 90% of the population experiences food cravings to varying degrees. 

Food cravings are a natural, normal part of life. If in balance, they can also be a valuable signal from the body that you need more of certain foods or nutrients. 

Unfortunately, our modern diets have exposed us to ultra-processed, salty, and sugar-filled foods that can play havoc on the body’s natural food craving mechanism. Instead of craving the things our bodies need, we tend to crave all the foods that will compromise our health and make us gain weight. 

To make things even more complicated, a lot of our attempts to eat healthily and restrict ‘bad’ foods can exacerbate food cravings. 

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to bring your body and your food cravings back into harmony. Read on to learn about how food cravings work and how to stop cravings in their tracks. 

Physical Triggers of Food Cravings

Food cravings are usually multi-layered, and a variety of things can trigger them. The most common food craving triggers fall into two camps, physical triggers, and mental/emotional triggers. 

Here are some of the main physical triggers that can spark food cravings or make them worse. 


One of the first things to know if you want to learn how to stop cravings is that cravings are usually exacerbated by hunger. 

Studies suggest that selective, short-term food deprivation increases cravings for avoided foods. Not only are these cravings physical, but they can also be a result of conditioned responses to deprivation. 

If you are skipping meals to try and lose weight and avoiding certain “bad” foods, this is a recipe for food cravings. 

Not only is your body in a state of hunger, but you’re probably also receiving mental/emotional triggers that you’re deprived. Before you know it, you might have finished an entire box of doughnuts or packet of potatoes chips. 

Sugar Cravings

Another physical trigger for food cravings is an addiction to sugar. 

According to statistics, 75% of Americans eat far too much sugar, and many of them could qualify as having a sugar addiction.

Most processed, packaged foods contain far more than sugar than we realize. Just because you aren’t craving sweets doesn’t mean your body isn’t experiencing sugar cravings.

Things like pasta sauce, bread, ketchup, yogurt, salad dressings, granola, cereals, and even savory snacks can come with a surprising amount of added sugar in them. 

If you find yourself craving savory snacks rather than craving ice cream, it could still be the sugar that’s playing tricks on your brain and body. 


One of the ultimate purposes of food cravings is to help your body rectify any deficiencies. 

For instance, if you are craving cheese, this could simply mean that you’re not eating enough fats or getting enough calcium in your diet. 

Craving meat can be a sign of an iron deficiency or a signal that you’re low in vitamin B12. 

Unfortunately, processed foods that are high in fat, sugar, salt, and artificial flavorings can cause these natural signals to be misinterpreted by the body. 

For instance, if you’re craving sugar, craving ice cream, or craving refined carbs, this could be a sign that your body is low in zinc, magnesium, chromium, amino acids, vitamin D, or other vitamins. 

Chocolate cravings can sometimes indicate a need for iron. Although chocolate can provide some iron, dark green leafy vegetables and meat are far more potent sources. 

Emotional and Psychological Triggers of Food Cravings

Although food cravings can happen as a result of physical triggers like hunger or a deficiency—they can also have a strong mental/emotional component. 

Here are some of the psychological and emotional factors that can play into food cravings. 

Restrictive Tendencies Around Food

Do you have restrictive eating tendencies? These could be making your food cravings worse. 

Restricting certain foods or making them “forbidden” can trigger your brain to make you want these foods. 

If you tell yourself, “I can never eat ice cream” this can make you obsess over the food and trigger ice cream cravings more than if you told yourself “I mustn’t eat too much ice cream, but I can have it every so often.”

Restricting foods not only makes you think about them more than you usually would, but it can also create an emotional feeling of deprivation. 

Positive Feedback Loops in the Brain

Another mental trigger for food cravings is positive feedback loops in the brain. 

Positive feedback loops occur when something triggers serotonin release. The body remembers this and tries to signal you to repeat the thing. 

The mind can form positive feedback loops for all kinds of things, including healthy things like exercise (that releases endorphins), or unhealthy things like nicotine, drugs, or certain foods. 

Research shows that carbohydrate consumption increases serotonin releases, while protein intake does not. This can cause one to overeat on foods that are high in refined carbs and lead to sugar cravings. 

Positive Associations With Certain Foods

Another emotional trigger for food cravings is positive associations with certain foods. 

For instance, you might have certain childhood foods that you associate with feelings of being safe and secure. In times of stress or emotional turmoil, you might crave these comfort foods because they are associated with positive feelings. 


Lastly, habits and routines can play a big role in cravings. 

Do you usually eat ice cream while watching TV? If so, watching TV can turn into a trigger for ice cream cravings. 

Or maybe you turn to ice cream when you’re stressed? Stress can trigger food cravings in a big way, and if you’re in the habit of eating a certain food when stressed, this can make the cravings even more intense. 

How to Stop Cravings

As you can see, the source of food cravings can be very multilayered. If you want to learn how to stop cravings, you have to approach them smartly. 

Simply telling yourself that you’re not allowed a certain food is not going to work. In fact, it can make things worse. 

Instead, the key is to focus on healthy habits that will combat food cravings in multiple ways. 

Here are some of the steps you can take to effectively get food cravings under control. 

Don’t Get Overly Hungry

Like we said above, hunger can make food cravings just about impossible to resist. 

If you go too long without food, once you start it can be hard to stop or make healthy choices. You might even end up in a binge eating session. 

Therefore, try not to skip meals or let yourself get hungry. Instead, eat healthy foods that will keep you full and fuel your body. 

Fill Up on Fiber

One of the best ways to keep yourself full and not eat too much is to fill up on fiber. 

Fiber adds low-calorie volume to food. It also takes longer to digest than refined foods, and helps to regulate blood sugar. 

Refined carbs and sugar-laden foods have the opposite effect. They spike blood sugar, leading to a crash later on. When this happens it can trigger cravings for more high-carb foods. 

Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are excellent sources of fiber, so aim to increase your intake of these. 

Keep Yourself Well Nourished

Besides feeding yourself regularly and filling up on fiber, you should also aim to eat a well-rounded, nourishing diet. Like we said above, dietary deficiencies can trigger cravings for unhealthy foods. 

Try to focus on eating as many fruits and vegetables as possible and include healthy fats and sources of protein. 

Don’t Follow a Low-Fat Diet

Speaking of fats, if you’re battling food cravings then it might be a good idea to stay away from low-fat diets.

Low-fat diets can result in short-term weight loss through calorie restriction. However, healthy fats are an important part of a balanced diet. They are vital for a number of functions.

Restricting fats can also bring on cravings. If the cravings get too strong, you might find yourself bingeing on unhealthy sources of fats, such as fried and processed foods. 

Therefore, make a point to consume beneficial sources of fats like olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, avocados, seeds, and fatty fish. 

Don’t Follow Highly Restrictive Diets

If you are struggling with excess weight, you might have tried out various diets and eating plans. Unfortunately, most diets are based on restriction and can breed restrictive mindsets around food. 

Although restricting certain foods or overall calorie intake can generate short-term results, restrictive eating practices can also trigger food cravings, binge eating, and eating disorders. 

Restricting specific foods can mean you cut them from your diet for a while, but it can also create obsessions over them and exacerbate cravings. 

Of course, overeating on unhealthy foods is not going to do your body any favors either. 

The best approach is to try and eat healthy foods the majority of the time, while not making any food entirely off-limits. If you’re eating a diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole foods, having some chocolate, cake, chips, etc, once in a while is not going to make you gain weight. 

Non-restrictive, balanced diets that focus on healthy eating, but allow some unhealthy foods from time to time, are the most sustainable and produce the best results long-term. 

Examine Common Food Cravings and Find the Triggers

Another thing you can do to combat food cravings is examined the source or triggers. Make a note of any specific situations that spark off a food craving. Once you have a list of your common triggers, you can take steps to eliminate or prepare for them. 

For instance, you might not be able to avoid all sources of stress in your life. However, you can take steps to manage your stress response through things like mindfulness practices and yoga. You can also prepare for stressful times by meal planning a healthy, quick meal, and stocking up on healthy snacks that you like. 

Clean Out Your Pantry

Food cravings are much harder to resist if the food item you’re craving is right in front of you. Therefore, take temptation out of your home and clean out your pantry. Get rid of the items that you know will spark unwanted cravings. 

Also, make it a point not to randomly stock up on unhealthy snacks and foods. If you want to reward yourself with a treat, then buy the item. But don’t keep your larder stocked with them. 

Distract Yourself

When you feel a craving coming on, try to distract yourself as quickly and thoroughly as possible. The longer you think about the specific food you’re craving, the harder it will be to resist it. 

Instead, find activities to do that will take your mind off the craving, such as going for a walk, calling a friend, etc. 

Just be careful not to pick things that can further exacerbate the food craving. For instance, if you usually eat snacks while watching TV, then turning on your favorite series might not be the best distraction from a craving. 

Move Your Body

Moving your body is not only important for healthy weight management and good health, but it can also play a role in bringing your body into balance and reducing food cravings. 

One of the reasons behind this is that exercise makes the body release natural endorphins, including serotonin. The happier you feel, the less likely you might be to experience cravings. 

If your brain has created a positive feedback loop around certain high-carb foods, exercising can also help to replace this undesirable feedback loop with a healthy one. 

Are Food Cravings Derailing Your Diet?

Are food cravings derailing your diet or your attempts to achieve a healthy weight? 

If so, it might be time to seek out assistance. Battling food cravings and diet failures on your own can be very overwhelming. It can also lead to disordered eating. 

UnCraveX is a medically assisted weight loss program provider that is passionate about helping Americans regain control over their diets and weight. We supply you with the tools and resources you need, as well as on-demand coaching and support in our programs. 

UnCraveRx is a complete medical weight loss program designed to foster a healthy lifestyle        

Find an UnCraveRx provider and get started toward better health .

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