It happens to each one of us at some point. It might be a comfort food when you are stressed, or something you reach for when you are tired in the afternoon. Maybe it’s the smell of bread toasting or a salty bag of chips in the pantry. Food cravings can be a frustrating and overwhelming feeling that you might think you can’t control. But more often than not, you can control a food craving if you spend some time to sort out its cause.

Find the Source

The first step in tackling a food craving is understanding why it’s there. One of the best tools to do this is to use a “food-mood” journal, which can be as simple as keeping some notes (on paper, on your cell phone, anywhere) about what you were craving, the time of day you had the craving, how you were feeling, and what you did about the craving. If you do this for a week or two, then you should begin seeing an emerging pattern of behavior associated with the craving.

Six Common Causes

1. You are stressed, anxious, or sad

Chronic stress increases the level of the hormone cortisol, which increases appetite – especially for sweet carbs. If we are feeling sad, then we eat because it’s pleasurable and triggers the release of endogenous cannabinoids that can soothe our mood naturally.

2. You are tired

Our bodies renew our energy when we sleep. The other way we obtain energy is eating foods that provide the calories the body turns into energy. If you aren’t getting enough sleep or you have poor quality sleep, then your body can drive you to eat more to keep up energy levels. Poor sleep quality also changes cortisol levels, which will increase your appetite.

3. Your blood sugar is low

We really do need energy to maintain us throughout the day – and this energy comes from food. If you don’t eat enough, then your blood sugar can fall to a level that triggers cravings because your body needs energy. This craving is most often for sugar, because sugar raises blood sugar and improves energy the fastest. 

4. Your hormones are out of balance

Cortisol has already been mentioned as one hormone that drives hunger, but other hormones also play a role. This is especially true in women who are still menstruating, because cycling hormones throughout the month can drive cravings and hunger.

5. You are dehydrated

Hunger and thirst are closely related, although sometimes telling the difference is hard. The easy check? Drink a glass of water and wait 20 minutes to see if the craving goes away.

6. You have a nutrient imbalance

One fundamental reason we eat is because there are essential nutrients our bodies need to keep functioning. If you aren’t giving your body enough protein, fat, B vitamins, magnesium, or other nutrients, you can experience particular cravings because your body wants something it lacks. One great place to start is to make sure you are taking a good multi-vitamin/mineral supplement to cover your essential vitamins and minerals.


References

  1. Hill, A, Weaver C, Blundell J. Food craving, dietary restraint and mood. Appetite 1991(17.3):187-197.
  2. Hill A, Heaton-Brown L. The experience of food craving: a prospective investigation in healthy women. Journal of Psychosomatic Research 1994(38.8):801-814.
  3. Dalvit S. The effect of the menstrual cycle on patterns of food intake. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1981(34.9):1811-1815.
  4. Chao A, Jastreboff A, White M, et al. Stress, cortisol, and other appetite?related hormones: Prospective prediction of 6?month changes in food cravings and weight. Obesity 2017(25.4):713-720.
  5. Kirkham T. Cannabinoids and appetite: food craving and food pleasure. International Review of Psychiatry 2009(21.2):163-171.