Understanding food cravings and how to manage them

Understanding food cravings and how to manage them


Food cravings are natural and extremely common. Almost 90% of individuals experience food cravings on a regular basis.

With that said, the nature of food cravings varies from one individual to another. Most people crave processed foods that are sugary, salty, and full of unhealthy fats. Studies demonstrated that males crave savoury foods. However, females crave high-fat, sweet foods.

Unfortunately, excess food cravings can lead to severe side effects, disrupting your diet.

In this article, we will cover the role of hormones in managing hunger, then discuss a few ways to reduce your food cravings.

The balance of Hunger Hormones

There are two main hormones that control hunger and satiety responses:

  • Ghrelin
  • Leptin

The first hormone (i.e., ghrelin) becomes active when the stomach is empty. As a result, the brain receives signals that it’s time for food.

Conversely, the levels of leptin increase after food intake to suppress feelings of hunger.

In summary, ghrelin and leptin produce opposite responses to regulate hunger and satiety.


As the stomach empties food into the intestines, ghrelin gets produced by special cells in the gut. Ghrelin will then travel to the brain via the blood circulation to initiate feelings of hunger.

The primary role of this hormone is to make you “grab some food!”

The vast majority of ghrelin gets secreted by the upper parts of the stomach, which explains why bariatric surgeries reduce the levels of this hormone.

Some of the factors that promote the release of ghrelin include:

  • When the body is expecting food (your regular mealtime)
  • Stressful situations (i.e., stress-eating)
  • Fasting and dieting


Leptin (i.e., the satiety hormone) is synthesized by adipocytes (i.e., fat cells) to signal the brain that you are full.

Interestingly, overweight and obese people have an unusually high level of leptin; however, their cells do not respond properly to the action of this hormone (i.e., leptin resistance).

Consequently, overweight people have faulty “I’m full” signals, which inadvertently cause more caloric intake and obesity.

To increase leptin levels in your body:

  • Limit the intake of inflammatory foods (e.g., trans-fats)
  • Consume complex carbohydrates (e.g., fiber), omega-3 fatty acids, leafy greens, and nuts
  • Get more sleep
  • Avoid severe calorie restriction

How to manage food cravings

Dealing with food cravings can be a daunting task. Luckily, there are numerous strategies to help individuals maintain a balanced diet and promote overall health.

Here are some tips you can follow to manage your foods cravings:

Manage your stress

Being chronically stressed can lead to some debilitating health conditions. Under significant stress, you may seek comfort in foods, consequently leading to excessive eating and intense food cravings.

A study conducted in 2015 confirmed this notion, linking chronic stress to increased food cravings and elevated Body Mass Index (BMI).

Stress can further exacerbate weight gain. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone that’s responsible for this effect. You see, high cortisol levels can stimulate the accumulation of fat in the abdominal region. Therefore, it is essential to explore natural methods for managing stress and anxiety.

Drink plenty of water

Surprisingly, the sensations triggered by hunger and thirst can be quite similar. As a result, you may mistake being thirsty for hunger.

For this reason, many people find that keeping hydrated throughout the day helps in managing their food cravings. Besides keeping cravings at bay, drinking plenty of water offers a multitude of benefits.

Focus on healthy sleep

Sleep deprivation alters the body in a myriad of ways, including hormonal imbalance. This factor could trigger overeating and weight gain.

A 2013 study investigated this correlation and found that individuals who transitioned from a sleep-deprived routine to an adequate sleep schedule experienced weight loss. One possible explanation for this observation is the regulation of stress hormones, particularly cortisol.

Consume plenty of protein

Including a lot of lean protein in your diet is a healthy practice that can also mitigate food cravings. A 2020 review of studies suggests that protein consumption can help in appetite regulation and lower ghrelin levels.

Chew gum

Chewing gum offers a simple and effective technique to manage cravings for both sweet and salty foods. In a 2011 study, people who chewed gum reported feeling less hungry and experiencing fewer cravings for snacks. They also felt satiated compared to those who did not chew gum. This strategy can be especially beneficial to distract the mouth and mind from food cravings.

Think about your behaviour

Long-standing habits can often be the culprit behind food cravings. For instance, someone accustomed to picking up fast food on their way back home might experience intense cravings triggered by this daily behaviour.

To address this, you should try to establish new, healthier habits. This could be as simple as choosing a different route back home or opting for a quick walk in the park instead of making a fast food stop.

Similarly, cravings at home can be managed by engaging in different activities, such as walking around the neighbourhood, taking a shower, or calling a friend.

If you think you are dealing with an eating disorder, you should consult your healthcare professional.

Avoid making yourself hungry

Intense hunger will often tempt you to consume calorie-dense foods, such as processed or fried foods. To prevent this, you should eat at the onset of hunger, which can mitigate these cravings.

Establishing a consistent eating pattern, such as having several small meals throughout the day, may also help some people in warding off cravings.

Takeaway message

Food cravings are natural processes that everyone experiences at some point. When these cravings become excessive, they may lead to weight gain and other health problems. The good news is that you can take a number of science-based steps to manage your food cravings and maintain a healthy weight.

We hope that this article managed to highlight food cravings and the ways to manage them in order to keep your caloric intake in check.

Remember to check out our fitness journals and body tape measure which will help you keep track of your calorie intake.

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