Food Cravings – Causes and How to Manage it

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Our body uses hunger as a natural cue to signify that it is time to eat. Hunger pangs are the term used to describe the urge to eat. Some people experience frequent food cravings, although most people may go for hours without eating. Every individual is unique. While some people feel the need to eat often, others do not. 

There is no set guideline for when someone should experience hunger pangs. Cravings for food are more common. Cravings can manifest as a want for a specific cuisine. These are difficult to ignore. Among the most, frequent cravings are for chocolate, salty or sweet foods.

What are food cravings?

Mostly, cravings indicate an imbalance in nutrients. Perhaps the body is not getting enough nourishment, or an individual is stressed out emotionally. Women are twice as likely as men to experience a food craving. 

An extreme urge to eat a certain food or food group, particularly of the calorie-dense and highly delicious sort, is referred to as a food craving (like potato chips, ice cream or even cereal).

Although hunger cues and cravings are sometimes confused, there are typically clear distinctions between the two. Cravings are sudden and intense, in contrast to the gradual onset and steady escalation of hunger cues. True hunger makes most foods appear delicious.

Reward region of the brain 

The reward system involves various brain regions, but the significant portion responsible for controlling desires and food is the hypothalamus. Hypothalamus, a little pea-sized region, make up less than 1% of the brain’s weight.

It controls how pain, stress, pleasure and hunger-related chemicals and hormones are secreted. Dopamine, the feel-good hormone and a neurotransmitter in the hypothalamus, signals happy feelings linked to pleasurable incidences. 

Dopamine activity is elevated more by anticipating rewards than by literally obtaining them. If the reward is bigger than expected, dopamine release is significantly greater, which might make someone want the event or substance more frequently. 

Some researchers think that eating specific foods regularly can cause compulsive eating habits or emotional overeating by stimulating the reward centre of the brain.

Reasons for food cravings

Physical cause

Food cravings frequently involve blood sugar, dopamine and physiological reactions. Highly delectable foods, especially those with a lot of added sugar, cause the brain’s reward region and dopamine release to be triggered, which usually encourages us to eat more than we actually need to. 

The ability to distinguish between actual hunger and food cravings may therefore be hampered by this excessive eating, especially of added sweets.

Cephalic phase responses (CPRs) are physiological reactions triggered by exposure to food and sensory cues like sight, smell and taste. Our bodies gradually understand which cues correspond to when we should eat. When exposed to those cues, a number of reactions take place that starts the digestive process, including modifications in heart rate, heart rate variability (HRV), salivation and gastric activity. Increased desires and hunger are a direct result of these changes.


Cravings for food throughout pregnancy are usually common. Pregnancy hormone changes may affect taste and smell receptors and increase appetites for food.


It is simple to mistake hunger for thirst. A lack of fluids may cause us to confuse hunger for thirst and increase the desire for food. According to research, consuming water prior to a meal may help us consume fewer calories.

Lack of sufficient sleep

The human body depends on sleep just as it does on diet and exercise. Imbalances in the hormones that control hunger and satiety can result from insufficient or poor sleep, which can increase desire and worsen food cravings.

Gut microbiota

Recent studies have linked cravings to the bacteria in the stomach. Some bacterial species may affect the kind and frequency of cravings one experiences.

Dysregulation of Ghrelin and Leptin

The hunger hormone known as ghrelin increases caloric intake, boosts appetite, and promotes fat accumulation. Leptin, on the other hand, tells the brain that the body has adequate fat stored and suppresses hunger. These hormones can go out of balance, which can lead to cravings and increased hunger.

Lack of exercise

Increased physical activity, such as going for a jog in the park or taking a walk, can help decrease cravings. On the other hand, if an individual move less, they are more likely to have an increased appetite.


There is also a psychological aspect to food cravings. 

Mood Fluctuations

Food cravings for particular food categories might be triggered by certain emotional states. The desire for comfort foods is especially heightened while feeling down.


The main stress hormone in the body is cortisol. The amount of cortisol might rise as a result of stress. Chronic stress, in particular, disturbs homeostasis and affects appetite, dietary preferences, and eating behaviours.

The desire for an appetite for calorie-dense, high-fat foods increases under chronic stress. High cortisol levels have been associated with cravings and hunger. Stress can also lead to the phenomenon of “stress eating,” which typically results in an increase in caloric consumption.


Food addiction has been correlated with particular personality types. According to research, those who are more impulsive or have higher scores on addictive personality traits are more prone to cravings for food.

Food cravings and emotions

Our emotions can greatly influence our diet. These frequent emotions can influence our eating habits—fear, tension, anxiety, joy, pleasure and boredom. Negative emotions, in particular, are linked to a stronger tendency to utilise food as a coping method, resulting in more acute hunger pangs.

Short bursts of positive stressors, such as exercise, have the potential to reduce our appetite naturally. However, those with a history of using food as a coping method may overeat, especially meals that are high in calories, when they are experiencing long-term or sudden emotional stress. In situations of extreme stress, it has been observed that emotional eaters, in particular, consume more fatty and sweet meals.

Emotional eating entails consuming specific meals that make us feel better while being depressed or angry. Although emotional eating affects men and women similarly, it is believed to be more prevalent in women.

Food can occasionally be used to fill a hole left by unfavourable feelings.

How to deal with food cravings?

There are a few steps we can take to make sure that we’re choosing things that are good for the body, regardless of how frequently or strongly the cravings occur.

Recognise the triggers

Start by figuring out the current craving triggers to break bad eating habits. For instance, if the brain is accustomed to a chocolatey, sugary treat after lunch, consider finding a different way to reward yourself. A pleasant walk, a phone call to a friend or reading a chapter from a favourite book sound like fun options.

Assess the body’s physiology 

Work with a doctor to resolve any underlying blood sugar problems. One might need to restrict their intake of processed carbohydrates or added sugars in certain circumstances.

Use mindful techniques

To effectively deal with food cravings, attentive techniques like mindful eating and mindful meditation are helpful. Being mindful enables a person to be in the present, pay attention to their body, and pay attention to the feelings and thoughts that can trigger cravings.

Enhance the food environment

Optimising the food environment is a simple method to set oneself up for success. Consider whether the existing food environment, such as what’s in the cupboard or refrigerator, encourages or discourages a person from making better decisions.

Reduce the availability of highly appetising foods in the home and workplace because those foods are harder to resist.

Recognise the cravings and accept them

Eating cravings are a typical aspect of life. While out with friends, feeling cosy, or just because it tastes nice, one might be craving food. It’s acceptable not to think of food as fuel all the time. Still, it’s crucial to identify the desires and understand that they’re typically accompanied by a need for something else, whether it’s a need for stimulation, stress relief or simply a change of scenery. We have other options outside only food to satisfy that demand.

Food cravings meaning chart

Cravings usually signify a nutritional deficiency. There are also other triggers. Dealing with annoying food cravings is easy by understanding the food cravings chart.

A food craving and related nutrient deficiency with better alternate options are given in the food craving meaning chart.

Fatty or oily foodsCalcium deficiencyMilk, spinach, ladiesfinger, kale, almond, broccoli, sesame seeds
Sugary treats-sweetsPhosphorus, Chromium, Tryptophan and Sulphur deficiency, HypoglycaemiaEgg, chicken, pumpkin seeds, raisins, quinoa, sweet potato, oatmeal, apple, tomato, cinnamon, beans, whole grains
SaltyChloride deficiency, stress hormone fluctuationsFish, green leaves, tomatoes, olives
CoffeeIron, sulphur, phosphorus and sodium chloride deficiencyGreens, meat, dried fruit, cherry, beans, pumpkin seeds, fig, broccoli, salt, apple cider vinegar, cabbage, asparagus
BreadNitrogen deficiencyMeat, fish, oatmeal, greens, legumes, nuts
SodaCalcium deficiencyGreen leafy vegetables, broccoli, sesame, cheese
ChocolateMagnesium deficiencyNuts, fruits, greens, beans, seeds
Ice cubesIron deficiencyPrunes, fish, poultry, dried fruits, spinach
CheeseCalcium and essential fatty acid deficiencyGreens, chia seeds, flax seeds, walnut
AlcoholProtein, calcium, potassium and glutamine deficiencyCitrus fruits, beans, greens, eggs, nuts and seeds, fish, tomato, mustard seeds, legumes, banana, pineapple, parsley, cabbage, beets, vegetable juice
Baked foods or pastaChromium deficiencyTomato, grapes, apple, lettuce, cinnamon, sweet potato
Pre-menstrualZinc deficiencyGreen leafy vegetables, meats

List of foods that help control food cravings

Here are a few foods that can help control appetite and cravings.

  • Eggs
  • Nuts—Pistachio
  • Seeds—Sesame, chia
  • Soup
  • Oatmeal
  • Berries
  • Avocado
  • Pulses—Beans, chickpeas
  • Fresh produce—Fruits and vegetables 
  • Greek yoghurt.


A food craving is an urge to consume a particular food item. These foods are usually high in calories and fat. Paying attention to these desires is crucial since they are the body’s way of informing us of something important. Therefore, the next time you feel like giving in to them, you should think again and munch on some of the healthier options we have listed. 


What causes cravings for food?

1. Being upset, worried or stressed
2. Being exhausted
3. When the blood sugar level is low
4. When there is an imbalance in hormone levels
5. Dehydration and
6. Nutritional deficiency cause food cravings.

What are the 3 types of cravings?

Many of us have felt a strong desire to eat a specific food immediately. That food will most likely be either salty, sugary, oily or all three.

What are common cravings?

We may occasionally have cravings for common items like chocolate cake or apples. We may also feel the need to eat foods that we generally don’t enjoy or strange dietary combinations. Ice cream, chocolate, other sweet meals, seafood, dairy products and fruit are common items people crave.

How do you stop food cravings?

To avoid hunger pangs and food cravings, 
1. Eat small and frequent meals.
2. Divert yourself
3. Keep yourself busy
4. Take in a lot of fibre.
5. Keep no trigger foods at home.
6. Make rewards other than food to promote healthy eating.
7. Give in to a nutritious snack if you’re unsure.


The Information including but not limited to text, graphics, images and other material contained on this blog are intended for education and awareness only. No material on this blog is intended to be a substitute for professional medical help including diagnosis or treatment. It is always advisable to consult medical professional before relying on the content. Neither the Author nor Star Health and Allied Insurance Co. Ltd accepts any responsibility for any potential risk to any visitor/reader.

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