If you’ve ever found yourself wanting food and you can’t resist its call, you may have what’s called a food craving. Sometimes a craving can be driven by hunger, but other times it has nothing to do with your appetite. For people who struggle with their weight or their health, figuring out how to determine if you’re having a craving or are truly hungry can really help you control your eating and your weight, which can positively impact your health. Here’s everything you need to take control of your cravings and hunger once and for all.
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What Is A Food Craving?
According to extensive research, a food craving is all in your head and really has nothing to do with how hungry you are. Your brain has several areas, and the ones that drive a food craving are those that control memories and pleasure. That’s why you generally crave something that isn’t necessarily healthy, like a donut, rather than a nutritious food like fruit or vegetables.
Food cravings can also be fed by your emotions. Many people crave foods when they are happy or depressed because the food can make them feel better or enhance an already celebratory mood. For example, eating carbs can calm your brain, which makes many people crave them when stressed or upset about something.
What Is Hunger?
Hunger is a body-driven response to an empty stomach. When you haven’t eaten in a while, your stomach empties out, and your body runs out of the fuel it needs to keep going. That can produce the grumbling sensation that you experience when it’s time to fill your plate. Experts recommend eating a meal or snack every three or four hours to keep hunger at bay. Hunger tells you that it’s time to have a meal and keeps you from getting so hungry that your body is depleted in nutrients it needs to stay healthy and energized.
What’s The Difference?
The main difference between a craving and hunger is that hunger is your body’s natural response to having gone several hours without food. On the other hand, a craving is your brain telling you that you need a certain food to make you feel good. The problem with mixing up hunger and food cravings is that when you eat when you’re not really hungry, you run the risk of eating too many calories, which can lead to weight gain.
Additionally, most foods that people crave lack the vitamins and minerals to support good health and can leave you with nutrient deficiencies and other health issues. Learning to separate hunger from cravings can help you take control of your weight and keep you healthy at the same time.
How To Control A Craving
Controlling your cravings isn’t an easy task, but you’ll be so glad you learned how to do it. Because your body doesn’t really need food when you’re having a craving, eating can be detrimental. However, experts offer up several ways to keep cravings under control and teach your body to stop asking for food that it doesn’t need. Try any or all of the following ideas, and you could get a handle on your cravings in just a few weeks or months.
Experts say that getting a drink when you feel a craving can quell the feeling that is trying to trick you into thinking you’re hungry. Sometimes when you feel a food craving, you are simply thirsty, and drinking a glass or two of water can satisfy what you need and help you get rid of the craving. Stick with water because it is calorie-free and does the best job of quenching thirst and keeping dehydration at bay.
Choosing healthy snacks between meals is another good way to ward off cravings. When your appetite is satisfied and your belly is full, you’re less likely to experience food cravings. If you tend to want junk food between meals, opting for a nutritious snack can easily take care of the problem. Choose fresh fruits or vegetables, whole grain crackers, or low-fat cheese or yogurt, all of which will fill you up and keep you full until your next meal.
Keep Craved Foods Away
If you find that you crave certain foods in certain environments, say a candy bar while watching television, keeping those items away from you can help. After all, it’s a lot more work to go out and buy a candy bar when you want one than it is to head to the pantry and grab one at home.
The same goes for work and anywhere else you find yourself craving certain junk foods. By tossing them and restocking with healthy choices, you can cut back on cravings by satisfying hunger and giving your body what it needs in a healthy way.
Keep Food Choices To A Minimum
People are naturally wired to eat more when there are more choices. That’s because we don’t want to feel like we missed out on something. However, research shows that limiting your options can curb cravings while also satisfying hunger. It’s important to eat a variety of foods from each food group, but keeping the options at a few per meal is also important for helping to prevent overeating.
Fill Up On Vegetables
Vegetables are low in calories, but high in fiber, a combination that satisfies hunger and keeps you feeling full for longer, helping combat cravings soon after a meal. It’s hard to eat too much when you’re already full of vegetables. Make them the star of your meal and you may find that your cravings start to go away over time.
Enjoy Portion Controlled Cravings
Some experts say that it can be very hard to fight a craving, and the longer a person tries to do so, the more they may end up eating when they do give in to their craving. For some people, enjoying a small portion of a craved food can help get rid of the craving while also preventing binge eating that item. To make this work for you, it’s important to keep only single servings of the item on hand so that you don’t go overboard.
Keep A Journal
An eating and food journal is a great way to keep track of when you are hit with a craving and what you crave. Knowing this can help you come up with a plan for the future to help you eat in a healthy way and avoid the circumstances that can cause a craving and lead you to making unhealthy eating choices.
Learning the difference between hunger and a food craving will serve you well throughout your life and is something that you’ll never regret doing. If you have a hard time with eating, it might be beneficial to see a counselor who can help you get to the bottom of the emotions or way of thinking that leads to your cravings. This also helps you develop new behaviors and strategies that align with your eating goals so that you can feel good about everything you eat.