Nutrition Articles

Dealing with Hunger and Food Cravings

Eat Better and Manage Your Weight without Deprivation

7KSHARES
By Sarah Haan, Registered Dietitian         
Page 3 of 3

Appetite: Your Interest in Food
We talk a lot about appetite: "My son has a huge appetite!" or "I worked up an appetite at the gym." Appetite is not the same thing as hunger; it actually refers to an interest in food. It’s often said that someone’s appetite can override their hunger and fullness. When some people feel stressed, they could lose their appetite and choose to ignore feelings of hunger. (Others respond the opposite way, eating in response to stress or negative emotions despite a lack of hunger or strong feelings of fullness.) And how many times have you sat down to a delicious meal and continued eating even though you were experiencing sensations of fullness? That, too, is an example of appetite overriding the signals from your body. As you start becoming more aware of hunger signals, do not confuse appetite with physical signs of hunger.

Cravings: Your Desire for Specific Foods
Cravings are very different than hunger, yet somewhat similar to appetite. Look up "crave" in the dictionary and you will see "to long for; want greatly; desire eagerly." Usually, the foods you crave are not a necessity, nor do they serve a life-sustaining need. Cravings, unlike hunger signals, will change over time, even over a period of 10 minutes. They are usually triggered by emotions (stress, boredom, sadness, etc.), an attachment or fondness for a certain food, or proximity to appetizing food. Unlike hunger, where any food will quell the sensation, only one specific food will satisfy a craving.

Keep in mind that when you have a craving but are not physically hungry, you must look deeper into why that craving is there. Are you bored? Did you have a stressful day at home or work? Did doughnuts appear in the cafeteria and now all you can think about is eating one (a thought that previously hadn't even crossed your mind)? Dig into the reason behind your longing for a certain food. If it's an emotional need, deal with the emotion. If it's a proximity craving (you see appetizing food and therefore want it), try a distraction technique.

Certainly, it's important to take pleasure from food and get satisfaction from the foods you eat. Cravings are normal and have a place in a healthy balanced diet. But learning to satisfy them in a controlled manner will keep your relationship with food in balance. Constantly giving in to your cravings—or confusing them with hunger—can lead to overeating and an unbalanced diet, especially since many of the foods we crave are high in fat, salt, sugar, or a combination of the three.

This makes it even more important to stop and examine why you want to eat something. Many healthy eaters have come up with delicious and crave-worthy recipes that can satisfy their longings for a particular food without going overboard. Other times, you may simply choose to eat the food you're craving. Both situations are OK as long as you are making conscious decisions and practicing moderation.


When you stop to think about your hunger and fullness levels, your appetite and cravings (both the triggers and your response), the more in-control you'll be around food, which can help you return to an intuitive way of eating that helps you manage your weight without ever going hungry or feeling deprived. Now that's a recipe for good health and weight-management!

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About The Author

Sarah Haan Sarah Haan
Sarah is a registered dietitian with a bachelor's degree in dietetics. She helps individuals adopt healthy lifestyles and manage their weight. An avid exerciser and cook, Sarah likes to run, lift weights and eat good food. See all of Sarah's articles.

Member Comments

  • My crave is salty, especially kettle chips. There are times I do not give into the urge and there are also those times I feel like I just got to have it. I know I would do better without especially since I sometimes end up with my ankles and legs swelling-up. I have stopped sprinkling the salt shaker on my food and I track it. But, it's hard to let two weeks go by without a chip. - 4/4/2016 10:16:28 PM
  • I will allow myself a small portion if I really am craving something but not over the top. As it is, I am having a hard time reaching the base calories SP is showing I can eat but I am not starving myself - rather the opposite! My craving is usually something salty/savory rather than sweet and usually at bedtime so I just eat 4 Triscuits or saltines and that satisfies it. I've been trying to be mindful when eating and it is definitely helping! - 3/30/2016 10:27:29 AM
  • LIZZYBUDDY0201
    I like the "Healthy living is a life sentence" quote. - 3/26/2016 4:24:33 PM
  • i got some good tips. Good way to start thinking about avoiding crave meals. - 3/2/2016 10:54:17 PM
  • It is a shame this article did not take more advantage of science, because the section on cravings was 90% wrong. Cravings have been proven to stem from malnutrition, which is very serious. A pattern of cravings usually point to specific needs in the diet - often a lack of protein, magnesium, water, potassium, sodium, fiber, carbs, iron, fat, or so many other things. When we crave sugar, for instance, this often means we need to hydrate - in the old days this would prompt up to get a piece of fruit, which had water content. But today's junkfoods are so far from being actual food, they just perpetuate the malnourishment, hence we never feel full. Look up what cravings mean - there is a lot of info online that may help you identify a problem in your body. We don't all have the same needs, and some people have poor absorption of nutrients so need more of certain vitamins and minerals than others. Seasonal Affective Disorder - a desire for sun - often stems from a deficiency of Vitamin D and healthy fats. Craving creamy things may mean a lack of protein.

    Have a vitamin blood panel done if you have not had one lately, and find out if you are deficient in any nutrients. Every one of them is essential and must be in balance for you to feel good, sleep well, and be in shape. - 2/17/2016 8:02:42 PM
  • This article is so helpful - love the hunger chart and would like to try it. - 2/5/2016 1:24:35 PM
  • SKIRUNNER1
    This is one of the best articles I've ever seen on this! - 2/4/2016 3:40:21 PM
  • I know when I am feeling tired and draggy I will want to eat and mostly crave carbs. I try o have healthy options like small wheat crackers on hand and even if I eat more than I should, it isn't too big a hit on my calorie count. I LOVE dark chocolate and regularly allow myself small portions - no more than 12-18 grams usually of my favourite brand and always track it. - 2/1/2016 11:06:06 AM
  • Good article. I have read also that it is important to slow down by chewing each mouthful a little longer. Signals of fullness take a little while to reach the brain. If you eat quickly, you may have already overeaten before your brain tells you you're full. - 1/30/2016 7:44:26 AM
  • I did not know there was a Nutrition Notes section of the Nutrition Tracker -- I must explore that right now!
    I am not sure she's absolutely correct -- I think it would take a lot of celery to satisfy hunger; maybe any food in the right quantity can satisfy hunger -- not sure about this one. Am sure that I feel comfortably full after a healthy breakfast and a delicious lunch, yet I am hungry: my tummy is sending out empty-tummy messages -- maybe because I just did 30 min of cardio -- I could be thirsty, but that's not the signal that I'm receiving. Thirdly, when we have a craving, making a substitution is not going to work; when I crave chocolate, I eat chocolate, enjoy the moment, and put it in my tracker. Gonna check out that Nutrition Notes section. 8-) - 1/28/2016 5:41:35 PM
  • I wish SP could allow for a level-of-hunger rating on the nutrition tracker page -- it would really be helpful. - 1/20/2016 11:49:47 AM
  • Nice article and I, too, liked the hunger chart. My cravings are greatest in the mid afternoon, which is my low point of the day. If I plan a healthy snack for that time, I do pretty good at taming my cravings. No plan? Then I look for a sweet treat, usually the vending machine, with candy. Then I feel guilty as I know better. It's a vicious cycle.

    So, I need a plan, and need to follow through on my plan! Buy the healthy snacks, take them to work each day, and eat them instead of the junk. Sounds so simple when I write it out! - 1/17/2016 10:25:32 AM
  • Woubbie is so right!
    For years I would read articles like this, and think something was wrong with me, I simply could not control my cravings. I would eat a nice well portioned, well balance meal and 2 hours later I would be hungry, really hungry. NOT emotional, NOT boredom, NOT peer pressure. It is chemical, I finally went low carbohydrate, gave up wheat, and I am off the blood sugar rollercoaster. I don't wake up in the middle of the night hungry anymore. This is freedom, wonderful to enjoy a good meal with ample portions and be satisfied. Finally I am in control.
    Thank You Diane Sanfilippo for your book Practical Paleo for explaining it all, an taking the sugar monkey off my back. - 1/14/2016 10:52:53 PM
  • Overeating and eating when you are not hungry is often tied to wheat. Modern hybridized wheat, whole or white, contains opiate-like substances. This is why manufacturers put wheat in most packaged products: to get you to eat more of them.
    When I hit menopuse I put on a little weight and fought to keep it off with lots of exercise. But could never budge that last few pounds. Then I read "Wheat Belly. Now I follow a low carb, wheat-free, high fat way of eating. I do get cravings now and then, but I am rarely extremely hungry, nor do I over-eat because my food is nutrient-dense and satisfies me.
    My mother, always slim and fit, taught me early on never to eat more than I could eat a sall steak tartare after. So I by habit I eat small portions. - 11/24/2015 9:55:04 AM
  • MANNIX2
    is popcorn a good thong to eat when you have food cravings
    - 3/10/2015 1:21:42 PM

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