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The Science of Food Cravings and How to Manage Them

We’ve all experienced the intense desire for a specific food at one point or another. Whether it’s a salty bag of chips or a sweet chocolatey dessert, food cravings can be very powerful. But have you ever wondered what drives these cravings? Let’s dive into the science behind food cravings and discuss ways to curb these cravings in order to stay on track with our health goals.

Difference Between Hunger and Food Cravings

While cravings and hunger can occur simultaneously, they are distinct sensations. Cravings refer to the intense desire for a specific food that can only be satisfied with that particular food. On the other hand, hunger represents the absence of fullness, which can be alleviated by the consumption of any food.

Science of Food Cravings

Food cravings can be a pain, especially when we are craving a food that doesn’t align with our health goals. In order to stop these food cravings, we need to first understand why they happen. While some people think that food cravings are driven by a deficiency of a specific nutrient in the body, there is little evidence supporting this claim. Instead, it appears to be the result of dopamine release, blood sugar imbalances, and physiological responses. When we eat foods we enjoy, especially foods high in sugar, the brain releases dopamine. That release of dopamine encourages us to want to keep eating this food. An imbalance of our hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin, can also contribute to food cravings. On top of that, emotions play a large role in food cravings. When we experience strong emotions, especially negative ones, it can increase our desire to eat foods that stimulate the release of dopamine (The Psychology of Food Cravings). So, now that we understand why food cravings occur, let’s uncover some ways to stop them.

Tips and Tricks to Combat Cravings:

  • avoid going long periods of time without eating

  • eat more protein

  • stay hydrated

  • manage stress levels

  • get at least 7 hours of sleep each night

  • practice mindful eating

  • distract yourself

  • exercise

While these are some good ways to avoid getting food cravings or to combat them when they do happen, it is important to remember not to restrict yourself. Sometimes, it’s better to give in to the craving so that you don’t become fixated on it. Remember, everything is in moderation!


  • Meule, Adrian. “The Psychology of Food Cravings: the Role of Food Deprivation.” Current nutrition reports vol. 9,3 (2020): 251-257. doi:10.1007/s13668-020-00326-0


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