Why Do We Have Food Cravings

food cravings
Photo: John Hain

Why Do We Have Food Cravings and What Can We Do to Control Them?  

Have you ever craved for certain foods and wondered what causes such food cravings and what can you do about it? If so, this article is for you.

So, what exactly are food cravings? We answer this question before looking at the causes and the best ways to control and reduce food cravings.


Food craving is actually an intense desire and longing for a specific food. This longing usually seems uncontrollable and your hunger might still linger on even after eating something else. It often is the case that the only way to solve this problem is by actually eating the food you are craving for.

binge eating disorder of satisfaction emotional hunger

It’s no wonder that this kind of craving is also referred to as selective hunger. Ask any dietician and you’ll definitely be told that this kind of craving is usually for junk foods as well as processed foods high in fats and sugar and salt. And that’s where the challenge lies if you are keen on either losing those extra pounds or maintaining your ideal weight. Such foods will only work against your good intentions by compromising any gains you might already have achieved.

What causes food cravings? 

Mood / Emotions

Some food cravings certainly reflect the state of your mind. The mood you are in can trigger the body to long for a specific food. Intellectual sources such as anger, stress, being misunderstood, an upcoming deadline and frustration, for instance, can make you crave for some crunchy or chewy food.

There are theories that show the connection between moods and selective hunger. For example, the Serotonin theory explains why people might crave for carbs, chocolate, and sugars during a depression.  According to this theory, people crave for these foods so as to trigger the secretion of serotonin which is a neurotransmitter that plays a vital role in mood regulation.

Put differently, eating of such sugary foods and carbs may be a self-medicating way of treating depression. This kind of craving is also aptly referred to as emotional eating and can wreck havoc to your dietary plan.

Hormonal Imbalance

Hormones play a critical role as messengers of your body. The body needs to have the right balance of these hormones. Any imbalance can lead to health problems.

Selective hunger can at times be the result of hormonal imbalance in your body. Women, for example, crave carbohydrates, sugar and other types of foods due to hormonal imbalance.

Women experience certain hormonal fluctuations during certain times such as pregnancy, menstruation, or menopause. This comes in the form of a drop in progesterone and estrogen while imbalances in neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and GABA can also be significant contributors to this selective hunger.

This doesn’t mean it’s only women who can suffer from food cravings caused by hormonal imbalance. Men experience similar cravings due to fluctuations in hormone levels. For instance, both men and women must have healthy progesterone balance. This hormone helps to balance as well as neutralize effects of excess estrogen.

Any imbalance of progesterone can be a cause of these cravings in both genders.

Nutritional deficiencies

Closely related to normal imbalances are nutritional deficiencies. Food cravings are a signal that your body is lacking certain nutrients. This, in turn, causes a carbohydrates craving or sugar craving which commonly gives your brain a quick fix which is not actually the healthy solution.

On the same note, are you aware that your body actually needs more than 30 different vitamins and minerals almost on a daily basis for it to remain healthy? Vitamin deficiency, especially chronic deficiency makes the body crave for those specific vitamins. This signals your neurotransmitters to take action by a craving for foods that most likely supply those vitamins and minerals.

Low blood sugar levels

This is all about carbs. When your blood sugar level falls the body responds by a craving for carbohydrates such as bread, sweets, chips and sugary drinks as the quickest way to correct the drop.

The problem with using this method as a remedy to low sugar is that when glucose levels shoot up fast they also tend to drop equally fast leading to a vicious cycle of food cravings. Repeated intake of these glucose-producing foods can be detrimental to your overall health and lead to unwanted weight gain.


When you feel thirsty it means you are already dehydrated. However, a common mistake made by many people is to think they are hungry when in fact they are just low on fluids.

When thirsty you might experience food cravings because most of the foods you eat contain water. So if your body senses it’s not getting sufficient water directly it may crave foods that may provide it with some rehydration.

Ways to Control and Reduce Food Cravings

Having highlighted some of the leading causes of food cravings it’s only natural to want to know how to reduce food cravings. Just as there are many causes to this problem so there are numerous measures that one can take to control and reduce these cravings.

The key ones include:

  • Eating healthy food with enough proteins, minerals, vitamins and optimal carbohydrate portions
  • Avoiding junk foods
  • Taking multi-vitamin supplements that contain all the vitamins and nutrients needed by your body on a daily basis
  • Reducing stress levels
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Getting regular but moderate exercise
  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Chewing gum. It can keep your mouth busy and might help reduce both salty and sweet craving
  • Controlling your blood sugar level by avoiding high-glycemic carbohydrates and eating more proteins and healthy fats.

Armed with this info it’s now easier for you to control and reduce food cravings as a sure way to better health and wellness.

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