You know the triggers. The pint of ice cream calling you from the freezer. The chocolate chip cookies taunting you from the kitchen counter. The nachos gnawing away at your willpower during happy hour. But, is it the food that’s pestering you? Of course not—it’s cravings.
We all have them, but do we really understand why? And more importantly, do we know how to tame them? In the past, I’ve been so deeply under the spell of my cravings that I’ve sprayed Windex on my Ben & Jerry’s (after throwing it in the garbage, because it was the only way I’d stop myself from pulling the darn pint out of the trash so I could keep eating it!).
You probably already know that food cravings can have little to do with hunger, but you may not be aware of how they work. Cravings have both biological and psychological components. The most common foods we crave are sugar, carbohydrates, chocolate, salt and, for some, cheese. Let’s walk through the main causes of these cravings and a few helpful tips for overcoming them!
5 Causes of Food Cravings
Leptin is a hormone your body produces in your fat tissue. It’s primary job is to stimulate your appetite and tell you when you’re full. This all works fine when your stomach and your brain are in the same reality. But, the problem starts when constant surges of leptin trick your brain into feeling hungry, even when you’re not.
What causes this? One culprit is having too much body fat—more fat means more leptin is produced. Another cause is eating a diet high in sugary foods and processed carbs. The sugar triggers your fat cells to release surges of leptin. Whatever the reason, constant surges of leptin can lead to leptin resistance, which creates a feedback loop and further dulls your ability to perceive your real appetite. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is the best way to keep a normal balance of leptin in your body and, therefore, reduce your chances of being swept away by cravings (study).
Low levels of serotonin
Serotonin is a “feel-good” neurotransmitter produced mainly in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It’s directly tied to our mood, appetite and digestion. Eating carbs and sugar increases the release of serotonin (study), making us feel fabulous (temporarily). So, when our levels are low, our brains think, “Oh! That candy bar or bagel is going to fix this!”
A low serotonin level can be due to a variety of things, including poor gut health (90% of serotonin is made in the gut), alcohol consumption (study), depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I don’t know about you, but I’m much more vulnerable to sugar and crappy carbohydrate cravings when I’m feeling down in the dumps.
Endorphins and Food Addiction
Eating sugary foods, and even salt (hello, chips!), increases the production of endorphins in your body (study). Endorphins are basically opiates that make us feel relaxed. So when we eat these foods and experience this feeling, we want more—similar to the way drug users get addicted to narcotics. In fact, a recent study shows that sugar can actually have a more intense feeling of reward than cocaine (study). It’s that powerful.
This is why the drug Naloxone (an opiate-blocker given to stop heroin and other narcotics from affecting the brain) also blocks the appeal and overeating tendencies for sugar, fat and chocolate (study). Another recent study looking at the addictive qualities of foods found that highly processed foods that are filled with fat and sugar can cause addictive eating because of their rapid rate of absorption (study). So the more you can avoid packaged and processed foods, the more control you’ll have over your food choices.
A wonky gut
As mentioned earlier, low serotonin levels are linked to cravings, and your gut is the epicenter of serotonin production. In order to maintain feel-good levels of serotonin, your gut needs to be in tip-top shape so it can absorb nutrients from your food and pump out serotonin through your gastrointestinal tract.
This process is greatly dependent on healthy levels and the proper balance of good bacteria. But when your diet isn’t very healthy, the bad bacteria can overpower the good guys, creating more food cravings! Cultivating a healthy balance of good bacteria by eating fermented foods, taking probiotics and embracing other gut-happy habits can create the intestinal peace necessary to calm your cravings.
This is a biggie. Sadness, boredom, stress, poor self-esteem, negative body image (and the list goes on) can prompt you to cruise the pantry. Who doesn’t want a sleeve of Oreos when they look back on a painful breakup, losing a job or just having a bad day?
I refer to this as phantom hunger. But since food cravings are often fleeting and disappear within an hour, choosing to eat a healthier food or opting for a mood-boosting activity can satisfy you till the craving passes.
Now, let’s discuss some more strategies for how to stop food cravings…
I found that EFT is great for reducing cravings. And now there is a study out apparently (don’t know the link, but can be searched, no doubt) that says that on top of everything else EFT does, it also increases those lovely endorphins.
Great tip! I’m a huge fan of EFT. 🙂 xo, kc
Is that Emotional Freedom Technique or Electronic Field Transmission…?
Emotional Freedom Technique. 🙂
Wow EMT works! Saw Julie Schiffman’s demo on YouTube thnx!!
I, too, benefit from EFT. Today, however, since we finally have a spring-like day, I took a brisk walk around the building where I work and when I got back to my desk, my craving was gone. Yay!
As I was reading this it made more sense to me why food cravings go way up during PMS. This suggests good cravings are definitely linked to hormones as are mood swings.
My cravings definitely go UP when I’m PMS’g. My body craves chocolate and now I understand why. This is GREAT information Kris. Thank you so much for sharing!!
Thanks for the tips :-).
I’ve noticed that my cravings have completely decreased after doing a 4-month Candida cleanse and colonics/hydrotherapy.
From what I understand, you can never really ‘clear’ out Candida from the gut (and you don’t want to, because in it’s healthy form it’s good for the body, only when it’s in its fungus form can it create problems).
It sits in the gut and just wants sugar and carbohydrates and all that junk. Ever-since I finished the cleanse, as well as around 10 colonics/hydrotherapy cleanses, I just hardly have any cravings.
Other than that, the Candida cleanse also cleared up a major eczema I had on my whole right hand (I had it for almost a year and a half and tried tons of natural and conventional treatments). It is known that the intestinal tract and our skin are in close connection. After 2-months through the Candida cleanse my eczema disappeared, it was just amazing!!
Wishing you a lovely and healthy week,
So happy to hear about your progress! Right on, Tamar. xo, kc
I’m also on a candida cleanse for the moment. I didn’t have any carbs in the first 2 weeks but I was losing too much weight so I started adding the gluten-free ones again. And now my carb cravings are back, just binged on some rice crackers. I know, not as bad as chocolate/sugary things or cheese (those I don’t miss at all) but I have the feeling they’re upsetting my gut just as well…
Since there are so many methods I will ask: which type of candida diet did you do? I suppose you took antifungals etc as well (I just started mine now in week 4), are there any foods you are going to give up on “forever”? I was thinking I can probably never eat anything with yeast or (refined) sugar again. Not sure yet about fruit, dairy and gluten.
I definitely feel better already energy and craving wise but I’m hoping my intestinal issues will clear out soon, too, since those are not under control yet 🙁
And thanks Kris for writing the perfect article at the perfect time, as always lately, the universe is giving me what I asked for 🙂
Hi, just wondering WHY on earth you would think about giving up fruit? Fruit is abundant in vitamins! Our bodies need certain things to function on a healthy level: A balance of Protein, fat, carbs. Protein can come from a variety of sources other than meat (if you eat meat then only eat grass fed organic, organic poultry, wild caught fish – otherwise the meat is doing you harm from the chemicals, drugs, hormones, GMO’s) such as Kale, quinoa, edamame, Kale, spinach, nuts & nut butter, and many others. Healthy fat sources (you need fat in your diet every day to absorb the fat soluble vitamins) are nuts, avocado, olive oil. Healthy carb sources are fruit and veggies. Please forget everything the media has ever said about “diets” and “losing weight”, as it has confused people SO much over the years, they don’t know WHAT to eat! If you stay away from fake food (fast food, processed food) & go back to the basics: Fruits & Veggies! Meat in small amounts is fine (organic), wild caught fish, nuts & seeds, your body will gravitate naturally to a healthy weight. I’m not one of the people who are naturally skinny – I HAVE to exercise at least 3 times a week (I usually at least walk 5 times a week – around my neighborhood while returning phone calls, at the beach, go for a hike, etc.) and eat healthy foods. But because I do, I never count calories or fat, because I’m eating clean, healthy, organic food. So – if I keep the organic red wine in check 😉 I’m always at a healthy weight! Check out some amazing raw food recipe’s on a few of my fav Youtube channels: fullyrawkristina & Markus Rothkranz. I also have a bunch of yummy recipe’s on my blog: livingorganicallywithjayna.com (I’m not selling anything, just trying to help people live healthier lives!). Some of the recipe’s are SO quick, EZ and delicious, you won’t believe it! Also, to keep motivated, read what this website often, watch food documentaries (Fat, sick and nearly dead, Food Matters & Supersize me are good ones to start) and just keep educating yourself. You will slowly lose the taste for crappy food – your tastebuds will re-set very quickly! Hope this helps! -J. Carter Certified Holistic Nutritionist
The reason to give up fruit (just temporarily) to clear Candida is because it contains fructose, i.e. sugar, since Candida feeds on any kind of sugar, and also anything fermented, like vinegar, and funghi, or mushrooms. Once the Candida is gone or greatly decreased, these foods can be added back slowly.
Same with me Tamar! I did the Phase 1 “Know the Cause” diet. Went off all yeast & gluten & my “Granuloma Annulare” disappeared within 2 months:)
That’s so interesting to hear that you had eczema on your right hand too! I’ve had it for years and nobody can give me any help for it except to say “use good lotion.” I’ve recently started a “clean eating” diet, eliminating a bunch of foods to see what my triggers are, but I’ve never considered a Candida cleanse. I’m going to have to look that up ASAP!
Brush your teeth! It can stave off the need to eat until your craving has a chance to die down. And as you mentioned above, tea (peppermint is a favorite — maybe for the same reason as toothpaste?) calms cravings. Also, someone once gave me the advice: if you find yourself craving something, and you are not hungry or more likely thirsty (just wanting), then you probably need to sleep! Go to bed! 🙂 All those work for me. Unless they don’t… :-/
I agree with you Barbara. Brushing & flossing my teeth signals by body & brain that I am finished eating, plus I don’t want to eat then have to go brush & floss again if I think about cheating or giving in to a craving.
I love your attitide!!
Often people think that a craving will just keep getting worse and worse unless you give in to it. We need to practice “urge surfing” and riding the craving wave! A wave peaks and then subsides, just like a craving will. Practise mindfulness or distraction techniques to push through. It will get easier and you will feel heaps better for not giving in!!
This is what I did, and I also watched some documentaries on food to get me educated.
Alaina 🙂 urge surfing sounds great, but right now my cravings are so intense , the peak is a plateau of at least an hour, excruciating ! My evenings are reduced to doing nothing , and i have stopped eating overt sugars 12 days ago..
Jane, you are right. Urge surfing does sound great but the research on will power has shown that it is a finite resource and if you have used up your will power throughout the day on other things, it is extremely difficult to urge surf. Urge surfing requires the thinking part of the brain to overpower the non-thinking part of the brain and that can sometimes be impossible. Cutting out sugar is the best thing you can do because it will eventually reduce the cravings from the non-thinking part of the brain, especially if you have made it automatic to just not eat sugar. Automaticity is the solution to the lack of willpower. In my opinion anyway ? I highly recommend researching bright line eating if cravings have brought you to your knees on a regular basis… it has helped me so much. In addition to the info from Kris of course!
These are all great tips. Staying away from a food for 21 days can totally change how a food tastes to you, especially if you want to get off the fast food bandwagon. I use the flossing brushing your teeth activity because I do not want to eat anything and have to do it again! A cup of chai tea tastes soooo good! I have been on chemo for 4 years and it can totally change your taste buds and staying away from cookies, bread, high sugar fruits has made a huge difference in how I look at food. Moving toward more vegetarian/veggies makes a difference also. Fresh fruits and veggies taste really good when you stay away from the “junk”. Thank you Kris for all you do to educate us and make it FUN!
Thanks, Kandy! Love your insights. xo, kc
So gently and sensibly written.
Very encouraging as well as being well researched.
Thank you, I’m forwarding this to a host of friends.
Thank you for the information. A light bulb just lit in my head. I think getting over the cravings will be easier to handle.
I’m cheering you on, Chantal! xo, kc
Magnesium. My life-long sugar cravings disappeared when I started a regime to increase my magnesium intake. If I stop, the cravings and other symptoms return (headaches, foot and leg cramps, etc). I have never had a day without sugar cravings until I started increasing my magnesium intake.
How much magnesium do you take a day, and at what time of day?
Thank you for this, sweet Kris!
As always, this was refreshing and arrived in perfect timing.
Just yesterday a friend and I were discussing our seemingly insatiable food cravings! Ahh…
For about a month, I’ve basically eaten whatever I wanted (minus meat bc I’m a vegetarian). And of course I feel terrible, I absolutely know better (!!!), and my skin is starting to show signs of a toxic diet. But still, once you hop on the junk food train, it’s tough to jump off.
I’ve discovered that the best solution to this is to just empty the house of temptation and cut out the junk for 2-3 days (the hardest) cold turkey, plus some sweaty workouts, and then my cravings for green smoothies can sing louder than my hankering for salty foods. I think it’s time to commit to another Adventure Cleanse via Crazy Sexy Diet. It always works for me and helps get my skin, my intentions, and my waistline back on track. Thanks Kris for your brilliance, understanding, and light!!
I’m thrilled this resonated with you. Good luck on your Adventure Cleanse & thanks for sharing your experiences with us! xo, kc
Thanks for sharing this info, Kris! I attribute my overcoming food cravings to your “wonky gut” info. Once I incorporated fermented foods, homemade kefir and kombucha into my diet my sugar and carb cravings are pretty much non-existent 🙂
Hi there! Such good tips. I also wanted to let you know that I reposted Kris’ facebook post that was “what if your purpose is to take impeccable care of yourself so that you have the energy and joy to serve others?”. It turns out a good friend of mine wrote back: that is just what I needed at this moment. thanks Julie.
So I thought Kris would feel good to know her posts do help others just when they needed that special word to uplift them.
Your body will also start to crave whole foods once you begin to make them your new habit. For example, if I have not jad a green juice for a few days, my body craves that quick shot of whole food goodness. I know it sounds strange. I never thought my chips, donuts, and soda loving body would ever want anything else. But with time, the body can relearn what it craves. Until then, you just have to make the right decisions on its behalf
This is very true for me as well! Once I adapted to a plant based lifestyle my energy and focus increased and I no longer craved French fries and fried foods. However after a recent emotional/stress induced episode in my life I turned back to comfort foods. It has been much more difficult than I thought transitioning back to the PBL even after such a short period of time of indulging. ( were talking a week..max 2 weeks.. and not even every meal.) The best thing is to continue through the cravings and the body will adjust accordingly.
Yay, Yay and Yay again! I am an integrative health coach and your articles and books are an absolute necessity for me. A good friend of mine is on the cancer healing journey and this blog post along with others is a major help.
Thank you lovely and inspiring lady!
Keep healthy foods readily available eg, backpack, purse, fridge!
Excellent information and so well written. Over the past couple of years I have personally done all of the things suggested in your post. I feel the best that I have ever felt and know that it works. I highly recommend this to everyone that wants to feel better ☺
Fantastic, Nancy! Love hearing about your wellness path. xo, kc
What timing! I read this right after making a batch of chocolate chip cookies “for my husband” and then eating 4 of them…less than an hour after breakfast. I didn’t know why till I read your post. It makes perfect sense. I’ll work on raising my seratonin levels in a healthier way. Bless you.
After realizing I have a dairy allergy, giving up cheese (good bye pizza) was the hardest craving to kick. Vegan alternatives did NOT do the trick. It took 4 years for me to stop having cravings. I still want pizza every now and then, but I’m no longer terrified of going into a pizza place and dying. 🙂
Thank you Kris for your today-blog. Perfect timing. Today I feel so sh…. because of my cravings. I was on such a good way with my juices, smoothies, sports aso. But the last 7/8 days I`ve become a big, big hug of emotional eating and a long period of PMS. It makes me feel soooo sad! I know, that I`ve the chance to change everything right now – so I take your tips and – let`s go for!!!
By the way – I am from Good old Germany and I`ve heard about you two years ago – since then I talked with so many people about you, your mission, your way. YOU changed my life in many ways – the RIGHT ways. For this I send you my LOVE and when I am back on my way – the right way – I send you a lot of energy! Take care – Maria
PS: If you need somebody to promote your ideas here in GoG – so please do not hesitate……
Although it is very important to support gut health, the serotonin from your gut does not cross the blood-brain barrier. The 90% gut serotonin is important for hemostasis, i.e. blood clotting, but the central nervous system (CNS) serotonin is formed in the brain and utilized uniquely in the receptors of the basal ganglia.
Hi Theresa, Thank you for your comment! I double checked with our Crazy Sexy RD, Jen Reilly about your comment and here’s what she had to say in response: “The majority of serotonin (90-95%) is produced in the enteric nervous system (ENS), which is embedded in the lining of the GI tract stretching from the espophagus all the way down to the anus. The amount of serotonin produced by the neurons in the ENS is greatly dependent on nutrient absorption and digestion in the gut. Any damage to your gut lining will impede the ENS release of serotonin. Damage could simply result from too much bad bacteria. Keeping your gut healthy is key to producing a healthy level of serotonin for controlling cravings, mood, and even GI disorders.” Hope that helps! xo, kc
Wow! A high level testament to the importance of good gut health.