Your final term paper is due the next morning, but you cannot type another word unless you get a slice of hot, gooey tomato and spinach pizza. You run over to the student union, even though it will put you behind schedule.
You have gotten to the movie theater late and just found a place to sit when suddenly you have to have hot, buttered popcorn, even though you know that if you get it, you will miss the first 10 minutes of the feature.
It is time for your menstrual cycle to begin and nothing will satisfy your midnight hunger, except chocolate ice cream. So you head out to the local convenience store on a snowy night.
Some food cravings are so strong that you will go out of your way to satisfy them. However, studies have not clearly identified what cravings are and how they influence what we eat.
Theories abound as to what causes food cravings, but no one theory has been proven scientifically sound. Some common reasons people believe they have cravings include:
- Lacking a certain nutrient that the food provides
- An imbalance in blood sugar
- Emotional factors such as depression, boredom, or stress
- Hormones, especially those that occur during menstruation or pregnancy
- Diets that are too restrictive and result in cravings for foods not on the diet
- Seeking comfort through familiar foods
Dealing with Cravings
Craving and indulging in a specific food from time to time will likely not result in weight gain however, cravings that are frequent may. Weight gain occurs from sustained increases in food intake over time.
It is best to give in to cravings once in a while. Denying yourself the foods you enjoy will create unnecessary stress, which sometimes results in bingeing on the foods that you have been denying yourself.
If you feel as though your cravings are getting out of hand, try these tips:
- Eat a well-balanced diet that contains all the nutrients your body needs
- Avoid diets that are too restrictive by limiting the variety of foods you can eat
- Sometimes cravings occur due to dehydration, so be sure to drink plenty of water
- Cravings can be stronger on an empty stomach, so avoid skipping meals
- Eat a small portion of a food you crave instead of over-indulging
- Choose a healthier alternative to your craving
Lastly, if you feel your cravings have gotten out of hand, consider keeping a food diary. Share this information with your doctor to discuss changes that you may want to make to your diet to improve your overall health.
Controlling cravings. Nutritionist Resource website. Available at: http://www.nutritionist-resource.org.uk/articles/controlling-cravings.html. Updated February 15, 2016. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Emotional eating: How to cope. University of Rochester Medical Center website. Available at: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=4517. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Food cravings and diabetes. Joslin Diabetes Center website. Available at: http://www.joslin.org/info/food_cravings_and_diabetes.html. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Last reviewed October 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 10/15/2015