How to Stop Food Cravings

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
August 28, 2017

It’s not easy to know how to stop food cravings, especially to sugary and salty foods, but learning what causes cravings is a good start.

If you’re subject to food cravings, try to learn your triggers. That’s the best way to learn how to stop food cravings.

What causes sugar cravings?

Often the culprit is your last meal. The “white foods” — sugar, flour, potatoes, white rice — prompt your blood sugar to rise quickly. When it comes down again, you’re likely to crave a sweet or starchy food.

What causes salt cravings?

You may be dehydrated, short on electrolytes, pregnant, or about to get your period.

Are you craving fat? You may be stressed out or running on too little sleep, two conditions that describe many Americans more days than not.

The best approach for learning how to stop food cravings is to address the triggers. Second-best is to try eating other foods that satisfy you and are healthier.


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When you crave salt — first drink some water, or a water with electrolytes added if you’re been exercising or out in the heat. Then you might eat a pickle, to distract yourself with sourness.

How to stop sugar cravings

When you crave chocolate — Janet Brill, a PhD in nutrition and a fellow of the Academy of Nutrition, suggests eating a dark chocolate peppermint patty, which has only 140 calories and 70 percent less fat than other candy bars. But buy (or stock up on) a large patty rather than a big bag of the little ones. You can also eat a square of a really dark chocolate, at least 85 percent chocolate.   

When you crave ice cream — substitute plain Greek yogurt with fruit, a shake with banana and skim milk, or a milk-free sorbet.  

How to stop salt cravings

When you crave potato chips — maybe what you really want is crunch. Instead of buying chips with your sandwich, get carrot slices at the sandwich bar. Or eat seaweed snacks. Or air-puffed popcorn. If you think you’re lusting for salt, try that water and pickle.

When you crave French fries — eat sweet potato fries or a baked potato instead.  

When you crave pizza — make yourself a grilled mozzarella cheese with tomato at home.  

When you crave Chinese fried rice — Brill suggests sautéed cauliflower. Chop cauliflower up in a food processor and heat it in olive oil, seasoned with soy sauce and pepper.  

Whenever you’re subject to cravings, ask yourself whether you’re sleep-deprived or feeling especially tense, or both. The hormone cortisol rises when we’re stressed and prompts you to seek out a remedy, often a comfort food. Over time, you can easily get into the habit of mentally linking particular stresses to particular comforts — fights with your teenager to say, Cheetos.

Cynthia Bulik, PhD, author of “Runaway Eating” and director of the Eating Disorders Program at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, advises clients to create upbeat playlists and choose music to soothe themselves rather than food.

You can also just wait it out. Food cravings tend to eventually disappear after they peak.

Find an appropriate distraction, or take a small step to address the problem stressing you out.

If you’re sleep deprived, you’ll be fighting cravings until you are better rested. Consider this 2016 University of Chicago study: Volunteers spent four nights in a lab on two occasions, getting an average of 7.5 hours of sleep a night on one visit and just a bit over four hours of sleep each night on the other. After the fourth night, the researchers offered the volunteers a choice of snacks two hours after a large meal. When they were sleep-deprived, they chose snacks with twice the fat and about 50 percent more calories than their choices when they were rested.

Lack of sleep can make you hungry in the afternoon or early evening. Drink coffee as a short-term fix, and try a small portion of nuts. Another option is a bowl of unsugared whole grain cereal with a banana or berries and possibly a few nuts as well. But it’s even more important to find ways to get more sleep, night after night.


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April 09, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN