Weight Loss

How to stop food cravings: Registered Dietitian approved tips

December 5, 2023

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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Key Points

  • You may crave certain foods because of how your brain is wired, hormone imbalances, societal factors, and your diet and nutrition.
  • There are ways to curb your cravings to overeat, including diet and lifestyle changes, psychological techniques, and adjusting medications.
  • The process can be challenging; a Registered Dietitian can offer support in curbing cravings.

Fighting relentless food cravings can feel like an uphill battle. Often, it can seem easier to stop the food thoughts in your brain by ‘giving in’ and eating the sugary, fatty, and salty foods you crave.

However, while this behavior can give you some relief in the short term, you may face greater physical and mental health struggles down the line.

Here are the reasons why you crave certain foods and how to control your hunger with time-tested strategies approved by a Registered Dietitian.

Why do you crave food so much?

Food cravings are intense, often irresistible, desires for specific foods. They are typically driven by psychological, biological, and environmental factors or a combination of them.

Some common reasons why you may experience food cravings include:

1. Our brains are wired to crave energy-boosting foods

Food is survival. Our body is wired to crave easy-to-digest and energy boosters, like sugary foods, to help keep us alive and alert.

Eating foods that activate our brain’s reward center generates a feeling of pleasure or ‘high,’ which makes us want to seek these foods more regularly. 

Back in the day, our ancestors didn’t always know where their next meal would come from, and cravings for certain foods helped them survive.

Nowadays, we face aisles and aisles of candy and chips, ultra-processed boxed foods, and drive-through tacos. Our brains are simply not equipped to deal with this excess.

2. Hormones affect our hunger and appetite

Weight gain and weight loss are complex metabolic processes in the body and are regulated by multiple chemicals.

Certain hormonal or chemical imbalances in our bodies can lead to more intense cravings, leading to overeating.

These include:

  • Insulin, the blood sugar regulator
  • Cortisol, the stress hormone
  • Dopamine, also known as the motivation molecule, drives cravings
  • Leptin, created in fat cells, suppresses appetite
  • Ghrelin, the hunger hormone, is produced in our gut and tells the body when we’re hungry.

For example, people on insulin often experience weight gain. High insulin levels increase the amount of fat stored in your body, particularly around your belly.

3. Environmental and social cues can trigger cravings

Your environment can significantly influence your food cravings. For instance, watching advertisements for high-caloric foods can make you want to eat them.

There is an obscene amount of money poured into research to create foods that amplify your cravings for processed, salty, fatty, and sugary foods. These foods are intentionally designed to get you hooked.

In fact, the food industry has a term called bliss pointit’s the "just right" amount of salt, sweetness, and fat to make our brains happy. Once our brain is rewarded, it craves more and more of the same foods, leading us to make less nutritious food choices.

Remember, there is nothing wrong with indulging in ‘fun foods’ occasionally, but the problem arises when you cannot stop and feel like you do not have control over your food habits.

4. Diet and nutrition’s impact on food cravings

The kind of food you eat and how you eat it can affect your cravings.

If you follow a strict diet during the day or on weekdays, it may backfire if you have trouble controlling your cravings and overeating.

When you've been eating "healthy" all day or week, you might binge at night on high-calorie foods.

We’ve barely scratched the surface here; there are many reasons why you may experience cravings.

However, here are some tried-and-tested ways to stop overeating, according to a Registered Dietitian.

How to curb food cravings

1. Diet and nutrition changes to help curb cravings

To begin, try the following improvements to your diet:

  •  Eat protein-rich meals: Protein is a nutrient that helps keep you full. Consuming enough protein at each meal can increase feelings of fullness, lower hunger hormone levels, and reduce your overall food intake.
  •  Stay hydrated throughout the day: Try setting reminders and drinking plain water during the day to stay hydrated.

    Sometimes, a craving for soda (yes, even Diet Coke) can be a mixed signal—your body may be craving water but, over the years, got used to getting a sugary drink instead. 

    So, if mild dehydration is behind your cravings, drinking enough water can help reduce the desire to eat.

  • Get a fiber-rich diet: High-fiber foods slow your digestion and make you feel full faster and longer. Whole vegetables, whole fruit, and whole grains are excellent sources of fiber

    Remember to add fiber to your diet slowly because it allows your body to adjust gradually. A sudden increase in fiber can increase digestive discomfort, such as bloating and gas.

  • Ingest more solid foods: Solid foods significantly reduce hunger compared to thin or liquid foods. Solid foods require more chewing, which gives chemicals in your gut enough time to reach the appetite center in your brain, signaling that you're full.

    So, consider eating an actual orange instead of grabbing that orange juice. Similarly, if you plan to mix veggies into green juice, consider eating the same food as a salad.

As you try to stop your cravings, remember that it can take time and get overwhelming at times. You do not have to go on this journey alone.

Fay can help you find a Registered Dietitian near you, covered by your insurance. A professional can help you identify triggers, analyze patterns, and offer guidance and support.

2. Lifestyle changes to manage food cravings

Making a few changes to your lifestyle can help manage food cravings effectively.

  • Practice mindful eating: Mindful eating may sound new-agey, but you don't have to sit cross-legged on the floor and meditate while you eat (unless you want to).

    Eating mindfully simply involves paying full attention to the experience of eating without distractions. It can help decrease hunger, increase feelings of fullness, and reduce calorie intake.

    To get started, try these simple steps towards eating mindfully: sit down while you eat, don’t overload your plate, and savor each bite, putting your fork down between bites.

  • Get enough sleep: Getting enough sleep can help reduce hunger and protect against weight gain. Less sleep has been linked to cravings for foods rich in sugar and fat.

    When you do not get enough sleep, your hunger hormone (ghrelin) levels can rise, making you feel more hungry and eat more.

    Also, when you are awake longer, your stress hormone cortisol levels are higher, causing you to gain weight.

  • Increase your physical activity: Regular exercise can increase feelings of fullness and reduce hunger. Aerobic and resistance training can help increase fullness hormones and lower your calorie intake.
    If the thought of exercising makes you want to sink further into your couch and eat a bag of chips, we hear you. 

    You could start small. Take a small walk around the block listening to your favorite songs, or, if you are at home, walk up and down your stairs twice. 

    Consider a seated or low-impact workout if you struggle with health conditions or fatigue.

3. Psychological techniques to cope with food cravings

Our cravings are typically a mix of emotional, psychological, and social factors. To help curb cravings, consider trying the following psychological techniques to cope:

  • Practice urge surfing: When a food craving begins, think of yourself as ‘riding the wave’ of your thoughts and feelings.

    Remember that “this too shall pass,” and you do not have to act on the feeling. Notice physical sensations like your chest tightening or tensed muscles.

    Urges take about 20-30 minutes to subside, so take a few deep breaths. Remind yourself that you have the power to choose what you do.

  • Have positive affirmations on hand: Sometimes, when dealing with an intense craving, you may not remember all the helpful tips and tricks you may have read about.

    This is because when we experience intense emotions, a more primal part of our brain takes over, thinking we’re in an emergency. 

    If we want our brains to help us make better decisions, affirmations that resonate may help. 

    Here are a few examples: I make better food choices so that I can _________ (live longer, have more energy, put myself first, live a more fulfilling life, break free from food thoughts).

  • Use the power of distraction: To reduce food cravings, try simple distractions. Change your physical location by moving away from areas where you often experience cravings, like the kitchen or near the refrigerator.

    If you work from home, move your workspace away from the kitchen and avoid keeping snacks nearby. In an office setting, try taking a bathroom break or a brisk walk to divert your attention. Repeat positive affirmations or call a friend to distract yourself from tempting treats.

If you’ve tried different tips and are frustrated because they did not work, do not give up hope. Food habits are often cultivated over decades, and it’s not easy to stop cravings alone.

Consider reaching out to a Registered Dietitian for support and guidance along your journey to better health. Use Fay to find a Registered Dietitian near you, covered by your insurance.

4. The role of medication in managing cravings

Got on an antidepressant and now fight Mirtazapine cravings? It's no coincidence. Certain medications, like antidepressants and antipsychotics, can increase your appetite and increase food cravings.

Additionally, managing your weight with weight loss drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro can be challenging in the long term, and cravings may return when the drugs’ effects wear off. 

Medication affects each person differently, so consider talking to your healthcare provider about adjusting your dose or trying an alternate drug.

5. A registered dietitian nutritionist can help curb your cravings

Managing food cravings is a complex process that involves understanding the source of your hunger signals. Eat more whole foods, practice mindful eating, and include movement and exercise during your day.

If you've tried various strategies but still struggle with food cravings, it may be beneficial to seek professional help.

A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with expertise in eating behaviors and disordered eating can provide personalized strategies and support to help manage food cravings.

Get started now. Fay can help you find a Registered Dietitian near you, covered by your insurance.


The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.


Sources

Fay Nutrition has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Chandana Balasubramanian is an experienced healthcare executive who writes on the intersection of healthcare and technology. She is the President of Global Insight Advisory Network and has a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

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Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.

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