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What Your Cravings Say About You—And How To Crush Them

We all have one food—that menacing, dietary Achilles heel that pops up just in time to threaten our weight loss progress.

You know what we're talking about: If it weren't for these pesky cravings, losing weight would be a heck of a lot easier—and likely faster. And the worst part? Because cravings are as much mental as they are physical, they don't necessarily go away once you've eaten your fill. (Hence why you always manage to scarf down that creme brulee even after feeling completely stuffed from dinner.)

Although many of us link cravings to a lack of self-control, they may also be acting as your body's way of asking for fuel, so ignoring them isn't always possible. But regardless of whether you're a victim of mid-afternoon soda pangs or late-night pizza urges, you don't have to destroy your better-body progress by giving into your hankerings with diet-derailing choices.

So to find out what's behind those urgent food feelings, Eat This, Not That! checked in with some top-notch nutrition experts to look into the science of cravings. Learn the meanings behind every kind of craving, healthy alternatives to satisfy each, and even how you can banish compulsive urges for good. Next up, work on tackling these 40 Bad Habits That Lead to a Fat Belly.

If You're Craving: An Ice Cream Sundae

Sugar cravings

Why You're Craving It:

People crave sweets for a couple of reasons. For starters, either your happy hormone levels (serotonin) have dipped, or your stress hormones (cortisol) have risen. The craving stems out of the fact that carb-laden and sugar-rich foods help increase feel-good hormones.

Another reason is because you're hungry or tired and looking for a quick hit of energy because your blood sugar levels have dipped. Simple carbs deliver easily-digestible, fast-acting energy which raises your blood sugar and feeds your brain.

And lastly, many of us are addicted to it. Sugar actually releases dopamine within the body, the hormone that regulates things like emotion, behavior, alertness, impulsivity, and hanger. It's also the hormone that is released when we fall in love or partake in drugs and alcohol—and what ultimately plays a role in addiction.

Eat This! Instead:

Carb-rich foods in general—not just ice cream and cookies—will help boost energy and serotonin levels. Incorporating more sweet fruits (like berries or apples) into your diet will deliver a dose of sweetness, but offer more staying power because of their high fiber levels. Slow-digesting fiber can keep your blood sugar stable, and fend off frequent food urges. These foods will help keep your cortisol and blood sugar levels stable and cravings at bay. As for the addiction part, try these 30 Easy Ways To Stop Eating So Much Sugar—you'll be glad you did.

If You're Craving: Bread

Cravings bread

Why You're Craving It:

You've likely jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon without actually have a gluten sensitivity. Depriving yourself of such a common food can lead to intense cravings for that food. Another reason? You may be low in tryptophan—an amino acid which is responsible for producing the mood- and sleep-regulating hormone, serotonin. That's because carbs can help your body absorb this amino acid.

Eat This! Instead:

Protein is another way to get tryptophan—think turkey, eggs, and milk—and thanks to its slow-digesting properties, it'll also help keep your hunger pangs from getting out of control. And if you aren't on a low-carb, gluten-free diet, try a loaf of one of these Best Brand Name Breads for Weight Loss. When it comes to satisfying a craving, though, nothing does it better than Ezekiel 4:9 Cinnamon Raisin Sprouted Whole Grain Bread. This loaf provides a natural sweetness to nip your sugar craving in the bud but offers long-lasting complex carbs which will keep you satiated.

If You're Craving: A Burger

Cravings burger
Geneviève Caron/Eat This, Not That!

Why You're Craving It:

If you can't manage to drive by the drive-thru for a juicy burger, the odds are high your body is begging for iron—a mineral that's plentiful in the dishes you can't stop thinking about.

Eat This! Instead:

Since iron deficiencies can slow your metabolism, we recommend you give in to your cravings—just follow these guidelines: build your burger at home (here's why), and stick to lean cuts of grass-fed beef, which is both naturally lower in calories than conventionally-raised meat and full of fat-fighting conjugated linoleic acid. You also have the option of meeting your iron goals by adding fortified cereals, dried fruit, and dark leafy greens to your diet can also help you.

If You're Craving: Soda

Cravings soda

Why You're Craving It:

Of course, the obvious culprits are sugar and caffeine, but there's another reason you reach for a can on the red: You may have trained your body to sneak a soda at 3 p.m. every day. In which case, it isn't necessarily a craving as it is a bad eating habit.

Drink This! Instead:

Break your routine with these 15 Ways to Break Your Bad Eating Habits. And after you've severed your reliance on the drink, replace your go-to with some green tea. This elixir will satisfy your caffeine needs while boosting the effectiveness of your weight-loss journey through its ability to shut off your fat genes and supercharge your metabolism.

If You're Craving: Chips

chip craving

Why You're Craving It:

You might be stressed out. A common reaction to stress is clenching our jaws, so often times we respond with an affinity towards crunchy foods.

Eat This! Instead:

Slice up a raw, crunchy, red bell pepper to dip into hummus. Just one cup of these ruby veggies contains 316 percent of your DV of vitamin C, an antioxidant which has been shown to elevate mood and counteracts the stress hormones that leave you feeling tense and trigger the storage of belly fat.

If You're Craving: Cheesy Pizza

Cravings pizza

Why You're Craving It:

When you've got a hankering for a slice of 'za, it might be because you're low in bone-building calcium. Surprisingly, pizza is one of the top sources in the American diet of the mineral. Another reason is because pizza is full of energy-dense fats, so we often crave them when our body is really hungry.

Eat This! Instead:

Kill two birds with one stone by grabbing a filet of rockfish. This mild-tasting white fish serves up 20 percent of your DV of calcium and enough fats to satisfy your energy needs. Even better, the fats are the heart-healthy, brain-protecting omega-3 kind.

If You're Craving: Coffee

coffee craving

Why You're Craving It:

If you stop by the 'bucks on the reg for an iced coffee, dehydration may be to blame. The reason? Because water plays a vital role in hundreds of metabolic processes, when your body doesn't get enough water, it can make you feel sluggish. As a result, we often reach for foods or drinks we know to serve up an easy dose of energy.

Drink This! Instead:

Don't head to the break room to brew another cup, just down two tall glasses of water. Doing so will likely give you the surge of energy you're searching for. And if you aren't a fan of plain water, keep your taste buds interested—and your waistline trim—with these 50 Best Detox Waters for Fat Burning and Weight Loss.

If You're Craving: Chocolate

Cravings chocolate

Why You're Craving It:

According to a recent study in the Journal of Nutrition, chocolate is the most frequently craved food in North America—most often craved by women. Why is that? Well, researchers find that chocolate may act as a sort of self-medication for dietary deficiencies, most likely for magnesium, a mineral the food is rich in. When women are PMSing, they often lose this mineral through menstruation. Their levels of serotonin also decrease, which could cause them to crave the sugary cacao.

Eat This! Instead:

Dark chocolate is actually an effective weight-loss tool due to being full of satiating healthy fats and brain-protecting antioxidants. Just make sure you're reaching for something that is higher than 70 percent cacao. Anything less has more sugar and fewer protective flavanoids. You can also try these Best Foods For Magnesium if you're trying to cut back on sugar.

If You're Craving: Pretzels

Cravings pretzels

Why You're Craving It:

Feel like you've suddenly developed an intense desire for salty pretzels? You may be in need of some serious hydration. That's because exercise causes your body to lose salt through sweating. That, or you're addicted to the stuff! New research found that salt triggers the release of the feel-good hormone, dopamine, making sodium-laden fare pretty addictive.

Eat This! Instead:

Replacing lost salt is important for fluid balance and blood pressure regulation, but that doesn't mean you should scarf down nutrient-lacking fare to boost your intake of the mineral. Anchovies, lightly salted air-popped popcorn, and edamame can do the trick. You can also substitute with other electrolytes, like potassium and magnesium, by nabbing some bananas. And if your craving stems from an addiction, try cooking your own meals and snacks for a while. Ultra-processed foods and restaurant dishes are loaded with the blood-pressure-raising stuff.

If You're Craving: Veggies

Cravings veggies

Why You're Craving It:

We're not kidding! It might not be a diet-derailing option, but, yes, some people do crave fresh produce. Often times, a desire for fresh ingredients appears when your body needs more Vitamin C or because your mind is telling you it's about time to ease up on the Doritos.

Eat This!:

If and when you're gut is leading you to fruits and veggies, feel free to indulge away! Just be sure to stick to proper portion sizes. Not sure where to start? How about with these 25 Best Foods for a Toned Body.

Crush Cravings With These Tips

Crush cravings

The difficulty of that SoulCycle workout pales in comparison to building up enough willpower to resist a chocolate-glazed donut when a craving strikes. But kicking your sweet, salty, and fatty urges that derail your hard-earned weight loss wins doesn't have to be a struggle. Here are some simple, science-backed habits you can incorporate into your everyday life that will help you outsmart your cravings before they even surface.

Craving Crusher: Drink Water

Craving crusher drink water

If you're thirsty, more often than not, you're already dehydrated—and hungry. That's because the same part of our brain controls hunger and thirst, and we sometimes mix up the signals, looking to eat a snack rather than sip on some H2O. The next time you're thinking about reaching for something sweet or salty, quelling the craving and boost your metabolism with a tall glass of water. You may be surprised at the result.

Craving Crusher: Snack Smarter

Craving crusher yogurt

Experts found most people crave sugar and fat, so why not treat yourself by eating just that? You may think that attempting to fulfill your cravings by replacing your favorite chocolate chunk cookie with a tasteless, low-sugar or low-fat option is the best tactic, but Christine M. Palumbo, MBA, RDN, FAND, a Chicago-area registered dietitian and nutritionist explains that might not be the case. "I have never been a fan of reduced-fat or low-sugar versions of indulgent foods because, [often], no matter how many of them you eat, your craving won't be satisfied. You're better off giving into your craving with the real deal. You may be surprised to find that you're actually satisfied with less," she says. You can also reach for something naturally sweet, like fruit, and with healthy fats, like Greek yogurt and a nutty granola, instead of diet-derailing vending machine treats.

Craving Crusher: Get Some Shut-Eye

Craving crusher sleep

Your sleep deprivation isn't just making it hard for you to stay awake during your boss's boring morning meeting; it's also the reason for some of your nasty cravings. University of Chicago researchers found that sleep deprivation increases your body's levels of cannabis-like chemicals called endocannabinoids—which causes you to crave fatty and sugary foods. The researchers found that sleep-deprived participants had higher levels of endocannabinoids and ate more than double the amount of fat from unhealthy snacks like chips and ice cream than their well-rested counterparts. Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN, a New York City-based dietitian, says she always recommends about seven hours of shut-eye to her patients to help keep cravings for calorie-dense foods that we believe give us energy at bay.

Craving Crusher: Indulge a Little

Craving crusher diet

We get that you want to lose belly fat before your upcoming beach vacation, but sticking to a restrictive diet can be quite the struggle. Plus, you may end up setting yourself up for failure! Here's why: "When my clients feel like they aren't able to enjoy something indulgent from time to time, it often leaves them with hard-to-ignore cravings," says Kaufman. "I allow my patients to eat 100 discretionary calories each day so they can satisfy their cravings without falling off track. Knowing they can have another small treat tomorrow makes it easier for them to cut themselves off before they overdo it." Fill up by checking out these 50 Snacks With 50 Calories or Less. And guess what? You can even have two of them!

Craving Crusher: Eat Breakfast

Craving crusher breakfast

Sure, you may initially save some calories by skipping your morning meal, but doing so will only increase the odds you'll give in to cravings with diet-derailing picks, making it harder to trim down in the long run. Lauren Minchen MPH, RDN, CDN, explains, "When you skip breakfast, it can cause blood sugar to drop below healthy levels and increase the urge to eat sugary foods. This is why many people tend to overeat or give into cravings later in the day when they skip their morning meal." Get started with these healthy breakfast ideas that take fewer than five minutes to whip up!

Craving Crusher: Eat Some Air

Craving crusher puffed foods

You don't have to kick your afternoon vending machine craving—just be sure to grab a bag of popcorn if you do. According to two separate studies, consuming air-filled foods and froth-based drinks (like a skim caffè au lait) can significantly reduce appetite and snack cravings. How? As it turns out, your gut and brain are pretty gullible, and air-injected fare makes us feel fuller by tricking us into thinking we ate a bigger volume than we did.

Craving Crusher: Hide Temptation

Craving crusher hide cookies

Whether it's chips, cookies, candy or other items, just seeing your trigger foods in the kitchen or on your office desk is enough to derail any healthy eating program. Luckily, there's a simple solution. Overcome short-lived cravings by keeping the foods you typically crave out of the house or hide tempting treats in the back of the pantry behind something healthier like a box of KIND bars. That way you'll immediately see the healthy option and remind yourself of your better-body goals.

Craving Crusher: Go Green

Craving crusher green tea

According to scientists, sipping green tea could help make your kids' candy stash look much less appealing. To come to these findings, Swedish researchers had participants either drink green tea or water with their meal. Not only did tea-drinkers report less of a desire to eat their favorite foods (even a full two hours after sipping the brew), they found those foods to be less satisfying. Repeat the results at home by enjoying a cup with each meal. You'll decrease your desire to steal sweets and help blast fat in the process thanks to the tea's waist-whittling antioxidant compounds.

Craving Crusher: Get Fruity

Craving crusher fruit

You don't have to entirely deprive yourself of sweets, just appease that pesky craving naturally with fruits. Adding this produce can help trick your taste buds into thinking you're getting a sweet treat and halt cravings before you feel tempted to reach for dessert. Even better, research shows consuming high fiber foods like berries and other fruits helps boost fullness after a meal, which supercharges the effectiveness of this tactic.

Craving Crusher: Freshen Up

Craving crusher breath mint

If you're sitting around bored and you feel a craving coming on, pop a mint or gargle some minty mouthwash. A study published in the journal Neurogastroenterology & Motility found that peppermint oil reduces appetite by sending signals to your brain that it's time to stop eating. Not only will sucking on a mint keep your mouth busy and serve as a distraction, but it will also tweak your taste buds so indulging in your desire is less than rewarding.

Craving Crusher: Crunch Chromium

Craving crusher chromium

Ever notice how your office snack stash looks particularly tempting when your stomach is growling? That's because cravings often stem from a physical desire to refuel. Stop cravings before they start by eating a diet rich in chromium. This mineral supports proper insulin function, which helps keep blood sugar levels even-keel, and it's one of the best ways to ward off cravings and keep yourself from always being hungry. To reach your recommended intake, which is between 20 to 35 micrograms, all you'd need to eat is a small pear, four Brazil nuts, or a serving of broccoli. You can also nosh on foods with lower concentrations of the nutrient—eggs, chicken, beef, spinach, green peppers, bananas, and apples—throughout the day.

Craving Crusher: Walk it Off

Craving crusher

Step away from the fridge! Lace up your shoes and get out of the kitchen to curb your cravings. Perceived hunger can often stem out of boredom, and exercise has been connected to reduced food cravings, so going for a walk or jog can help distract the mind and banish your hankering for junk food.

Craving Crusher: ACV It

Craving crusher apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar, that is. You already know that nabbing a salad for lunch is healthy, but if you dress your greens with a creamy ranch or french dressing, you may be missing an opportunity to stop your junk food cravings before they surface. Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid: a compound that helps delay gastric emptying, which means it keeps food in your the stomach longer, boosting satiety. Although ACV tastes great on just about any bed of leaves, using it along with some freshly ground pepper, dijon mustard, and extra virgin olive oil atop kale salads is particularly tasty.

Craving Crusher: Om it Away

Craving crusher yoga

A recent Yale University study found that those who suffer from chronic stress have significantly more food cravings than those who are care-free—and have the bellies to prove it. Double down on banishing cravings by going to a yoga class. Not only will meditation help you relax and destress, but participating in a physical activity can take your mind off of food for a while.


Olivia Tarantino
Olivia Tarantino is the Managing Editor of Eat This, Not That!, specializing in nutrition, health, and food product coverage. Read more about Olivia
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