Why Do We Get Food Cravings?

By | August 6, 2015

What drives our craving for food?

We all need to eat, but sometimes our cravings for food are due to much more than basic hunger. Food is a featured staple for various occasions, can be used as a way to ameliorate stresses, and sometimes can even be caused by food addictions. Not all cravings are detrimental, but it’s important to know the root of your craving in order to lead a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Below, we will examine five key reasons you experience food cravings.


Did you know that a hankering for that donut could really mean you’re just thirsty? It’s true! As mindbodygreen puts it, “Dehydration manifests itself as a hunger, so the first thing to do when you get a craving is drink a full glass of water.” In fact, the moment you feel thirsty actually means dehydration is setting in. Drink water throughout the day to avoid excess food cravings and manage your weight.


Stress can trigger food cravings easily, hence the term “stress eater.” Our hormones react to stressful situations, which can lead to food cravings even when we don’t necessarily need the extra snacks and calories. Other events like low self-esteem, sad news, and body image issues can cause food cravings in the form of comforting foods like cookies or potato chips. Kris Carr advises those experiencing these types of cravings to, “…eat a healthier food for the time being or opting for a mood-boosting activity may give you enough satisfaction in the moment while the craving passes.”


Exercise is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle, but high intensity workouts can cause hormonal shifts that lead to some not-so-healthy cravings. Working out leads to perspiration, which can deplete the body of sodium and electrolytes if not handled properly. Many may find themselves craving unhealthy, high sodium foods for this reason following exercise. Yuri Elkaim of US New Health detailed his experience with sodium cravings after strenuous exercise. He discovered that his adrenal function was “on the low side,” and adjusted his options for healthier sodium intake. He also went on to state that exercise and stress have similar effects on adrenal function, and those experiencing extreme sodium cravings may want to get tested for possible vitamin and mineral deficiencies.


“Certain foods, like sugar, stimulate the reward center of your brain in much the same way drugs such as cocaine and heroin do,” states Elkaim. Obviously, we all want something to make us feel good during times of stress and sadness — and food can serve as instant gratification. Just as with other substances, the “high” from sugary foods comes with a crash and only exacerbates problems with anxiety and depression. Utilizing cognitive therapies, communication, exercise, and a balanced diet can help to alleviate issues with unhealthy food cravings and addiction.


Just as we mentioned people craving food due to upset, hormone imbalances are often the trigger for this upset and food cravings. Carr notes that low serotonin levels, hormonal imbalances, and even shifts during menstruation can all lead to food cravings. Consult your doctor if you are experiencing issues that may be a product of hormonal imbalance.

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