Reasons for Food Cravings

Reasons for Food Cravings

Food cravings can occur for a variety of reasons, both psychological and physiological. Once you know why your food cravings occur (whether you’re on a low-glycemic diet or otherwise), you can take steps to deal with them more effectively. Here are some common causes of food cravings (as well as how to combat them):

  • Addiction: Recent research points to the idea that eating foods that are high in blood sugar stimulates cravings and rewards areas of the brain. More research is needed, but it’s good to be aware that this may happen. Regularly eating low-glycemic foods throughout the day can help break this cycle.


  • Unstable blood sugar: This is probably the biggest physiological trigger for food cravings. The food you eat, especially carbohydrates, increases the amount of blood sugar in the body. When you eat large amounts of carbohydrates, especially carbohydrates that are high in blood sugar, your blood sugar rises rapidly and then crashes.

A low-glycemic diet can help keep blood sugar stable by providing a slowly-digesting energy source, resulting in a gradual increase in blood sugar and insulin levels.

  • Lack of sleep: Recent research shows that people who don’t get the right amount of sleep at night produce more “hunger hormone” and less “full hormone,” which leads them to feel hungry during the day, overeat, and thus gain weight. The study also found that these people had cravings for both salty and sweet foods throughout the day.

To counteract this physiological trigger of food cravings, give yourself seven to nine hours of sleep each night. If you have trouble sleeping, contact your doctor for professional help.
Can’t calm down at night? Try drinking a cup of chamomile tea, doing some yoga, reading, meditating, journaling, or any other activity that can turn off your mental to-do list.

  • Low serotonin levels: Some researchers feel that hormonal imbalance, especially low serotonin levels, may be another physiological cause of food cravings. Scientific evidence also suggests that carbohydrates may help replenish serotonin levels in the body (serotonin is a feel-good brain chemical). Although there is no conclusive evidence that eating carbs has a calming effect, it may be enough to get you a quick moment of relief.

Keeping your blood sugar stable and eating high-quality carbs like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables (instead of high-glycemic carbs) can help. Exercise also increases serotonin levels and may help reduce food cravings.

  • Conditioned responses since childhood: One of the biggest psychological reasons people crave food is that they are conditioned since childhood. Conditional responses go hand in hand with emotional eating. Infants and young children learn through experience that certain foods make them feel better or even make them feel full or emotionally satisfied.

Maybe you always had dessert after dinner when you were a kid, or maybe you had ice cream when you lost the football game. Some of these conditioning cues are good because they are things that happen once in a while, but some are tougher because they are daily habits. For example, if as a child you were rewarded with sweets every day for doing chores, you could continue this pattern as an adult, believing “I worked hard today; I deserved this.”

To get away from your conditioned food responses, you may be tempted to cut out food completely, but doing so will only worsen your appetite. Instead, eat something similar. If you craved ice cream at night because that’s what you ate before bed when you were young, have a small amount of frozen yogurt or fruit juice. If you like chocolate, have an ounce of dark chocolate.

  • Restrictive dieting and restricted eating: Studies show that when people abstain from certain foods, they end up craving them more, giving in to cravings, and overeating. As a psychological response, they feel guilty and decide to abstain from foods, which only prolongs the cycle of food cravings.

Severe restrictive eating (found in very-low-calorie diets) can also result in a physiological trigger — low blood sugar from not eating! Instead of cutting yourself off from certain foods, eat small amounts of them. You can also try a lower-glycemic food that’s similar to what you’re craving.
Think about the last time you had a food craving. Can you point to your trigger? Becoming aware of why you crave certain foods can help you overcome and prevent these cravings in the future.
Keep in mind that the most common reason for food cravings in people trying to lose weight is low blood sugar. Unstable blood sugar can not only trigger food cravings but also make them worse.