Understanding the Difference Between Hunger and Craving

People say “only eat when you’re hungry” which is an oversimplified and often unhelpful piece of advice, especially for people who struggle with emotional eating or who have health conditions that affect appetite. In general, the following rules explain the difference between hunger and food cravings:

  Hunger Cravings
Caused by physical needs physical or psychological needs
If you wait it out… will not go away will go away
Over time… it will intensify it will not change
Will stop if… you eat anything you eat the craved food
Signs and symptoms stomach growls, pangs, hollow feeling, fogginess, lack of concentration, headache, fatigue preoccupation with craved food and irritation if the craving is not satisfied
Causes low blood sugar, going for too long of a period of time without food emotions, associations, hormones, physical needs, memories

Tips for standing strong against unhealthy food cravings:

  • Eat when you first start to feel physically hungry. If you have difficulty determining whether or not you’re physically hungry, learn more about mindful eating (also known as intuitive eating).
  • Don’t label some foods as “good” and others as “bad.”
  • Learn about and practice stress reduction techniques.
  • Choose filling foods such as broth-based soups, fruits, vegetables, or unbuttered popcorn.
  • Pay attention to your emotions and cravings; the two are often linked.
  • Stay adequately hydrated; sometimes we misinterpret thirst as hunger.
  • Smelling sweet aromas, such as burning a cinnamon-bun candle, might eliminate cravings for sweets.
  • Pay attention to how fast you’re eating – slow down and be sure to chew your food thoroughly!
  • The first bite is usually the most satisfying; savor it, and you might eat less overall.
  • Focus on your food! Don’t watch television, check social media sites, or read a magazine while eating. Don’t dine at your desk if not absolutely necessary.
  • Don’t keep those unhealthy foods that you crave in your kitchen, your purse, your car, or your desk…avoidance is key!
  • Try a cup of hot tea  – the warmth might soothe you and decrease your craving.
  • Brush your teeth. It really works! You don’t want a cookie when your breath is minty fresh.
  • Distract yourself for 10 minutes, and the craving will probably dissipate. Ready, set, go…