Mind Tricks to Help Stop Food Cravings Effectively

Food cravings are normal but it can lead to overeating if you're not careful. Thankfully, there are some tricks you can do to curb food cravings effectively.

A woman standing in front of an opened refrigerator in a dark kitchen.

Almost everyone craves a certain kind of food every now and then. This is the simple reason why late-night snacks exist. Sure, food cravings are okay occasionally, especially if they help lift your mood or relieve stress. But, like most things, cravings can be dangerous when they get out of control. 

Fortunately, there are some methods you can try to effectively curb your food cravings, which this article will unveil. But before we get to that, this article will first talk about what makes us crave foods and the harmful effects of this behaviour.  

What are Food Cravings? 

In short, food cravings are the desire to eat a particular type of food. Don’t get confused with hunger, as that can be satisfied with any kind of food. 

Although the desired foods can be varied for different people, most often look for snacks to energise them or lift their mood. Chocolates, ice-cream, and potato chips top the list, followed by other high-calorie sweet and savoury foods.  

Multiple studies have also found that some people crave fruits and — particularly in Japan — rice. Furthermore, research has revealed that these cravings usually occur late afternoon and evening. 

The Causes of Food Cravings

A woman sitting in front of her work desk while looking worriedly at the two chocolate bars in her hands.
Chocolate tops the list of food cravings

There are different perspectives on the origin of food cravings. They are: 

1. Cephalic phase responses (CPRs) 

Cravings are thought to be associated with CPRs, which is your body’s way of gearing itself up for food. As your body prepares to optimise digestion, it will respond by increasing saliva production. 

2. Activation of endorphins and reward-related areas in the brain 

A study has discovered that eating releases endorphins, the hormones responsible for blocking pain and stimulating pleasure. This is why your body reacts positively to the rewarding properties of foods, which drive us to eat. 

3. Cognitive functions and habits 

A study proved that thinking about food triggers cravings. It also concluded that higher craving intensity is more common in people who often crave for their favourite foods.

4. Emotional factors 

A study found that both positive and negative moods can cause cravings for different kinds of foods. Hungry people prefer savoury food, while full people will lean towards sweet food. However, this effect is usually lost on people with a negative mood. 

5. Cravings according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) 

Likewise, TCM theorises that food cravings may relate to emotions. When we feel too many of the seven emotions—happiness, anger, worry, sadness, fear, alarm, longing— your organs will overreact, leading to stress- or angry-eating. TCM also believes that food cravers have other symptoms, like thirst, bad breath and constipation. 

The Negative Effects of Food Cravings 

Cravings are considered normal, but too much might lead to food bingeing. The problem is, that you might not realise it and might be overdoing it. In turn, you will be at risk for conditions related to obesity and diabetes. 

A woman staring hard at a laptop while eating a piece of bread.
Stress can lead to food cravings

How to Curb Food Cravings 

As most of the suggestions think that your brain and emotions influence cravings, the methods to curb the appetite usually involve the two factors. 

These methods include: 

1. Restricting calorie intake 

A 2006 study showed that cravings might diminish when the calories are restricted. 

2. Staying away from food 

In 2017, a study exhibited evidence that cravings are linked to the knowledge that the desired objects are obtainable. Therefore, your cravings should lessen when you know no food is available near you.  

3. Distracting yourself 

The finding of a 2016 study described that temptation can be controlled through distracting activities such as playing games. 

4. Imagery replacement 

A 2011 study recommended imagining pleasant elements to decrease craving intensity. 

5. Disidentification training or meditation 

Rooted in Buddhism, disidentification is a process of accepting and distancing yourself from your wants. A 2014 study proved that participants who created a mental distance between themselves and their cravings through disidentification training managed to control their appetite better. 

6. Medications 

Drugs or herbal medicines that improve digestion may help with stopping food cravings. 

7. Acupuncture 

After a consultation, TCM physicians usually prescribe acupuncture to correct an imbalance in the body that causes cravings. TCM also believes that acupuncture can change your attitude towards foods.  

Like going on a diet, reducing cravings isn’t as simple as it sounds. More than anything, you will need mental strength. Understanding the health risk of overeating is a good way to start and prepare yourself mentally. From there, you can slowly try to improve your perspective on foods through the method that works best for you and finally take control of your cravings. 

This is an adaptation of an article, “Curbing Food Cravings”, which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang website.

References

  1. Springer Link. 2020. The Psychology of Food Cravings: the Role of Food Deprivation [online] [Accessed 11 April 2022] 
  2. Science Daily. 2017. Eating triggers endorphin release in the brain [online]. [Accessed 11 April 2022] 
  3. Science Direct. 2017. Food cravings in everyday life: An EMA study on snack-related thoughts, cravings, and consumption [online]. [Accessed 11 April 2022] 
  4. Frontiers. 2020. The Effect of Hunger and Satiety on Mood-Related Food Craving [online]. [Accessed 11 April 2022] 
  5. Pubmed. 2006. Changes in food cravings during low-calorie and very-low-calorie diets [online]. [Accessed 11 April 2022] 
  6. Springer Link. 2017. The effects of food craving and desire thinking on states of motivational challenge and threat and their physiological indices [online]. [Accessed 11 April 2022] 
  7. Pubmed. 2016. Derailing the streetcar named desire. Cognitive distractions reduce individual differences in cravings and unhealthy snacking in response to palatable food [online]. [Accessed 11 April 2022] 
  8. Science Direct. 2011. Replacing craving imagery with alternative pleasant imagery reduces craving intensity [online]. [Accessed 11 April 2022]
    Science Direct. 2014. The effects of three mindfulness skills on chocolate cravings [online]. [Accessed 11 April 2022] 

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