How to manage food cravings?

cravings for high calorie foods


Food cravings are frustratingly difficult to resist. Cravings are caused by different triggers. These include seeing the food, smelling the food, or wanting to experience the same memory you had when you have previously consumed that food. The memory is associated with happiness affecting how good we think the food we crave will taste and how good it will make us feel. The more we eat that food, the more we reinforce this memory. 

What causes food cravings? 

Physical Factors

Hunger, physical pain, fatigue, lack of sleep, a restrictive diet such as a low carb diet or a diet that forbids certain foods. This can leave you feeling full but not satisfied following a meal, therefore, craving high-calorie indulgent foods.

Emotional Factors

All emotions trigger cravings including boredom, sadness, anxiety, stress, frustration, loneliness, and many more. Craving and eating something allow that emotion to be temporarily stopped as we distract ourselves from what is going on. The highly palatable food choice allows for feel-good chemicals to be released in the brain which makes us feel food at least for a short while which drives the craving.

Environmental Factors

Cravings that arise out of habit. Food is a part of our culture. We don’t recognise the connection between the cue and the craving.

Examples include

  • Timing e.g., winding down at night after work.
  • Distraction e.g., food in front of the TV or at the movies.
  • Memories e.g., always getting ice cream when you got to the beach, etc.
  • Sensory cues e.g., the sight or smell of certain foods.
  • People e.g. I always drink wine with a certain friend group.
  • Weather e.g., comfort food on cold days.
  • There are loads more environmental triggers for cravings as we live in an environment where food is readily available.

What is my current standpoint on what to do when you are experiencing cravings?

Start by determining if your craving is causing a problem. There is a difference between craving chocolate, honouring that craving by eating a few pieces, or enough to feel satisfied, and moving on versus craving chocolate, eating an entire bag, feeling physically ill.

If you have a craving, surf the urge by waiting 20-30 minutes to see if the craving is still there or if it has intensified or reduced. If still present, you might choose to make a mindful decision to have the food you are craving enjoy it, and move on. Then you have nothing to worry about. You may want to document the occasion to see if it has any trends over time.

If you find that you are having cravings, then moving far past the satisfied feeling into feeling physically ill due to overconsuming a particular food and may feel guilt or shame off the back of consumption then I would suggest using the following strategy to look deeper into the problem.

A 4-step strategy to help manage food cravings.


The first stage in handling a food craving is to identify it. Just become aware that you are craving a particular food right now.


  • What are you craving?
  • Where could this craving be coming from?
  • What do you want from the food you are craving?

Consider things like:

  • The balance in your food choices today.
  • Red button syndrome. Are you telling yourself you can't eat something which is making you want it more?
  • How are you feeling physically and emotionally? Are you looking for food to soothe a particular emotion?
  • Where are you and who are you with?
  • Sometimes, you will just want the food and that’s okay! That’s helpful information to have. Sometimes you’ll recognise that the root of the craving runs a little deeper.


Before you decided to eat, create a list of alternative options e.g., if you are finding that this craving is influenced by stress what are other ways you can destress? A walk listening to a podcast, taking a bath with some soothing music, calling a friend or family member for a catch-up, etc.

Permission to eat is always an option that is available, no matter where the craving is coming from. If you don’t permit yourself to eat foods, you crave the craving will likely get stronger.


The last step is to review what you did and how it went. You want to ensure you have a neutral outlook as reviewing what didn’t go so well is an opportunity to develop. Write down what worked, what didn’t work, and what might you do differently in the future, if anything? By having a written log, you can evaluate any future trends or patterns. 


  • No restriction of foods and understanding that goods are not to be classed as 'good or bad' nor should we refer to hyper-palatable foods or meals as 'cheat foods or meals'.
  • Engaging in movement that we enjoy. This can be something structured like the gym to something like gardening.
  • Make self-care a priority! Putting your needs before others and getting enough adequate rest and recovery.

 Take away points: food cravings are normal. Become aware of them. Try to understand where they may be driven from to decide on how you would like to respond.

If you would like a worksheet to help you manage your cravings, please download the following resource.

This blog has a resource available for download so you can print it out for easy reference.

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