Food cravings can instigate an unavoidable urge to eat a certain type of food, and despite not wanting to, you may reach out for it to fulfil your intense cravings. However, several underlying reasons could contribute to this behaviour, and by addressing them, you can better manage the cues. 

Food cravings - Causes and how to control them

Have you ever had food cravings at night? You’re not alone. Food cravings may be defined as an intense desire to eat a particular type of food. In most cases, they involve sugar cravings, especially for energy-dense foods like chocolate or chocolate-containing products. Other foods that are frequently craved include high-caloric sweet and savoury foods. It is suggested that food cravings typically occur in the late afternoon and evening. A craving is different from hunger, as hunger can be satiated by the consumption of any food, while in the case of a craving, the urge to have a specific form of food is heightened. 

Types of food cravings

There are two types of food cravings:

  • Selective food craving: Cravings for a specific food, like chocolate or ice cream, may be classified as selective food cravings.
  • Non-Selective food craving: This is the desire to eat just about anything without being specific, and could be a behaviour stemming from hunger. 

Alternatively, food cravings may also be divided as:

  • Sugar craving: Fluctuating blood glucose levels can lead you to reach for the sweet stuff. 
  • Salt craving: A sodium deficiency may lead to a craving for salty foods. Eating foods high in sodium that is naturally present in the salt we consume can fight against these cravings.
  • Oily food craving: Stress leads our body to crave highly palatable foods, which may include even fatty foods. 
  • Healthy cravings: Food cravings aren’t just limited to sugar and salt, for one may also experience healthy cravings, like the desire to eat kale or broccoli.

What causes food cravings?

When wondering what causes food cravings, one may think it is only driven by some nutrient deficiency. However, the evidence for this isn’t conclusive. So what really is the underlying reason for these cravings? Here are a few possible factors: 

  1. Physiological factors: It is believed that the experience of a food craving is associated with a string of processes that prepare the body for consuming food. The body starts to seek food and increases the salivary flow in the mouth in an attempt to satisfy the urge. This phenomenon may also be accompanied by activation of the reward-related brain areas 
  2. Cognition: The entire process of a food craving may be linked to when the person is thinking about the food
  3. Emotions: Food cravings are also related to mood swings and may be induced by imagining one’s favourite foods 
  4. Eating disorder: Alternatively, overeating and binge eating behaviours are linked to food cravings.
  5. Dieting: It can be said that dieting’s negative reputation for increasing food cravings is only partially true, as the relationship between food restriction and craving is more complex. It is possible that avoiding certain foods may increase cravings in the first few days. However, with time, this can decrease.
  6. Sodium loss: Sodium is an important mineral found in the salt we consume. When the body loses sodium, one begins craving salty foods.  

How to control cravings

Food cravings are accountable for around 11% of the variance in weight gain. While a random craving once in a while may be alright, chronic behaviour could be a cause of trouble. Here’s how to control cravings:

  1. Don’t restrict calories below balanced diet recommendations: Restrained eaters tend to crave more food than those who aren’t restrained. If you’re on a diet to meet health goals, it could help to control the portion size and occasionally eat your favourite foods. Always make sure that you’re not consuming calories below balanced diet recommendations as that could adversely affect your health. 
  2. Stay away from depriving yourself of certain foods for a long time: When our minds perceive that certain foods are off-limits and cannot be consumed, it can generate food cravings. Thus, it’s better to include meals in your diet that do not make you feel like you are not eating what or as much as you would like.
  3. Eat high protein meals: When considering how to control food cravings, it is worth concentrating on protein, as it is one of the primary macronutrients that keeps you full for a longer time. It is learned that a high-protein breakfast can help reduce savoury cravings after a meal. Consider including protein-rich healthy snacks like chicken salad or paneer carrot salad in your diet. 
  4. Opt for low-carb diets: Eating a diet that is low in carbohydrates may help reduce sweet cravings as well as the urge to eat unhealthy fats. 
  5. Avoid reaching high hunger levels: When you don’t supply food to your body for a long time, blood sugar levels can drop. The decreased glucose levels can activate the brain to crave high-calorie foods, including inducing sugar cravings
  6. Go easy on the rules: A flexible approach to eating behaviour and discouraging rigid commitment to a diet may lead to better weight loss. This could be linked to the fact that stringent deprivation of certain foods can make you crave them, and you could end up indulging later on. 
  7. Watch your stress levels: Being stressed for a period of time may inspire you to seek rewards in the form of food, indicating high food cravings. This could also lead to stress-related weight gain.  
  8. Sleep well: A study reported that when you have a disturbed sleep cycle, it can lead to increased food cravings and associated weight gain. Moreover, lack of sleep may also result in intense cravings at night.  


Food cravings are of different types and are often a result of the convergence of several parameters, including emotions and the type of diet consumed. However, cravings can be managed with the right choice of nutrients and lifestyle modification. It could be of help to try the tips mentioned above to control food cravings and switch to a more wholesome eating pattern.