The Best Tips to Combat Food Cravings

Some people use food as a way to deal with situations that make them anxious. Learn more in this article.
The Best Tips to Combat Food Cravings

Last update: 29 October, 2021

Right now, many people are looking for ways to combat food cravings. This problem, also known as “emotional hunger,” has become a trigger for other health disorders, such as for overweight and obesity. Is it affecting you, too?

At first, feeling the need to eat something in the midst of a difficult or stressful situation may seem normal. However, when this habit occurs frequently, your health, body weight, and quality of life can be affected.

Food cravings: Symptoms that can help you recognize them

As explained in a study reported in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, food cravings and the anxiety to eat is a tendency to eat food excessively in response to negative emotions.

It usually goes hand in hand with concern about body weight, since most people tend to be overweight or obese as a result of this problem.

In turn, the fact of being overweight influences the difficulties to control this behavior. The frustration of not being able to lose weight added to the problems of self-esteem and lack of self-control are factors that worsen this condition.

However, how does it manifest itself?

Overall, the main symptoms of food cravings are the following:

  • The need to turn to food every time you go through an episode of sadness or overwhelm.
  • Binge eating – that is, eating food compulsively to the point of feeling sick.
  • Eating until you’re overly full.
  • Feeling guilt or anguish after eating.
  • Snacking uncontrollably between meals.
  • Becoming obsessive about food. This is usually either thinking about what time the next meal will be, or planning future healthy meals to compensate for the excesses.
  • Making late-night trips to the fridge.

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Tips to combat food cravings

Learning to recognize the triggers of food anxiety is the first step to combat it. In this sense, it’s necessary to identify the situations in which the uncontrollable desire to eat appears. For example, you may feel it more after going through conflicts in a relationship, during long working days, new challenges, financial pressures, among others.

This is important because it allows you to recognize the problem and address them appropriately. Sometimes, it’s necessary to seek the help of a psychologist, because not always have enough resources to deal with these triggers of anxiety. Anyway, it is possible to implement some strategies.

Ansiedad por comer en una mujer.
Eating anxiety can occur at any time, leading to eating food in unusual places.

Keep a food diary

One of the strategies proposed by professionals at the Mayo Clinic to combat food anxiety and food cravings is to keep a daily record of the food consumed. In this sense, it is ideal that you write down what you eat, how much you eat, and at what times you do it.

The purpose of this diary is to identify the triggers of emotional eating. In fact, the information gathered can be useful when you consult a doctor or nutritionist.

Exercise regularly

Regular physical activity has many benefits for both your physical and mental health. Whether it’s walking, jogging, going to the gym, or playing any sport, its effects are healthy both in the short and long term.

An article published in BMC Health Services Research concludes that physical exercise programs are a viable treatment option for anxiety. Staying active helps to halt the secretion of cortisol and norepinephrine, hormones related to anxiety.

Also, exercise contributes to the release of serotonin and endorphins, known to induce a state of well-being. Incidentally, this habit is positively associated with healthy eating patterns and the regulation of ghrelin, also known as the “hunger hormone.”

Follow a healthy diet

A healthy diet provides all the essential nutrients in the right measure. It’s not about restricting food groups. On the contrary, it’s about including “a little bit of everything,” but being aware of the importance of choosing high quality foods.

Generally speaking, make sure you eat the following regularly:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Lean meats
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes

On the other hand, try to limit your intake of ultra-processed foods, fried foods, fizzy drinks, soft drinks, industrial pastries, ice cream, sweets, or any product of low nutritional quality that may represent a “temptation”.

Also, respect meal times and moderate portions. If you’re going to have snacks between meals, opt for healthy snacks, such as fruit, natural yogurt, and nuts.

Meditate to reduce stress and combat food cravings

Learning to meditate can be quite useful when it comes to combating food cravings. This practice not only helps to recognize emotions but induces a state of relaxation that helps to control emotions.

In turn, as a study shared in Eating Behaviors states, practices ms such as mindfulness help in the treatment of binge eating disorders and emotional eating.

You don’t need to be an expert to reap the benefits. While it may seem tedious to practice at first, over time, it becomes a simple habit. There are free programs on sites like YouTube to learn how to meditate. There are also mobile applications and online courses.

Meditación para no tener ansiedad por comer.
The act of meditating can be an important help to stop the impulses that generate excessive hunger and food cravings.

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Other recommendations to combat food cravings

Beyond the above, there are other simple ways to cope with anxiety about eating. For example, keep in mind the following:

  • Increase your water intake: This not only keeps you hydrated but also helps to maintain a feeling of satiety.
  • Eat plenty of fiber: This nutrient maintains good digestive health. Plus, as a publication in Appetite explains, it’s also useful for controlling energy intake and promoting satiety.
  • Manage life’s unexpected stressors and setbacks: Our fast-paced lifestyle is a very recurrent trigger of anxiety and emotional eating. It’s important to learn to manage your time and the unexpected events of the day. Planning tasks is a good idea to optimize your time. In addition, if something out of the ordinary happens, it’s a good idea to postpone your less important tasks for the next day.
  • Work on your self-esteem: This is a key pillar to reduce anxiety levels and the need to eat excessively. Strong self-esteem goes hand in hand with more security, self-confidence, and self-control. To work on it, it’s a good idea to identify your strengths, applaud your small achievements, and take time for yourself.

Are you trying to combat food cravings?

Responding to negative emotions with food can have a number of physical and mental health consequences. It’s not just weight gain and obesity, but other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and depression.

Therefore, it’s a problem that shouldn’t be overlooked, even if it seems normal at first. For many people, the best option is to seek psychological help, as a professional can help identify the triggers of anxiety and the best solutions.

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  • Frayn M, Livshits S, Knäuper B. Emotional eating and weight regulation: a qualitative study of compensatory behaviors and concerns. J Eat Disord. 2018;6:23. Published 2018 Sep 14. doi:10.1186/s40337-018-0210-6
  • Aylett E, Small N, Bower P. Exercise in the treatment of clinical anxiety in general practice – a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Health Serv Res. 2018;18(1):559. Published 2018 Jul 16. doi:10.1186/s12913-018-3313-5
  • Katterman, S. N., Kleinman, B. M., Hood, M. M., Nackers, L. M., & Corsica, J. A. (2014). Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: A systematic review. Eating Behaviors, 15(2), 197–204.
  • Kristensen M, Jensen MG. Dietary fibres in the regulation of appetite and food intake. Importance of viscosity. Appetite. 2011 Feb;56(1):65-70. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2010.11.147. Epub 2010 Nov 27. PMID: 21115081.