The Science Behind Your Food Cravings


Food cravings are caused by low blood sugar levels, stress, genetics, and many other factors. Individual food preferences are often linked to what type of foods they grew up with and our cultures. Dieting is hard and understanding the science behind food cravings is important to help you succeed with a diet.

What is a food craving? It is a hunger or desire to eat ice cream, chocolate, cake, potato chips, salsa with tortilla chips, hamburgers, shakes and fries. Often this craving leads to eating too much and food with high calories, fat, sugar, and salt. Controlling food craving helps us to lose and maintain weight loss.


Often when we are stressed at work we crave more sugary treats. According to studies taste buds on the tongue are activated under stress. They have taste receptor called glucocorticoids. These receptors are mostly for sweet foods like candy, cake, and baked goods. Some studies have shown that when shopping people like unhealthy foods when lights are dimmed and they play certain music in the store. When you are under stress, it is important to eat healthy snacks like nuts, yogurt with fruit, cheese, or crackers with peanut butter that maintain blood sugar levels.

Emotions and Your Food Cravings

Stressful emotions like anger, grief, and fear will give you food craving for sweet food and salty snacks. Food helps with depression and stress this is why people with chronic depression tend to binge on junk foods. This explains why dieting is hard because it is stressful and brings up powerful emotions. Often we crave junk food when dieting because of the emotions and stress that it brings.

A food craving is similar to a drug craving in the brain. This means three areas of the brain are activated.  They are the hippocampus, insula, and caudate areas of the brain associated with drug addiction. Your dopamine levels will stay high when you eat too much food high in fat and sugar.

According to David A. Kessler, MD. often people addicted to food think about it more than others. They do not feel satisfied when eating. They react more strongly than others to the smell of food due to the region of the brain that stays activated. 

Two Types of Hunger: Hedonistic Hunger & Homeostatic Hunger

Homeostatic Hunger

Women are more likely to have food craving than men and not have the ability of resist them. This is because the parts of the brain linked to food cravings are not as strong in men. There are different types of hunger according to researchers and scientists. When the stomach is grumbling it is your need for food and calories that is driving the cravings. This is called homeostatic hunger.

This type of hunger is driven by signals from the body and brain. It tells us that we need to eat to fuel our bodies. It tells us when the energy sources in the body are running low. The best way to get rid of this type of hunger is to eat healthy foods that satisfy the appetite. A diet with lean protein, fiber, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains helps with this hunger. Eating a satisfying amount of protein helps satisfy the appetite.  Protein foods are lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, cheese,, and dairy products.

Hedonistic Hunger

The second type of hunger is called hedonistic hunger. It is craving for highly tasty foods. These craving were developed many years ago. The problem is that with many people it is out of control. The more we eat sweet sugary foods the more the body craves it. It has more to do with pleasure than satisfying your hunger.

This type of hunger is harder to fight as most of the treats we desire have sugar. Ways to deal with this is not to buy large quantities of sweet and clear out your house and pantry. Another way is to eat something foods like a fruit salad, small portion of pudding or granola .When you eat treats keep them in small portion controlled sizes. This helps too.

Overall the science of hunger involves controlling hunger with reducing stress through exercise, adequate sleep, and  a healthy diet. Talking with your doctor asking why I have food cravings is a start. He can often recommend a healthy diet, supplements, and exercise that  will  help you lose weight sensibly.  This is a way to control cravings and lose weight the right way. 

By Joan Russell