How To Control Food Cravings


Ken Kronquist

Founder, CEO

Feb 12, 2024

If you ever felt like you had to have a particular food item, and couldn’t stop thinking about it, you’ve had a food craving. Food cravings are one of the most common obstacles in weight loss, but the good news is that there are research-proven ways to deal with them. We’ll review the top strategies from the latest research below. When you see numbers below like this (PMID: 28618170), you can google these numbers to read the studies we’re talking about.

Food Cravings and Hunger Are Different

It’s important to understand the difference between hunger and food cravings because they have different causes and solutions. Food cravings are an intense desire to eat a particular food (or type of food)”. Hunger is the physical drive to consume enough calories. Hunger can be satisfied by any food. Food cravings are only satisfied by a particular food.  If you are struggling with food cravings, read on. If you want advice on dealing with Hunger, see our post on How to Control Hunger for Weight Loss.

What Causes Food Cravings

There are many similarities between food cravings and addiction. In both cases, craving is a response that is learned in the brain by repeating a pleasurable experience. The more pleasurable and the more frequent the experience is, the stronger the craving will be. 

Food cravings can be extremely strong because, unlike drugs, you can’t stop eating. We eat multiple times per day and unfortunately, the typical American diet consists mostly of processed foods. One of the big problems with processed food is that it’s carefully designed through taste tests to maximize pleasure and trigger cravings. For the food industry, your cravings are their best form of marketing.

Once cravings are learned, they can be triggered by anything we associate with eating those foods. This can be the site or smell of the food. It can be a place, time, or activity that we associate with eating the food. Triggers can also be internal things like hunger or stress if we tend to eat the food frequently when we are hungry or stressed.

How to Reduce Food Cravings (According to Research)

A review of 8 different studies on food cravings found that depriving people of their foods increased food cravings in the short term (1-14 days). These studies found that if people could stick to a weight loss diet for an extended period  (12 weeks – 2 years), cravings for unhealthy foods decreased and cravings for healthy foods increased. An interesting finding was that the type of diet didn’t seem to matter. Diets with different portions of fat, protein, and carbs all helped people move their cravings in a healthy direction. (PMC7399671, PMID: 30144275, PMID: 28557246, PMID: 23010779) 

These studies are great news. They show that you can reprogram yourself to crave healthier foods. It just takes time. 

Because you need to sustain new eating habits for multiple months to change food cravings, we recommend that people prioritize a dietary approach that’s as easy as possible to stick to. There are a lot of highly restrictive diets that eliminate large groups of foods. These are often difficult to stick to. If eliminating all the foods you enjoy is likely to make you quit the diet, it’s better to pick a more flexible approach. 

Flexible Dieting

An alternative to diets that ban whole food groups is dieting that focuses on calorie and nutrient goals. With this approach, there are no banned foods, so people can have some of the foods they crave. When they do, they just need to balance that with other choices they make in the day. This can be especially helpful at the beginning of the diet when cravings are at their peak.

The key to reducing the craving over the course of the diet is to eat the craved food less frequently.  A study showed that people who ate crave-able foods less frequently saw their cravings decrease. People who ate smaller portions of craveable foods as often as they used to, saw no decrease in cravings.(PMID: 28618170) 

Reducing Triggers

Since cravings are often triggered by things you associate with the food, removing triggers can be a powerful way of reducing cravings quickly. The best way to not be triggered by a food item is to avoid bringing it home. If that’s not possible, the next best strategy is to keep the food out of site. Studies have shown this can make a big difference. For example, one showed people ate less candy when it wasn’t visible even if it was close by. (Google: PMID: 16418755). A third strategy is to increase the effort that it takes to eat the food item. The study above found that people ate the least candy when it was out of site and a person had to get up from their desk to eat it. You may still feel triggered by food that’s visible, and inconvenient, but the more you have to do before eating, the better chance you’ll have to resist.

For other types of triggers, like people, places, and activities you will need to think about what really triggers the craving, and you’ll need to change that thing. It might take some experimentation to find the true cause and what works, but the more you can the thing that triggers you, the less you’ll crave that item. 


Some things that make you crave foods, can’t be changed. If you are triggered by a time of day, feeling hungry, or feeling stressed, the best thing to do is find a healthier substitution for your favorite food. If you can pick a substitute that has some of what you like about the food you crave (taste, texture, flavor, etc.), it will reduce the craving and it will train you to crave the healthier substitute in that situation over time.  

Studies show our coaching approach is twice as effective as doing it on your own.