3 root causes behind food cravings and how to beat them

Is it possible to walk past a bakery without a craving? Even as a confirmed  doughnut addict, I’ve done it. You can too.

We’ve all had food cravings. They can really be murder when you’re on a diet. Dieting would be so much easier if the cravings were gone, wouldn’t it? Luckily, if we understand the causes of those cravings, we can do a lot to tame them.

I’ve found that cravings have three main causes.


Physical cravings – nutrient lack and blood sugar cycles

When the body doesn’t get what it needs, it triggers cravings. If a person continues to eat empty calories, the cravings will increase because it’s still not getting what it needs. This can develop into a vicious cycle and is really no fun to go through.

Also, if you eat a lot starches with no protein, your blood sugar will spike – then it will fall off rapidly, triggering more hunger.

Some foods also cause cravings by being too processed or having things in them that cause hunger signals in the body. Some people feel this effect from sugar free sweeteners, for instance.
Mental Cravings – Psychological addiction

A person can get used to eating certain things and really miss them when they are gone. That’s normal enough, but sometimes we can feel like our day isn’t complete without a certain food or drink. This can become a real problem if the food or drink is high calorie or bad for us. Think of the daily soda, the daily coffee with extra cream and sugar, the daily doughnut.
Emotional Cravings – self sabotage and emotional pitfalls

Sometimes we overeat because we are stressed. When we are depressed, we crave carbohydrates because they can affect our neurotransmitters and make us feel better. Sometimes we also fear success or don’t think we deserve to change ourselves for the better. This leads to self sabotage.
Do any of these phrases feel familiar? “I’ve earned this.” “I deserve this.” “One won’t hurt.” “One more won’t hurt.” “I’ve blown my diet for today anyway so I might as well have as much as I want.”

Knowing how cravings work, what can we do about them?
Fixes for Physical cravings:

Watch the types of things you eat. I’ve found that if I limit my starches in the morning and avoid sugar at the same time that I eat more protein, my day goes better and I don’t start the blood sugar spike/crash cycle. I don’t get hungry as often and I stay full longer.

Generally speaking, if you eat more protein than carbs, limit your starches, eat a variety of vegetables and legumes, get healthy fats, and avoid processed food, you will have fewer cravings. If your body is getting what it needs, it will have less reason to make you hungry at odd times.
Fixes for Mental cravings:

Fight habits with habits. Use the food craving as a reminder to have something else that’s similar, but better for you. You can help this along by making sure your healthier alternatives are made ahead and ready to grab, so it’s actually more work to get the bad stuff.

Replace your behaviors. Use short bursts of physical activity to give yoruself something to do. Maybe ten wall pushups and a glass of water, or a short walk, or a few jumping jacks in front of the TV. Distract yourself.

Don’t give up. If you slide, get back on plan as soon as possible. Chew gum to keep your mouth busy. Drink more water or tea. Don’t give up.
Fixes for Emotional cravings:

Look for the root cause of why you eat. If you eat because you are lonely, think about getting out more, volunteering, being more affectionate with your family. Journal to help clarify your thoughts. Be mindful of your emotions, watch what they do, and figure out if it’s food you really want, or if it’s something else.

When you do eat, do that mindfully too. Really experience the meal and enjoy it. Studies show that people who do that are more satisfied and eat less.

Meditation, hot baths, journaling and walking are all great ways to beat stress, and beat cravings along with them. Caring for a pet can help too.

Finally, work on your self talk. Practice positive thinking. That can include looking for solutions to problems instead of complaining, or stating things in a positive way instead of focusing on the absence of something. If you slip up and think negatively, redirect, forgive yourself, and move on.

Instead of “I need to lose weight,” you can say “I am gaining health.” Instead of “I’m a loser,” you can say “I’m becoming a winner.” Treat yourself like you would a valued friend.
Putting it all together

By understanding ourselves and our needs, setting small manageable goals and not giving up, success is nearly guaranteed. If you have a temporary setback, start again. You can always start again.


You can be successful in beating your cravings.

Success – step by step


It’s good to have goals.  Sometimes, no matter what we do, we fail at them and don’t think we can succeed. How does a person deal with that? We try and try and never get anywhere. This can happen with weight loss, creating a business, kicking a bad habit, writing a book. I’ve found that large goals are pretty hard to achieve unless you do it the right way.  I call this Incremental Success.  Here’s how.


Shift your Mindset

If you are going to succeed, it’s very important that you shift your mindset. You knew that, though, right? Easier said than done. The simplest way to do that is to take extra time out to focus on the successes you have made. Get better and better at doing that and soon it will be more natural to think of solutions before roadblocks, strategies instead of why you can’t do something.


Make Small Goals

Finally, keep your goals small. Keep your efforts incremental. That way you can notice and mentally celebrate whenever you achieve a step. Also notice those little non measurable aspects of success. In weight loss, for example, how it’s easier to get up off the floor after a few days of exercise, or maybe you are less winded after your walk.


Enjoy the Process

While you are not giving up and focusing on success, there’s a way to make it fun! Get interested in the process. The journey is as important as the destination. When you encounter a roadblock, you can almost make a game of thinking of ways around it. Get creative whenever possible. Accept that you will have failures and decide you will learn from them.


Don’t Give Up

Most successful people will agree that the main key to achieving goals is not giving up. That sounds incredibly obvious, but it’s also rather easy to do. Many of us give up by default. But persistence is the one thing that the greatest people in the world, past and present, share.

To continue with the weight loss example, here is how you might follow the incremental plan under this circumstance. It’s easy to see how this could translate to any long term goal.
First, shift your mindset and decide that you can lose weight. Focus on times in the past where you have shown self control. Prove to yourself in this way that it’s possible.

Next, instead of deciding “I am going to lose ten pounds” which seems like a reasonable goal, decide “I am going to cut 100 calories a day.” Or “I am going to take a fifteen minute walk every morning.”

Then, as you do this, notice all the small ways your new habit is benefiting you. Maybe you breathe a little easier. Maybe you feel a little better. Continue with new goals and keep them small.

Don’t give up. If you have a bad day, or even a lapse of a week, get back to it. Just stop giving up. Keep on doing it.

That is how you can achieve incremental success.


“Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.”

Sir Winston Churchill


“It is wonderful what great strides can be made when there is a resolute purpose behind them.”

Sir Winston Churchill

Don’t lose weight! Win Health!

I’m working on a weight loss program, based on a bunch of research, and it has me thinking.

I think sometimes our inner selves are freaked out by all the ‘loss words.’ Like “lose weight,” “drop pounds,” “lose fat,” etc. With all that losing, might it want to hold on to what it has? Focusing on loss might just sabotage our efforts.

I’ve heard it said that your inner self never hears negative modifiers, so you say ‘I’m not going to eat ice cream,” it thinks “I’m going to eat ice cream,” for example. I don’t know how true that is but I’ve been playing with the idea as a way of reframing my weight loss journey to be more positive.

For example, instead of focusing on losing weight, it might be helpful to think about how you are growing stronger. Instead of thinking about all the cookies you can’t have, you could think about how much better your body feels eating fresh fruit.

It’s so easy to be discouraged when the scale isn’t moving. But there are so many little wins you can focus on, when it comes to becoming healthier. There’s reduced pain, increased flexibility, increased strength, clothes fitting better, the nutrient rush from a healthy meal, the sense of accomplishment from taking care of yourself. This fitness journey isn’t about loss, it’s about winning!

How to win at losing weight

If you want to lose weight and gain health, there are three basic secrets to improve your mindset. Your healthy mindset is your most important ally in this journey. If you lose that, you will most definitely fail.

Set Goals – Know Why You Want It

There are two kinds of goals that are important – a big goal and many small ones. Your big goal is your vision. It’s what keeps you moving. It’s something you need to really, really want, because it is going to remind you of why you are doing all this, at times when you’re low and cravings are kicking your butt. For example, my big goal is that I want to be 150 pounds by age 40. I have 3 years to do it in. I have about 75 pounds to lose. I want to be fit, strong, able to bench a fair amount, and have awesome shoulders and arms. That’s the vision that keeps me going. Maybe your goal is a marathon, or to hike the Appalachian Trail.

Your small goals are critical too, they are the stepping stones that will get you to your big goal. For example, you might say “I will lose two pounds in two weeks.” Or “I will walk around the block without getting out of breath.” Every time you meet a goal, give yourself a pat on the back – that success will help you go farther.

Stay Positive – Focus on the Journey

If you can be mindful of all the little things there are to love about being healthy, and being on this journey, you will be more likely to continue. Even though weight can be slow to come off, there are a million good things that happen between each one pound mark. If you made a really tasty salad, savor every bite. If you feel good after walking, take a moment to enjoy it. If you feel your abs tighten more than usual, or notice a little more strength, celebrate it! Really focus on the good times.

If you learn to appreciate the process and each tiny victory, the lifelong changes you need to make will have a better chance to take hold.

Make it Easy for Yourself

The more convenient you can make your healthy habits, and the more inconvenient you can make your unhealthy ones, the better. So make sure your walking shoes are by the door, make sure you keep junk food out of the house, prepare healthy lunches on the weekend ahead of time, keep vegetables and nuts or whatever you want to use for snacks at hand. Where you can, buy colorful, appealing foods that attract the eye. Find exercise that you really enjoy, or at least that is tolerable. For instance, I like weight lifting so I do that more than I’ll run on a treadmill. Keep reminders of your goal around you, such as pictures of that race you want to run, or that trail you want to hike, or that bike you will buy when you meet your goal.

If you take a moment to make your healthy snacks and healthy activities more convenient, you will be less likely to grab junk food as you hurry to work.