How to manage Food Cravings!

Midnight ones? Sugar Cravings or just the need to binge onto something. Let’s figure out where they come from? How do we prevent them?… While trying to find scientifically backed answers to all these questions. I had another wild wild question in my head?

Do we really have any cravings at all?


Or is it our mind playing tricks? Do we really feel the need to eat something urgently? The answer is surprizingly YES & NO both at the same time.

Our mind does play tricks. We definitely do feel hunger, when our blood glucose falls beyond a point which forces us to hunt for food. But can we feel hungry for certain food items even after eating a wholesome meal or when our body doesn’t require that food. Is this kind of hunger driven by our survival instincts? The answer is a big NO. This is simply driven by our brain’s memory of how it felt while eating that food item. For eg: Chocolates: we all know how it feels to have the first bite and not being able to stop.

When we have something that we relish, it releases the feel good hormone: dopamine in the body. We can trick our mind into releasing the feel good hormones even with healthy nutritious food. This happens only if you pay absolute attention and appreciate every bite, chew it properly. This mechanism gets suppressed if you are eating in a hurry or dont relish every particle that goes into your mouth or eat while looking at the TV.

your mind talking to you

Davis, Kaplan, Kennedy & Carter showed that an appetite suppresant that blocked dopamine functioning was not effective in adults who screened positive for food addiction on the YFAS.1

“Wait a second, I am not a food addict ” isn’t that your first thought? ( Thing to note: Many of us who binge eat or can’t stop eating are borderline food addicts: Check it by answering the YFAS questionnaire.)


Ok food addict or no food addict. All of us try really hard to stop all these craving resorting to different methods. One of the famous methods is just having a cheat day in your diet plan. In a certain experiment, rats given a high fat low sucrose (sugar diet) intermittently craved for sugary substances more than the rats who were given low fat low sucrose diet. Surprise Surprise, No doubt you crave more when you limit yourself from eating these things or eat them at intermittent intervals.

This happens mainly because of sugar addiction. Fun Fact: Do you know that sugar activates the same receptors in our brain as drugs. Although the activation is low in intensitycompared to alcohol and drugs, thats where most of our sugar cravings come from. As if the cake or the carb loaded pizza or a sugary drink invites us, compels us to eat it.

As soon as we have that piece of cake, our blood sugar rises rapidly and our receptors, the opiod ones, register that level. Now to engage your body into a similar high, next time you would require a little more of that cake. Thats how the overeating cycle starts.

So do we give up on sugary drinks, Icecreams that we love, our all time favourite pizzas and that piece of cake.Are you already salivating at the mention of these items?

Repeat after me thats your brain- not your gut.

No, we don’t give those things up or make any life altering food choices. The withdrawals symptoms that you get for making the decision of removing sugar completely from your diet will do more damage than help you out. You might be wondering “the withdrawal symptoms ??” Yes the ones that chronic smokers, alcoholics and Drug addicts experience. Remember they stimulate the same pathway after all.

In a certain study using an FMRI to map the brain activation, particiants with three or more food addiction symptoms on YFAS was studied. Gearhardt and colleagues concluded that this pattern of increased activation in areas of the brain related to reward (anticipation of a chocolate milkshake) and decreased activation in areas related to inhibition is similar to that seen in substance dependence.2

The first step to a healthier lifestyle is to recognize the symptoms of drastically reducing your levels of unhealthy food intake. Markus and associates reported that among 1414 participants who reported experiencing at least one YFAS symptom in the past year, 9.5% endorsed “withdrawal-like” physiological effects in response to either high-fat savory foods (3.8%), high-fat sweet foods (2.8%), low-fat sugary foods (1.6%), or low-fat savory foods (1.3%). The self-reported “intensity” of withdrawal symptoms were significantly greater for high-fat savory and high-fat sweet foods compared to low-fat sugary foods (ps < 0.05). 3

Withdrawal symptoms of Sugar, Loaded Carbs, Fatty Food items

So what’s an easy way out. Remember we talked about the blood sugar spike. Let’s try and control that.

  1. Portion Control: Take a smaller plate, a smaller bite. Keep that piece of chocolate longer in your mouth where you can taste it. Instead of gulping it down. Remember the taste sensation that your brain registers is from the taste buds in your mouth. the longer to keep food there, the fuller you will feel. And last enjoy what you are eating without any guilt.
  2. Take your time: Take a tiny weeny bite, go around finish some work and come back 15 minutes later for another one. Your appetite for that food item will diminish because your gut would have signalled the brain by then that its received the required food. Hormones like leptin will take over and stop you from eating more of that item or craving it.

Following these techniques will prevent the blood sugar from rising too high at a given point and will keep your dopamine and opiod receptors in check. Once you continue this for a while, the receptors will become sensitive to minor levels of blood sugar eliminating cravings & the need to binge eat.

Now this method can work only if you recognize all the sources of sugars in your diet. Let me list them for you.

  1. Carbonated drinks
  2. Items that have added sugars- Icecreams, Chocolates, Cakes, Pastries, anything that taste sweet
  3. Items that a processed and have a good shelf life- usually these are high in fats and a lot of salts are used for an improved shelf life, High fat- low sugar combination increases cravings4
  4. Incidences where you combine fats & Sugars together- Having a full Dal, Chawal, Roti, Bhaji meal. Chawal and Rotis ( wheat ones) are broken down easily into sugars in our body. Hence after eating loads of rice, or many rotis we feel sleepy.

Most traditional food combinations have a balanced amount of proteins, fibres, carbs and fat. But most of the time we tend to overeat or selectively eat to satiate our taste buds throwing this balance off.

Once you recognize the sources, the idea is to eliminate the non- essential ones slowly by the above methods and limit the essential ones to the quantity our body needs to function.

Inspite of all this, allow yourself to indulge every once in a while. But Remember Indulge in Bits & Pieces



  1. Davis, C.; Levitan, R.D.; Kaplan, A.S.; Kennedy, J.L.; Carter, J.C. Food cravings, appetite, and snack-food consumption in response to a psychomotor stimulant drug: The moderating effect of ‘food-addiction Frorrt. Psychos. 2014.5.403. [CrossRef] ]PubMed]
  2. Gearhardt, A.N; Yokum, S; Neural correlates of food addiction. Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 2011,68,808-816 [CrossRef] ]PubMed]
  3. Markus, C.R; ROgers,PJ; Eatign Dependence and weight gain: no human evidence for a sugar addiction model of overweight. Appetite 2017,114,64-72 [CrossRef] ]PubMed]
  4. Adams, W.K; Sussman,J.L; LOng term calorie restricted intake of high fat diet in rats reduces impulse control and ventral strital D2 receptor signaling – two markers of addiction vulnerability. Eur. J. Neurosci 205, 42, 3095-3104 [CrossRef] ]PubMed]

Published by hemaliphysio

Ortho & Sports Physio, The Movement Analyst

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