8 Secrets to Control Cravings and Evening Eating

Cravings vs. Hunger: What are the Differences?

How to control cravings is the key to successful weight loss and maintenance. Cravings are defined as an “intense desire to eat a specific food. A majority of people surveyed have experienced cravings. Learning to control cravings does not have to be difficult even though the frequency, strength, and types of food cravings have been found to differ:

  1. Between men and women
  2. During the menstrual cycle
  3. Often with increasing BMI- overweight and obese people have more intense and specific cravings

It is the intensity (sometimes overwhelming attempts at control) and specificity (often for carbs but also for salty and fatty foods) that differentiates food cravings from feelings of plain hunger. Although food cravings and hunger occur together, one does not need to be hungry to experience food cravings. Food craving experiences are common and reported by the majority of adults. Although individuals with abnormal eating patterns and those who are overweight may experience cravings, they can also be present in “normal” eating and normal weight individuals.

Cravings for sweet or salty foods and snacks rather than true hunger are the major evening eating problems.  Nothing can sabotage a weight loss plan like loss of control of food intake during the evening. Research has found that  hedonic hunger(eating for pleasure) far exceeds energy deficit(lack of food)  eating when it comes to eating between the evening meal and bedtime. Cravings, a need for certain pleasure producing foods(usually sweets or salts)  is strongly influenced by the availability and palatability of the food in the home. If the food is easy to get, cheap and pleasing its the first thing most people focus  on.

Researchers Have Various Theories About the Causes of Food Cravings

  1. Cravings represent a learned appetite for high calorie foods that develops through the continued eating of particular foods when hungry.
  2. Often foods that are craved stimulate dopamine release from the brain. This produces calmness and pleasure similar to the way cocaine, heroin and, alcohol produce pleasurable feelings.
  3. Signals from the environment—smell, sight, and even sounds (like crackling of popcorn or chips)—stimulate the need to repeat prior pleasurable experiences whether hungry or not. This is classical conditioning. Much like how the sound of a bell triggered Pavlov’s dogs to salivate, certain activities, people, and places can trigger you to crave certain foods.
  4. Physiological Cravings: occur during pregnancy and menstruation. Also, normal adults often crave salt because of adrenal dysfunction. individual food preferences have a lot to do with a person’s upbringing and their genetics. Chances are if you’re exposed to something as a young child, you’ll be less averse to it as an adult. But sometimes you just don’t have it in you to like a certain food One recent study presented at the European Society of Human Genetics conference found that “people’s preferences for foods like coffee, artichokes, bacon, dark chocolate, blue cheese, and, yes, broccoli, are actually linked to variants in different specific genes.” How much salt or sugar a person eats may also be affected by genetics, according to other research presented at the conference.
  5. Stress, anxiety and depression often signal need for specific food that has been found in past experience to produce calmness.
  6. Monotonous diet programs often stimulate cravings for foods restricted by the diet.

Once you know the “why” behind your food cravings, you can begin to actively fight them. Remind yourself, “My body doesn’t need this food. I have conditioned myself to crave this food, and I can condition myself to stop.”


Many Factors Triggers Cravings: Including both External and Internal factors:

1. Seeking food because it’s “time to eat”–lunchtime or dinner, visual clues such as smells or TV ads
2. Eating because it reduces fear, anxiety and depression-people will often eat  without a conscious feeling of hunger. They have learned over years  that the physical act of eating reduces many negative feelings.
3. Eating when thirst is the driving feeling or often low blood sugar.
4. Eating when food has been absent for a period to time. 

Hormonal Factors Encourage Eating

There are many hormonal factors that interact with many pleasure producing foods that provoke the wish to eat in the absence of real hunger. A similar system accounts for much of the pleasure from alcohol and drugs-both legal and legal.  Receptors in our brains interact with external stimuli including foods, drugs and alcohol to produce pleasure producing neurochemicals as outlined below.

Uncontrolled cravings can be reduced by substituting “look-a-likes”–foods and drinks which look similar with similar taste, smell and texture that also stimulate the release of peptides but without the high calories and high carbs. This is outlined in the above figure.

Avoiding Trigger Foods to Control Cravings

Avoid trigger foods for 30 days. Your brain has a great memory! If you really want to control cravings, one of the best ways is to avoid eating those foods for a set period of time. This isn’t easy because you will go through a withdrawal process, but it’s critical you stick to it if you want to kick the habit. The good thing is that you only have to do this for about 4 weeks Find healthier options to grab when you’re craving chocolate, sweets, cheese or chips. Try foods like low-glycemic index smoothies and desserts, fresh fruits and other vegetables. Keep these healthy foods on hand, and try to think about it like you’re adding in, rather than taking out. Your brain will actually change over time. Your body will start to crave the healthy, whole foods once you begin to make them your new habit. The junk just won’t taste the same! If you have changed from whole milk to low fat milk a few years ago, think how whole milk tastes now!

Dr. Lipman’s  8 Simple Techniques to Control Evening Cravings

1. If it’s not in the house you cannot eat it!
2. Limit major carbs-pasta, potatoes, beans, rice which produce hunger in several hours
3. Limit alcohol which limits inhibitions and produces hunger
4. Shorten the interval from dinner to bedtime—this reduces the available time to eat pleasure producing foods.
5. Make sure you have enough food for dinner. This prevents actual hunger latter in the evening.
6. Limit eating to periods of true hunger-if possible.
7. Substitute the high calorie, high carb snacks with the “look-a-likes” that have no or almost no carbs, low calories and easy portion control.
8. If all else fails, try a medication such as Topamax, Proprion, Qsymia or Contrave to help block the cravings as outlined above.  Topamax is the best  medications for cravings. It is taken late in the afternoon and thus helps with evening cravings.