What Makes Us Hungry? How To Manage Cravings?

August 5, 2019


There is no simple answer. 

Let's look at satiety first.

Satiety is what we experience after eating a meal or snack. Normal satiety involves not only feeling full after sufficient intake, but also experiencing the need to limit consumption until the next time we get hungry. [1,2] Our brain controls this feeling in response to the following:

  • Feelings of fullness from the distention of the stomach after eating,

  • Sufficient amount of glucose entering the bloodstream,

  • Increased quantities of stored fat tissue,

  • Psychological factors ranging from high stress levels to feeling upset or bored,

  • Physical activity levels,

  • Pleasure from eating [3]

And while most people stop eating when they’re satiated, others may continue to indulge long after the body signals it’s full.[2] This is where food cravings come in.


What causes cravings?


Cravings are the products of signals from the brain regions responsible for pleasure, memory, and rewards. 

There are a number of other factors that have also been linked to cravings:

  • Hormonal imbalance or changes. An imbalance of hormones such as leptin and serotonin are known to cause food cravings. There’s also the possibility that cravings result from endorphins continuing to flow through the body after eating. This can encourage an addictive relationship with certain foods. Pregnant women may also experience food cravings due to hormonal changes occurring during this time.

  • Desire for comfort or stability. We’ve all heard the term “emotional eating.” Succumbing to food cravings—especially those involving foods that are high in salt, fat, or sugar—may bring comfort to some individuals when they feel stressed or anxious.[4,5]

  • Sweet cravings. Like sex and drugs, consuming sugar stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that gives us a sense of euphoria and controls the reward and pleasure centers in the brain. In fact, sugar-related bingeing, craving, tolerance, and withdrawal have more neural activation in the brains of rats than cocaine.[6]

  • Nutrient deficiencies. There is some data suggest we may experience cravings for foods that contain whatever it is the body is lacking. 


The cravings can be either selective or non-selective in nature. Selective cravings are for specific foods, like a greasy burger or a slice of rich chocolate cake.

Non-selective cravings represent a desire to eat or drink anything—and they could be the result of real hunger or thirst. 


What are some strategies for overcoming cravings?


  •  Stay with nutrient -dense foods. Eating more protein, healthful fats, colorful produce, and whole grains throughout the day will keep your hunger in check without triggering a    potential craving.

  • Relax. Getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and engaging in other stress-relieving activities can help reduce our food cravings. Most people will stop eating for comfort when they find comfort in other parts of their lives. Find joy in your life and not on your plate.

  • Stick with moderation. Learn to control our portions and indulge in a small treat from time to time. We can replace our cravings with healthier alternatives. For example, instead of reaching for a sugar-laden, fruit-flavored carton of yogurt, opt for the plain alternative and sweeten it yourself with fresh fruit, all-natural honey, or pure maple syrup.

  • Avoid getting too hungry.You shouldn’t experience constant hunger on a healthful diet. When the body is hungry, it may crave higher-calorie foods like fried or processed items. As a result, frequent hunger can make cravings even worse.[4],[5]

  • Avoid sweets. Sugar has addictive effects on the brain.Like sex and drugs, consuming sugar stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that gives us a sense of euphoria and controls the reward and pleasure centers in the brain. Sweets-related bingeing, craving, tolerance, and withdrawal cause more neural activation in the brains of rats than cocaine.[6]

  • Plan your meals. By already knowing what you're going to eat, you eliminate the factor of spontaneity and uncertainty, and limit cravings.

  • Practice mindful eating. Be present while you eat, slow down and chew thoroughly to allow your brain receive appropriate signals that you are full. It is also important to avoid distractions, like the TV or your smartphone.[7]

  • It is essential to drink enough water throughout the day, and before you eat.

  • Distract yourself. Step away from the fridge the next time a craving hits, and engage in a non-food-related, pleasure-inducing activity instead. We might stretch our muscles, spend time with family, or listen to music.[8]

  • Replace sweets with healthy snacks.

While these strategies can help us manage our cravings, they aren’t our only options.


For more recommendations on healthy lifestyle please make an appointment with

Dr.Val Koganski by calling 215-750-7000, or online https://www.NewtownInternalMedicine.com



  1. Fesler K. The Craving Brain. https://now.tufts.edu/articles/craving-brain. Tufts University – Tufts Now. Accessed May 20, 2019.

  2. Encyclopedia Britannica Staff. Satiety | Physiology. https://www.britannica.com/science/satiety. Britannica. Accessed May 20, 2019.

  3. British Nutrition Foundation Staff. Understanding satiety: feeling full after a meal. https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/fuller/understanding-satiety-feeling-full-after-a-meal.html. British Nutrition Foundation. Accessed May 20, 2019.

  4. Johnson J. What causes food cravings? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318441.php. Medical News Today. Accessed May 20, 2019.

  5. Magee E. The Facts About Food Cravings. https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-facts-about-food-cravings. WebMD. Accessed May 20, 2019.

  6. Connecticut College. “Are Oreos addictive? Research says yes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 October 2013. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131015123341.htm (Accessed August 2, 2019)

  7. Kristeller JL, et al. An Exploratory Study of a Meditation-based Intervention for Binge Eating Disorder. J Health Psychol. 1999 May;4(3):357-63. doi: 10.1177/135910539900400305.
















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