What Actually Causes Cravings (And What To Do About It)

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Just about everyone deals with cravings from time-to-time, especially when actively trying to lose weight.

How to combat cravings isn’t necessarily as simple as just relying on willpower and ignoring them. This article will walk you through potential causes of your cravings – and what to do about them. It’s probably not what you think.

Gather Info

The details about your cravings can tell you a lot about what they mean and how to address them. Ask yourself:

  • What are the cravings for? (Specific food? Type of food?)
  • When do you get them? (Certain time of day? Day of the week?)
  • How often do you get these cravings? (Daily? Weekly? Only after a certain situation?)
  • How do you feel when these cravings hit? (Are they linked to a certain emotion?)

If you’re not sure, jot down those questions and take notes over the next few days to learn as much as you can about your cravings.

Common Causes

Cravings can be due to a plethora of causes but I’ll review a handful of common ones below:


If you find yourself craving snack foods to which you have easy access and only while you’re not doing anything else, they might just be the product of boredom.

See if staying occupied or distracted by non-food tasks does the trick.

Go for a walk, make a phone call, take a shower, see how you’re feeling in 15-30 minutes.

It may be that the craving has passed and wasn’t indicative of anything deeper than a surface level, “I’m not doing anything, might as well eat.”

Additionally, set yourself up for success by employing the tips in this article about cutting down on junk food.

The remaining causes I’ll outline below may be a bit less obvious:

Eating Too Little

When my weight loss coaching clients complain of nightly cravings – or worse, frequent nighttime binging – one of the first questions I ask is about what they eat during the day.

Often, they are grossly under-eating all day but then feel like the wheels come off after dinner and they can’t (or do, but barely) resist the cravings.

If this sounds familiar, my advice is to increase your intake earlier in the day and see if that affects your nightly cravings.

While eating breakfast isn’t mandatory, many women find that if they’ve been skipping breakfast, starting to eat it can make a big difference.

If you currently eat breakfast, make sure you’re getting sufficient protein (20-30g or about a palm-sized portion). This can go a long way toward helping you feel satiated throughout the day.

If you’re unsure about how much you’re eating, I strongly suggest conducting a food audit


Not sure how much you should be eating if you’re trying to lose weight? This article will get you squared away. 

Depriving Yourself

If you restrict a certain food group or type of food, but then find yourself craving those things later on, try easing up on the restrictions to see if that thwarts the cravings.

As a weight loss coach, I see this commonly with women on low-carb diets; they’ll avoid carbs like the plague all the way through dinner and then polish off all the chips, cookies, and ice cream they can get their hands on at the end of the night.

Better to have a modest indulgence preemptively than to continue with the cycle of restricting and then succumbing to cravings.

Indulging Too Much

The flip side of being too restrictive is being too lax.

Think back to the last time you went on vacation and indulged your every craving. Buffet breakfast, cocktails for lunch, dessert every night.

Odds are, when you came home, even though you couldn’t wait to get back to a healthier diet, you also noticed some pretty intense cravings.

Some of this was likely due to how much you’d been giving in recently. Even though you don’t necessarily feel good about yourself afterward, those tasty foods & drinks are, well, tasty, in the moment and your brain’s reward center wants more.

If this is the case, you may find it more helpful to (temporarily) quit those foods cold-turkey. It might make for a rough few days as you transition back to a style of eating that makes you feel better mentally and physically. But that will be temporary and give your taste receptors a chance to regulate back to your normal foods and stop demanding allll the sugar. (That’s a very simplified overview.)

It’s likely that after this sort of wash-out period, your cravings will subside since the memories of the sugar-fat-salt trifecta aren’t in as recent history.

(Just a reminder, I am not advocating for a strict cleanse, detox, or anything of the sort. Simply that if you have been indulging a lot and have noticed an uptick in cravings as a result, sometimes the best course of action is a brief hiatus from those foods until the cravings pass.)

Strive for Progress

Remember to not expect to go from tons-of-cravings to no cravings overnight. These things take time and patience. You will not be perfect from your first attempt (or ever, really.) All you can do is strive to do a little bit better each day. Over time, those little bits add up into major progress.

As always, feel free to reach out to me or apply for me to be your weight loss coach if I can help!


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