How to Tell the Difference Between Hunger and Cravings

How to Tell the Difference Between Hunger and Cravings

Have you ever noticed when you have a strong craving for food, it’s usually not because you’re actually hungry? We all have cravings from time to time, and I doubt you’d be surprised to hear pizza, chocolate, chips, and cookies are at the top of the list! If you’re having a hard time saying ‘no’ to temptation, this article may provide some helpful tips for separating your cravings from real hunger and give you the power to practice more self-control.

What are Cravings?

Food cravings are defined as “an increased eating motivation directed at a food item”. When it comes to cravings, it’s not just about being hungry, it’s craving a specific food item.

It’s possible to have food cravings for all types of foods, even healthy foods. In some cases, cravings for healthy foods could be your body trying to tell you it needs more of a specific vitamin, mineral, or nutrient.

However, most food cravings are for highly processed, sugary, or fatty foods that aren’t good for us when enjoyed in large quantities. If you find it difficult to say ‘no’ to your cravings, it might be time to start practicing more self-control.

Craving vs. Hunger

Are you experiencing cravings or real hunger? The first step to managing your cravings is being able to determine when you’re actually hungry. Read the chart below to learn how to determine the difference between cravings and hunger.



Usually for comfort foods like chocolate, sweets, or fatty foods

Not just for one specific food

Often associated with emotions like stress, anger, sadness, loneliness, boredom, or anxiety

Based on physical need - can result in rumbling stomach, headache, or feelings of weakness

Can occur recently after you’ve eaten

Usually occurs when you haven’t eaten for a few hours or more

Pass with time

Doesn’t pass with time

Lead to eating that makes you feel good at first, but guilty later

Can be satisfied by a healthy snack or meal, that won’t lead to guilt later.

How to Control Cravings

Once you’ve learned how to determine if you’re experiencing real hunger or cravings, it’s up to you to decide what to do. It’s okay to enjoy a treat every now and again, so try not to be too hard on yourself or feel guilty when you do. However, if you find yourself indulging too often, that’s when it’s time to step in and make some changes.

1. Keep Your Home ‘Problem Food’ Free

One of the easiest ways to stop yourself from eating ‘problem foods’ is not keeping them in the house at all. We all have those foods where if we know they’re there, we will eat them. For some, it’s chips, other’s it’s soda, ice cream, frozen pizza, you name it! Save these treats for a special occasion, and don’t stock them in your house like regular groceries.

2. Replace Items You Crave with Similar but Healthier Options

If you’re having a hard time letting go of your cravings, it can help to fill the void with similar but healthier options. For example, if you love soda, but are missing a bubbly drink in your life, try a healthier choice like sparkling water with a splash of lime. It may not be the same as a sugary soda, but it is a refreshing alternative, that you’ll learn to enjoy more and more over time. Every time you choose the healthier option over your cravings, you prove to yourself that you have the willpower to say ‘no’ to cravings.

3. Keep Moving Forward

It may be harder than you think to cut your cravings cold turkey. If you’re new to practicing self-control, go easy on yourself. If and when you do give in to your cravings, keep moving forward. It’s easy to let one slip up take you down a spiral of guilty indulgences. Instead, remind yourself that one treat won’t change your progress, it’s your long-term habits and overall healthy lifestyle that make the biggest difference, so keep your cool and keep moving forward.

Interested in learning more about cravings and strategies to gain control over them? Check out our podcast episode: Are You Hungry or Craving? For more tips and tricks!

Difference Between Hunger and Cravings Infographic
Difference Between Hunger and Cravings Infographic

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  • skip paolella

    thanks your reminder on snacks or craving because of hunger or just craving was great, a gentle reminder that exercise alone can t do it all for you….