Understanding the Difference Between Hunger and Craving

Understanding the Difference Between Hunger and Craving




Caused by

physical needs

physical or psychological needs

If you wait it out…

will not go away

will go away

Over time…

it will intensify

it will not change

Will stop if…

you eat something

you eat the craved food

Signs and symptoms

stomach growls, pangs, hollow feeling, fogginess, lack of concentration, headache, fatigue

preoccupation with craved food, irritation if craving is not satisfied


low blood sugar, going for too long of a period of time without food

emotions, associations, hormones, physical needs, memories


Tips for standing strong against unhealthy food cravings:

  • Eat when you first start to feel physically hungry. If you have difficulty determining whether or not you are physically hungry, learn more about mindful eating (also known as intuitive eating).
  • Do not label some foods as “good” and others as “bad.”
  • Learn about and practice stress reduction techniques.
  • Choose filling foods such as broth-based soups, fruits, vegetables, or popcorn (do not use too much butter!)
  • Pay attention to your emotions and cravings; the two are often linked.
  • Stay adequately hydrated; sometimes we misinterpret thirst as hunger.
  • Smelling sweet aromas, such as burning a cinnamon-bun candle, might eliminate cravings for sweets.
  • Pay attention to how fast you are eating—slow down and be sure to chew your food thoroughly!
  • The first bite is usually the most satisfying; savor it and you might eat less overall.
  • Focus on your food! Do not watch television, check social media sites, or read a magazine while eating. Do not dine at your desk if not absolutely necessary.
  • Do not keep those unhealthy foods that you crave in your kitchen, your purse, your car, or your desk…avoidance is key!
  • Try a cup of hot tea or a mug of diet hot cocoa—the warmth might soothe you and decrease your craving.
  • Brush your teeth. It really works! You do not want a cookie when your breath is minty fresh.
  • Distract yourself for 10 minutes and the craving will probably dissipate. Ready, set, go…


References and recommended reading

10 ways to control your cravings. Reader’s Digest website. http://www.rd.com/health/healthy-eating/10-ways-to-control-your-cravings/. Accessed February 16, 2016.

Healthy eating: hunger vs. cravings. Family Education website. http://life.familyeducation.com/foods/nutrition-and-diet/44294.html. Accessed February 16, 2016.

Rubaum-Keller I. Is it hunger? Or a craving? Huffington Post website. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/irene-rubaumkeller-/hunger-or-craving-_b_3600091.html. Updated September 16, 2013. Accessed February 16, 2016.

Contributed by Elaine Hinzey RDN, LD/N

Review date: 2/13/16

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