All of us have food cravings from time to time. But finding yourself in the pantry or at the drive-up window might have more to do with your mood than your actual need for food.

It could be that you’re using food to deal with stress, boredom, anger, loneliness, or a host of other emotions. Or you may be struggling with a food addiction. In either case, indulging in such cravings usually means seeking out foods which are high in calories and fat.

So how can you tell if you’re experiencing a craving, or if you’re truly hungry and need to eat? Here’s how you can recognize the difference:

Hunger usually occurs when you haven’t eaten for several hours. Your body will send one of several signals when your stomach is getting empty, anything from growling/gurgling belly sounds to headaches or feeling light-headed. Hunger is the body’s way of telling you that you need fuel, and hunger doesn’t pass with time. When you feel true hunger, you’ll most likely seek out nutritious foods (not candy or cake).


Cravings, on the other hand, can masquerade as hunger. They push you to eat particular comfort foods—chocolate, sweets, fatty foods—even though your body doesn’t need more fuel. Satisfying these cravings can feel good at first, but often leads to feelings of guilt. Cravings may be even stronger when you’re “dieting” or giving up your favorite foods. The good news is that cravings do pass with time when you resist them. Distract yourself when craving the wrong foods by engaging in some activity. Another option might be to fulfill that craving with a small amount of something healthy. For example if you’re craving sweets, how about a handful of grapes or a few slices of mango?

Self-awareness is key in distinguishing between hunger and cravings. By getting back in tune with your hunger and satiety signals and paying attention to what/why you eat, you’ll soon be on the road to a much healthier lifestyle.

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(Photos from VisualHunt)

Cyd Notter

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Cyd Notter
Cyd Notter is a graduate of the Center for Nutrition Studies, a past newspaper columnist, and a certified instructor for several dietary therapy courses (The Starch Solution, Food Over Medicine, and Women’s Health). As the author of The “Plan A” Diet: Combining Whole Food Plant Based Nutrition with the Timeless Wisdom of Scripture, Cyd illustrates the correlations between biblical principles and healthy eating, and provides readers with effective strategies for taking an active role in their health. She offers a variety of educational and cooking classes, provides nutritional coaching on both individual and corporate levels, and speaks to local groups. She’s currently developing an online Transformation System in order to help those struggling with chronic health or weight issues to finally achieve long-term success. She and her husband live in Illinois, where they enjoy outdoor activities, classic movies, and old Volkswagens.