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What Causes Food Cravings?

File Under: Things We Didn't Wanna Know — Food Cravings Are Basically All in Our Head

Smiling teen black curly hair girl looking to phone and eating chocolate snack in sunny street

If there's one thing I'm big on, it's giving into food cravings. The minute I get a craving of any kind, I must indulge it. When I'm hungover or it's the week before my period, I'm an absolute demon when it comes to food, just ask my poor boyfriend.

What I've never really understood about cravings is why we get them, especially when it's 2 a.m. and I wake up salivating for hot chippies with chicken salt. Or why the minute someone mentions a certain food, I instantly have to fight the urge to order in on UberEats.

To learn more, we caught up with Head Dietitian at Amazonia, Tara Kaff, who explains what causes cravings, why we have more of them when we're hungover or on our period and how to combat them.

Scroll to read the full interview.

POPSUGAR Australia: Why do we crave certain foods?

Tara: There is no specific reason as to why we crave different foods. Cravings usually occur due to a drop in blood sugar levels or can be triggered by the regions of the brain responsible for memory and pleasure. If you can't stop thinking about those mouth-watering loaded fries you had last weekend, it's natural to feel a craving to eat them again. However, the connection between particular cravings linked to specific nutrient deficiencies is a myth most of the time. For example, there's no evidence to suggest that you craving chocolate means your body needs magnesium — that's a myth.

PS: So when we crave a particular food, it's not necessarily a sign that our diet is lacking in something?

Tara: When our blood sugars drop, meaning the carbohydrates that float around in our blood, we tend to crave highly palatable foods that contain high amounts of sugar or fat, often combined with salt and flavourings. If you're more of a savoury person, salty, greasy and fatty foods like hot chips and fast food might be your go-to. If you're a sweet tooth (like me) you'll likely be reaching for chocolate and lollies.

My favourite healthy sweet treat is a protein smoothie using Amazonia's Raw Protein Slim & Tone in Chocolate Caramel flavour. It's a low carb blend that tastes like heaven but is secretly packed with a powerful combination of thermogenic herbs, 74 trace minerals, essential amino acids, greens, Iron, Phosphorous, Zinc and more. The best part? It's specifically formulated to help boost metabolism, assist in reducing cravings, and support detoxification pathways in the body.

PS: How do we combat these cravings?


  1. Drink plenty of water: Did you know that your body's signs of hunger and thirst are pretty much the same? Thirst occurs when your body needs water. When you don't drink enough water, your body receives mixed signals on hunger, so your body tells you to eat when what you really need is a drink of water. Keep a bottle of water close to you at all times so it's easy for you to stay hydrated and try adding sliced fruit and fresh mint to spice it up.
  2. Stay active: When you exercise, there's an increase in blood flow that benefits your brain. This can be why you tend to feel more focused and energised post-workout. Many different neurotransmitters are also triggered, including endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. Exercising regularly will ensure you are getting a good dose of happy hormones, reducing the likeliness of reaching for sugar-heavy foods. As sugar cravings typically last for a few minutes, exercise is also a great way to distract yourself.
  3. Get enough Zzz's: Sleep is one of the most overlooked and underrated factors when addressing sugar cravings, metabolism issues and weight control. Ghrelin is commonly known as the 'hunger hormone' and controls our cravings for carbohydrates and sugars. When we have poor quality or lack of sleep for an extended period, our body makes more ghrelin, which can lead to an increase in unwanted sugar cravings.
  4. Choose your treats wisely: You could have all your main meals perfectly planned out and balanced — full of healthy protein, fats and carbohydrates — only to find yourself snacking uncontrollably or raiding the fridge for a post-dinner sweet fix. Try not to completely restrict yourself, as this can often lead to binge eating or over-consuming calories. The trick is to find healthy substitutes that work for you and will satisfy your cravings. Now that the weather's warming up, I like to whip up a homemade acai bowl using Amazonia's Acai Energy, which you can find in the freezer section at Woolworths. I blend it with frozen banana and coconut water and top it with a handful of my favourite granola. It hits the spot when I'm craving something sweet but healthy!
  5. Give into your craving: Sometimes, giving in to cravings is just as important as trying to manage them. Eating the foods you love is what life is all about. The less you restrict yourself from the foods you enjoy, the more you'll want them. Every now and again, it's perfectly OK to indulge on fast food or buy the doughnut that's been calling your name at the local bakery.

PS: Why do we have more cravings when we're hungover or on our periods?

Tara: When you're hungover, it's common to crave energy-dense foods. My professional judgement is that due to alcohol causing a drop in blood sugar, naturally, your body wants to increase those levels quite quickly. Signals are sent to your brain telling you to reach for high caloric foods. Let's be honest, after a night on the booze, you also tend to feel like rubbish, so I think it's about comfort eating more than anything else.

With female periods, we crave foods for a few reasons. Female bodies require more energy in the week leading up to their period — the general range of increased energy demands are 90-300 calories. The typical female doesn't eat enough on a normal day, so their cravings are heightened when their energy demands increase. Another reason is due to hormone fluctuations. Progesterone and oestrogen are believed to affect appetite. Oestrogen is high during the first 2 weeks of our cycle and some studies show that it's an appetite suppressant. When progesterone rises pre-period, it masks the effect of oestrogen — causing more hunger cues.

Image Source: Getty / Martin Novak
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