food craving (also called selective hunger) is an intense desire to consume a specific food, and is different from normal hunger. 

What are emotional food cravings?

Many of us turn to food to relieve stress or cope with unpleasant emotions such as sadness, loneliness, or boredom.  Emotional hunger can’t be filled with food.  In fact, we often feel worse after eating than before. 

A recent study by Van Vuuren et al. (2018) showed emotional food craving impacted weight loss after weight loss surgery.  These cravings were so strong that they overcome a surgical procedure that shrank the stomach!

No matter how powerless you feel over food craving though, there is an answer.

  • Learn to identify emotional hunger and physical hunger

Emotional hunger comes on suddenly, craves specific comfort foods, leads to mindless eating, isn’t satisfied once you’re full, isn’t located in the stomach, and often leads to regret, guilt or shame.

  • Identify your triggers

Common causes are silencing emotions, boredom, feelings of emptiness, childhood habits, social influences and stress

  • Find other ways to feed your feelings

When you notice you are having emotional cravings identify the emotion associated with it and take action to address the emotion.  Lonely? Call someone.  Anxious? Turn on your favorite song. Exhausted? Take a nap.  Bored? Read a book.

  • Learn mindful eating

When you have a craving, put off eating for 5 minutes.  Work your way up from delaying for 1 minute.  Use this time to observe your feelings and to ask yourself what type of hunger you are really experiencing.  If it’s not physical hunger, decide on an action to take to address your emotion.

Bonus: How does sleep affect food craving?

Taste is influenced by factors from our environment, psychology, and our own physiological state.  A recent study showed taste is altered by lack of sleep.  In a study of college-age lack of sleep induced cravings for unhealthy high fat sweet foods.  It also intensified sour and umami flavors.  Lack of sleep also decreases your willpower!  So, aim for a full eight hours of sleep!

Need help overcoming your cravings and reaching your health goals?

Work with an OBF gym coach!


Janse Van Vuuren MA, Strodl E, White KM, Lockie PD. Emotional food cravings predict poor short-term weight loss following laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy. Br J Health Psychol. 2018 Feb 24. DOI: 10.1111/bjhp.12302.

Lv W, Finlayson G,  Dando R. Sleep, food cravings, and taste. Appetite. 2018 Jun 1;125:210-216. DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2018.02.013. Epub 2018 Feb 12.

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