Cravings make losing weight difficult for many people. But where do cravings come from in the first place? And what is the best way to satisfy the excessive hunger for sweets and salty foods in the evening? In this article we will take a look at the physical and psychological aspects underlying cravings and how knowledge about them can help you lose weight in the long term.

What causes cravings?

Most people are familiar with cravings for crisps while watching TV, sweet cakes for snacks or chocolate after dinner. While for some it is only a slight craving, for others it can be much stronger. The culprit is often a rapid rise in blood sugar levels – but this is not always the reason.

To understand how cravings arise, a look at satiety can be useful. This is because satiety regulates food intake. In this way, it helps to keep weight within a healthy range. However, the feeling of satiety is influenced by several factors.

The interaction of brain, hormones and the digestive system

The human brain plays a central role on several levels of satiety. On the one hand, signals from the stomach and other organs are sent to the brain.

This is easily explained using the example of the stomach: if you eat a large portion for lunch, your stomach is stretched. This in turn makes the sensors light up and causes them to communicate with the brain via the nervous system. In this case: stop being hungry, we don’t have much room left!

In the brain, the signals from the sensors are now processed and finally fed back instructions in the form of hormones. This is how the brain communicates with the organs and the feeling of satiety occurs1.

On the other hand, the reward system plays an important role. Hormones are also involved here. Dopamine, for example, is considered the happiness hormone. If you eat foods that are particularly rich in sugar or fat, dopamine is released2.

This is also the reason why people like to reach for a bar of chocolate, especially when they are in a bad mood: the brain strives for happiness.

Porridge sättigt dich, ohne deinen Magen unangenehm zu überfüllen
Porridge fills you up without uncomfortably overfilling your stomach

1. The blood sugar level

But that’s where the vicious circle begins. If you give in to your cravings, your blood sugar level will rise. Chocolate consists mainly of empty carbohydrates. The high sugar content and the lack of nutrients cause your blood sugar to rise rapidly.

To compensate, the pancreas releases insulin – which causes your blood sugar level to drop rapidly again, making you hypoglycaemic. This leads to hunger again – welcome to the vicious circle!

2. The nutrients

This is exactly where nutrients can help. Blood sugar levels are primarily driven by empty calories, such as foods high in sugar.

Eating plenty of fibre, complex carbohydrates and vitamins, on the other hand, will have a positive effect on your blood sugar levels – an excessive rise and fall in blood sugar is avoided and you can escape the vicious circle.

3. Water balance

An important aspect that is often underestimated is water balance. If you drink too little, you may feel hungry. Your body does ask for water – but the communication is not that clear.

Instead, many people mistake the feeling of thirst for hunger. The worst thing to do would be to resort to sugary or salty snacks. But that is exactly what many people do when they just want to have a “quick snack”. The problem with this is that salt and sugar make the body even more dehydrated – the craving for fluids increases further.

4. The role of sleep

That’s why you should make sure you drink enough water in the morning. Your body loses a lot of fluid during the night. But sleep is not only important in this context.

In addition, a lack of sleep can increase the feeling of hunger. This happens through many factors. On the one hand, your mood may be worse – to counteract this, your brain demands food. A classic trap of the reward system.

On the other hand, lack of sleep has been shown to increase the release of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin. The hormone gets its name from its appetite-increasing effect. Since it is related to the circadian rhythm, it is significantly influenced by sleep3.

The question is: how can we use this knowledge to avoid cravings? Let’s take a closer look at the biggest influencing factor – diet.

Cravings due to poor diet

The wrong diet can not only unnecessarily delay the feeling of fullness. It can also explicitly stimulate the appetite. Of course, if you want to lose weight, this doesn’t exactly play into your hands.

Mistake 1: Eating too little

Many people make a crucial mistake when trying to lose weight. They eat too little. Few people realise that this cannot work in the long term. Therefore: listen to your natural satiety.

Mistake 2: Too few nutrients

This brings us to the second mistake. It is about satiety. Since this is strongly dependent on the nutrients we consume, we should take a closer look at it.

As a rule of thumb you can remember: Fibre, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals are very filling. A varied diet with colourful fruit and vegetables, whole grain products and healthy fats can therefore help you lose weight.

The satiating capacity of sugar and empty carbohydrates, on the other hand, is much more limited and only lasts for a short time. This is also the reason why you should avoid white flour products and fast food when losing weight. They are both high in calories but low in nutrients. This causes your blood sugar to rise sharply and, in the worst case, leads to cravings.

Wenn du abnehmen möchtest, solltest du Weißmehl und Fast Food bestmöglich vermeiden
If you want to lose weight, you should avoid white flour and fast food as much as possible.

Types of cravings

You’ve probably noticed that there are different types of cravings. Sometimes your body craves something sweet, other times it craves salty snacks. But what is the reason?

Sweet cravings

Your body usually craves chocolate, jelly bears and the like when it is hypoglycaemic. As we already know, the blood sugar level is crucial for this.

Hypoglycemia can occur if you have eaten too little – or if your meals were too high in calories and too low in nutrients at the same time.

Cravings for salty foods

This type of craving can happen when you have a lack of nutrients. For example, if your body lacks minerals such as sodium or potassium.

This can be caused by serious illnesses – for example, of the adrenal glands, blood pressure problems or diabetes. However, the cause is usually much less dramatic. A common trigger can be heavy sweating – for example, if you have been active in sports.

Cravings in the evening

The most common food cravings occur in the afternoon or evening. Especially when you are exhausted after work, your body craves simple rewards. This brings us back to the happiness hormone dopamine.

Why do cravings affect our weight loss success?

The reason why cravings affect your weight loss success is simple. You eat too many calories because of poor eating habits.

This usually results in a higher percentage of fat in your body – you gain weight. This is exactly why it is so important to avoid constant hunger when losing weight in the long term. Let’s take a look at how you can do this.

Stopping ravenous appetite: 5 tips & tricks against ravenous appetite attacks

A balanced diet is often a good way to avoid cravings. But warm breakfasts and certain superfoods like oats can also help you lose weight in the long term. In the following we would like to give you the most important tips and tricks:

  1. Eat slowly and avoid unnecessary distractions. This way you can better perceive your body’s signals and avoid excessive calorie intake.
  2. Make sure you get enough fibre: oats and wholemeal products are particularly good sources.
  3. Drink enough: a glass of water after getting up can do wonders.
  4. Eat a warm breakfast: a warm porridge in the morning is good for your digestion and keeps you full for a long time.
  5. Go for colourful fruits and vegetables: they are particularly rich in healthy phytonutrients.

Read about five more reasons why you should eat a warm breakfast to lose weight.

Warm breakfast fights cravings

You’ve probably noticed our tip to eat a warm breakfast. There are many reasons for this recommendation.

A pleasantly warm porridge in the morning is good for your digestion. It also induces a long-lasting feeling of satiety. This is due to the oats contained in porridge. They are rich in complex carbohydrates, fibre such as beta glucan and healthy micronutrients.

Keep insulin levels balanced & avoid bingeing

Balanced insulin levels can be crucial in preventing binge eating and helping you lose weight.

To prevent your blood sugar from rising and falling too quickly, you should avoid foods that are high in sugar. Some products are easy to avoid, but others hide the sugar. We have therefore listed some of the most typical traps:

  • Sugared cornflakes, cereals and mueslis.
  • White bread and pastries
  • Fruit juices
  • Muesli bars
  • Sugared fruit yoghurts

Of course, biscuits, cakes, ice cream etc. are much more obvious. The best thing to do next time you go shopping is to look at the ingredients on the back of the pack. If you see sugar as one of the first ingredients, you should stay away from it.

Frisches Obst und Gemüse sorgt für natürliche Süße ohne unerwünschte Nebenwirkungen
Fresh fruit and vegetables provide natural sweetness without unwanted side effects

You can use sweeteners as an alternative to sweetening food and drinks. Artificial sweeteners like stevia, for example, do not affect your insulin levels4.

But fresh fruit or dates can also provide the desired sweetness. Although they contain fructose, the many phytonutrients and dietary fibres prevent a sharp rise in blood sugar5.

Proteins – the enemies of cravings

Last but not least, it is important to emphasise proteins. Protein is associated with muscle building, but it also provides excellent satiety. Both can help you lose weight.

Nüsse und Samen als Topping eignen sich hervorragend als pflanzliche Proteinquellen
Nuts and seeds as toppings are excellent sources of vegetable protein

A protein-rich breakfast – for example, porridge topped with protein-rich nuts and seeds – is a real satiator. In addition, a protein-rich diet increases your fitness – especially if you exercise regularly to speed up weight loss.

Therefore, proteins should not be missing from your diet. We wish you every success in losing weight!

1.Elmadfa I, Leitzmann C. Ernährung Des Menschen. 6. Auflage. Eugen Ulmer; 2019.
2.Hartmann H, Pauli LK, Janssen LK, Huhn S, Ceglarek U, Horstmann A. Preliminary evidence for an association between intake of high-fat high-sugar diet, variations in peripheral dopamine precursor availability and dopamine-dependent cognition in humans. J Neuroendocrinol. Veröffentlicht online im Dezember 2020. doi:10.1111/jne.12917
3.Morselli L, Leproult R, Balbo M, Spiegel K. Role of sleep duration in the regulation of glucose metabolism and appetite. Best Practice & Research Klinische Endokrinologie & Stoffwechsel. Online veröffentlicht Oktober 2010:687-702. doi:10.1016/j.beem.2010.07.005
4.Anton SD, Martin CK, Han H, et al. Auswirkungen von Stevia, Aspartam und Saccharose auf Nahrungsaufnahme, Sättigung und postprandiale Glukose- und Insulinspiegel. Appetite. Veröffentlicht online August 2010:37-43. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2010.03.009
5.Bondonno NP, Bondonno CP, Ward NC, Hodgson JM, Croft KD. Der kardiovaskuläre Gesundheitsnutzen von Äpfeln: Whole fruit vs. isolated compounds. Trends in Food Science & Technology. Published online November 2017:243-256. doi:10.1016/j.tifs.2017.04.012

Nico

Sportwissenschafter

Ich bin studierter Sportwissenschafter und angehender Journalist. Neben meiner Faszination für Sport und das Schreiben blättere ich gerne durch die Fachbücher der Ernährungswissenschaft. Sport und Ernährung gehen für mich Hand in Hand, wenn es um einen gesunden Lebensstil geht.