Hunger vs. craving: What's the difference?

A better understanding of these potential food triggers will help you stay on track.

Have you noticed that when food temptations strike, it often has more to do with your mood than when you last ate? You may crave food to relax, relieve stress or boredom, soothe anger, or cope with loneliness, sadness or anxiety. Indulging in cravings during these emotional times may lead you to eat too many high-calorie, sweet, fatty foods.

Everyone has a food craving at times — and yes, chocolate is at the top of most people's list. The first step to managing your cravings is being able to identify when you’re truly hungry. Learn how to recognize the difference between a craving and hunger.

Cravings:

  • Are usually for comfort foods, such as chocolate, sweets and fatty foods
  • Are often caused by negative feelings
  • Lead to eating that makes you feel good at first, but then guilty
  • Increase during a woman's pregnancy and menstrual cycle
  • May be stronger when you're dieting, especially if you're giving up your favorite foods
  • Can occur even after you've recently eaten
  • Pass with time

Hunger:

  • Usually occurs when you haven't eaten for a few hours or more
  • Results in a rumbling stomach, headache or feeling of weakness
  • Doesn't pass with time
  • Isn't just for one specific food
  • Can be satisfied by a healthy snack or meal

If you have a craving, distract yourself. Try calling a friend, listening to music, taking a walk or bike ride, reading, or writing. If a negative feeling is causing your craving, use positive self-talk, exercise or a fun activity to improve your mood.