Are you struggling with food cravings? Well, you’re not alone. At least 50% of people experience food cravings on a regular basis. If you have binge eating, emotional eating or food addiction, these cravings can threaten to overwhelm you and lead to unwanted behaviors. You may use food as a way to “self-medicate” your emotions. Essentially, the stress or unpleasant feelings are the “problem,” and eating is the “medicine” that makes you feel better.

In this video you will learn:

1. Why food cravings come from a lack of dopamine in the brain.

2. How to find out if you use food to help with your mood

3. What specific things you can do to conquer your food cravings.


HOMEWORK:  Try one or more of these tips to help you conquer your cravings:
1. Journal about your feelings. See if you can identify patterns associated with your cravings. If your journaling shows that you’re always hungry (emotionally) after stressful days at work, change your routine. Don’t go straight home and binge on peanut butter; stop at a local park and take a short walk, or call a friend to meet you for tea. 
2. Here are some integrative medicine tips to help with cravings:

  • Eat bitter foods(ex. arugula, olives) to reduce sweet cravings

  • For salt cravings, look at how you’re managing your stress and use “adaptogens” which are herbs that help your body deal with stress (ex. drink ginseng tea) or take a yoga class or take a nap.

  • Take a chromium supplement to help keep your blood sugar stable to reduce cravings.

3. Even if you give in to the cravings, eat mindfully and pay attention to how your body is feeling and don’t judge yourself. 
4. Get a good night’s sleep (7-9 hours of sleep).  Studies show that cravings are worse when we are tired.


Links mentioned in podcast:

Schedule a free consult to discuss your food and body image issues:

To learn more about The Anchor Program a 12-week non-diet program offering ONLINE group and individual sessions for the treatment of binge eating, emotional eating, food addiction and compulsive overeating.  Want to learn more about the Anchor Program?


Hi everyone, Dr. Carolyn here, and today is podcast episode number 79, where I’m going to be giving you the ultimate guide to ending food cravings now. So I’ll be talking about why food cravings are not about food, how to find out what your food cravings signify and what specific things you can do to start conquering your food cravings. Stay tuned.

The past year has been difficult for many people and it definitely has shown up in the high number of people who have been drinking more and also in the worsening numbers of people with eating disorders or food and body image issues. So I think cravings is an appropriate topic given all of that you know, we’re struggling and we’re turning to food and to other substances to deal with these struggles. So if you’ve been struggling with food cravings, you’re not alone. And that’s important to know the research shows that 50% of people experienced food cravings on a regular basis. That’s half of us, no wonder the sales of chocolate are going up so high. Well, if you have binge-eating compulsive overeating or even food addiction, these cravings don’t come from the food it’s not that the chocolate is reaching off the shelf and grabbing you, even though it may feel that way it’s really comes from your brain. So if you crave chocolate, your brain will actually light up even when you think about chocolate. When you arrive at the store and you walk down the chocolate aisle, your brain is already lighting up. And this response is not as strong in those who do not have food and body image issues.

So in other words, there’s a difference between people who don’t have binge-eating compulsive overeating, food addiction, or emotional eating problems. In that they may see a bar chocolate and every once in a while they think about grabbing it, but they don’t think about it or obsess about it, or you know, drive out of their way to find that food fix.

So we know that binge eating behavior stimulate the release of the pleasure molecule called dopamine in the brain. So if you’re obsessed with food, it, it works like this. The first time you have your let’s just take my favorite ice cream, peppermint ice cream. The first time you taste peppermint ice cream, you get a big hit of dopamine in the brain. And then maybe a week goes by maybe longer. The next time even thinking about peppermint ice cream causes that release of dopamine in the brain, but over time, that response becomes less and less and less. So if you’re bingeing regularly on the same foods, you won’t get the same benefit. You won’t get the same dopamine hit in the brain that you would when you first started. So why, why do we need? Why does the brain need that dopamine? Well, again, it’s the pleasure molecule. It’s the molecule that’s released when you play with your children and you have sex, you have a wonderful glass of wine, you see a sunset, anything that gives you pleasure, causes a release of dopamine in the brain.

But if, if you are obsessed with food, you know, if you are have a lot of food, cravings, dopamine is released in the brain for you, but that, that then makes you want to eat more of your food fix or have this pleasure giving food. So this dopamine hit then throws you into that vicious cycle that I’ve talked about over and over and over again, and perpetuates the compulsive overeating, bingeing, food obsessions and cravings. So once dopamine is released, it, it can be, I mean, almost impossible for you to interrupt the cravings. So that that’s important to know, you know, once you’ve already started down the path that dopamine is released, and then you’re on the path to eating and bingeing on your food fix.

So, you know, there’ve been a lot of books and media reports about different foods and right now everybody’s talking about how addictive sugar is. But it’s important to recognize that the addiction isn’t caused by the food, as I said that little chocolate bar, it’s not really calling your name. We just think it is. So what, what the problem is, is like I said, it’s in the brain. It’s not caused by the food, but it’s caused by your brain’s need for that dopamine. If your brain isn’t getting enough dopamine, there’s a couple of reasons why that may be one reason is genetics. So maybe you come from a family where addictions and eating disorders, have affected your parents, then the effect of that may be that it has affected your brain in a way that your brain doesn’t make as much dopamine as someone who doesn’t have that genetic profile. Or if you’ve experienced childhood adversity, that also has an impact on the brain and I’ve talked about that a lot in previous podcast that, you know, when you have childhood adversity, it, it causes changes in your epigenome. So epigenetic changes, which is a change in the expression of genes. So it can turn on the gene for disordered eating or eating disorders or for food addiction. And then from there on you are, you know, struggling because your brain again is not making enough dopamine to make you feel normal. You may feel dysphoric. You may have an increased risk for depression or anxiety or attention deficit disorder. All of those things are related to epigenetic changes as that result from the effects of trauma on the brain. And that these effects then make it more likely for you to react to foods in an addictive way, with cravings, obsessive thoughts, and that feeling of loss of control. So that that’s really important for you to know that your need for dopamine may be caused by a genetic issue and it may result from, or may result from childhood trauma and the effects off childhood trauma on the brain.

So the other part of this is that if you’ve had childhood adversity the other thing that that causes is difficulty regulating your emotions. So you may use food as a way to self-medicate your emotions. So what I mean by that is essentially stress or unpleasant feelings are the problem and eating is seen as the medicine that makes you feel better. Let me run that by you again. So you, you feel bad because you’re stressed or angry or upset or hurt or sad. And that’s really the problem that you’re experiencing. And unconsciously, you feel like eating is the medicine that will take care of that problem.

Okay. So I want to talk a little bit about, you know, some of the ways in which we use food to regulate our mood and how that can be related to cravings. Well, we know that when, when you’re under stressed, your body may crave food as a way to get more dopamine. And the reason for that is because stress actually is another cause of a decrease in dopamine in the brain. And remember I said to you just a moment ago, that when you eat comfort foods, are these what I call the food fix or you’re craving food. You do get a temporary sense of calming or a sense of pleasure. That’s caused by that spike in dopamine, in the brain. However, repeated consumption of these foods has the exact opposite effect on the brain. And eventually dopamine release is actually reduced, not increased. Now, when that happens, you actually will have even more cravings and may be compelled to, you know, we may engage in what we call compulsive overeating, where you’re repeatedly eating these comfort foods that you’re craving to keep yourself from feeling bad. So it’s kind of just, I mean, I hate to make these comparisons between, drugs of abuse and food because they aren’t really exactly comparable. But it is in this way it is comparable when a person starts using drugs. Initially what happens is they feel great. You know, they get high or they, you know, in the case of a lot of people who drink alcohol, they may feel normal for the first time in their lives because alcohol can have that calming effect, anti-anxiety effects, et cetera. But over time, the feelings of pleasure diminish and that’s for the same reason that I just mentioned, because repeated consumption then leads to a reduction in dopamine release in the brain. And then they’re chasing that high, trying to eat. I mean, trying to use more and more of the drug to get the same feeling that they got when they first use it. But actually now they’re using it to keep from feeling bad. So that’s, you know, that that’s similar to what we see in with drugs of abuse, where people continue using cause they don’t want to have withdrawals, they don’t want to have depression or anxiety or other withdrawal symptoms.

So just think about that, It’s just some, you know, it’s just something to know about and to understand that, you know, it’s not about the food because we get so lost in, you know, I’m a chocoholic or I’m, you know, I’m a carboholic or whatever your food and fixes and yes, the food does have an effect on the brain that can throw us in that vicious cycle and make us want to over eat. But it’s not the food’s fault if it’s anybody’s fault, it’s the brain’s fault. And if it’s anybody’s fault about the brain, it’s genetics or trauma or stress, right?

So I’m going to give you a little quiz that will help you understand whether or not you’re using food to help you self-medicate your mood. So just mentally check off for yourself if this applies to you.

  1. I crave my food fix when I’m anxious or depressed or upset or angry.

And again, when I say food fix, I’m just talking about the food that you crave most often.

So if that’s true for you, just kind of make a mental check mark.

  1. I find food very soothing.
  2. Sometimes I eat so much of my food fix that I become drowsy or fall asleep.
  3. I can actually feel myself calming down when I eat my food fix
  4. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m upset about something until I realize I’m over eating my food fix.
  5. I eat sometimes because I can’t sleep.
  6. And finally, when I am sad, weepy or down in the dumps, eating certain foods helps helps me get through the bad times.

So if you checked off in your mind, three or more of those, you’re definitely using food for emotional reasons and depriving yourself of your food fix or the foods you crave just sets you up for more craving. So research has, has shown, and you know, this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this, but I think it’s really hard for people to think about it because the way most people deal with cravings is to try to keep themselves from eating it. But that sets up this deprivation syndrome where you deprive yourself and you think you can have better willpower over and over and over. And then you give in and you binge so deprivation, which is the basis of all diets doesn’t work. And that’s why diets don’t work. So research has shown that if you restrict foods you crave this then causes more stress, which causes more emotional upset which then sets you up for the next binge. So when you have a bad day and the first thing you think about is getting an apple fritter, that’s what I thought about today, or you’re thinking about, you know, stopping on the way home for, to drive through the fast food place, or you go out of your way to find a certain food fix. Then you know that you’re using food to self-medicate, to, to moderate your mood, you’re reacting to emotions. And when you’re motivated by these powerful, emotional urges and cravings, without awareness you’ll just fall into your deep default mechanism. The automatic thing to do, which is just to stop for that Apple fritter to drive through the fast food place.

So the only way to break the vicious cycle is to become more aware of this connection between your cravings and what caused them, which usually has to do with stress or emotional upset. So just think about how can you become more aware.

So I’m going to give you some tips about things that you can do to, to become more aware. And the first one is to prioritize your physical wellbeing. Now, a lot of people think they are putting themselves first by obsessing about food and about their body, but actually you’re either putting your external appearance first or putting your need to self-medicate first, what would it look like though, to put your own wellbeing first? Well, first would be, well that’s, that’s a lot of first, but what would it look like to prioritize your own wellbeing? One thing would be getting enough rest now. My women friends out there I know that you’re thinking, well, I don’t have time to rest. I don’t have time to sleep. I gotta do this. I gotta do that… and sleep is the last thing on your list, but we do know that poor sleep can result in, increase in food cravings. And if you’re getting, if you’re not getting enough sleep, It can leave you too tired to burn off extra calories that you are consuming. So sleep helps your brain again, to balance your appetite by controlling the hormones that control appetite. Ghrelin and leptin, and those are the ones that regulate your sense of hunger and fullness. So lack of sleep all by itself is associated with emotional eating and food cravings. So. excuse me in general, most people need seven to nine hours of sleep. And I am always shocked at so many of my women, patients and patients I work with in the anchor program who tell me that they never get more than five hours of sleep or not. I would not be able to function. So you might try just edging up the number of sleep. Honestly, those deadlines that you’re fighting against to all those things that you think are more important than sleep. Probably aren’t in, maybe you’ve learned that during the pandemic, when you have been working at home and hopefully have been able to rest more, I don’t know. Maybe you’ve had the opposite reaction, but, um, no one can tell you how much sleep you need, but you should pay attention to how you feel physically when you wake up in the morning. And that will give you an idea as to whether you’ve slept well enough. And whether you’ve gotten enough sleep. So give it a try. You know, I usually recommend seven to nine hours of sleep and that, that in and of itself will help improve your cravings. Honestly, trust me on that one.

The other thing is, is stress management. So you know, I’m going to talk a little bit about some tips there, so, but let’s, before I go into that, let me just mention another tip that you can do journal about your feelings. So remember I said, they only way to break the vicious cycle of cravings and binges is through awareness. Journaling helps you gain awareness. Your journaling will show you that for example, that you may always be emotionally hungry after a stressful day at work or after a change in your routine, or after an argument with a friend or a coworker, you want to connect those dots so you can understand why you are craving and, and what emotions or what stress you’re experiencing that lead to those cravings. And then once you become aware of the pattern, see if you can break the pattern, don’t go straight home and binge on peanut butter. Instead, stop at a local park and take a short walk or call a friend, or meet someone for tea or coffee. So see if you can break the pattern so that you don’t end up just back in that vicious cycle again.

All right. Number two, number three. Sorry. Uh, I have some integrative medicine tips from my time with Dr. Andrew Weil, my fellowship there in Tucson. One is that to help reduce cravings, eat bitter foods. So there are foods that have a bitter taste or texture or mouth feel. I don’t know what I’m talking about with all that stuff, but if you, hear are the bitter foods that I know about a couple of them arugula, that’s a bitter food. Olives is a bitter food. If you eat some of those foods that helps reduce your sweet cravings. Now, if, you know, say you don’t like bitter foods while you can also get a tincture and the health food store called bitters and for many many generations, tinctures of bitters have been given to children and adults for, to help with their digestion. And so it’s a well-known remedy and it will also help reduce sweet cravings.

And now what if you’re having salt cravings? So cravings may indicate that you’re not managing your stress well, and the tip there is to use what we call adaptogens. Adaptogens are herbs that help your body deal with stress. So an example of an adaptogen is ginseng tea. And there are other herbs that are adaptogens as well. But I think ginsing is probably the most well-known the easiest to get. You can get ginseng teas, uh, tinctures as well, et cetera. The other things you can do to help manage your stress would be take a yoga class or heaven forbid, take a power nap. I I’ve had a lot of trouble getting into that one myself, but honestly, during the, the stress of the pandemic, I’ve gotten to the point where at least on Sunday afternoons, I take a power nap and I enjoy the heck out of it. And then the other integrative medicine tip is you use a chromium. Chromium is a mineral that helps keep your blood sugar stable, and that will also reduce cravings. So those are some of the things you can do. So we’ve talked about sleep, we’ve talked about journaling and interrupting the patterns that you identify. Talked about some integrative medicine things you can do.

Next, I just want to mention that even if you do give into cravings, eat mindfully, pay attention to the food you’re eating. Don’t just, you know, stuff it in unconsciously, if you’re eating a donut, savor every bite. If you’re eating chicken, enjoy the flavor of the chicken, the taste, the smell, and then pay attention to how it feels in your body. So most people don’t do that because they feel guilty and are judging themselves. So the final tip there is don’t judge yourself. Because judgment again is one of the things that sets you up to go back into the vicious cycle. So if you do have that experience where you give in to temptation, you give into a craving, just enjoy it. Just enjoy it. And you may be surprised to find that you don’t have to eat the whole bar of chocolate. Maybe just one piece is satisfactory and your craving goes away, but you can’t know that if you’re being unconscious, if you go unconscious, when you,  given to cravings you can’t know that your body has had enough after one piece.

So that’s the importance of, of that. Okay. All right. Well, I’ve talked about sleep and I’ve given you some tips. I hope I’ve helped you to understand that food cravings are not about food, they’re about the brain and that, you know, childhood trauma and also genetics can change your brain so that they’re more likely to have cravings. And also just. Oh, the reminder that when you’ve binge eat foods, it actually has the reverse effect on your brain and less dopamine is made. So managing your stress, getting enough rest, when, when you give in to cravings, being mindful and not judging yourself or some things you can start with and I’ve given you some ways to do that.

So I hope this has been helpful for you. Next week, we’re going to talk about something that is even more serious and that’s the relationship between eating disorders and grief or loss. I know many of you like me have experienced, you know, some losses during the pandemic, they may be the loss of a loved one. It may be that it’s brought up old losses for you, or it may be that you’ve lost a job. You’ve lost a best friend. All sorts of losses have happened during the pandemic. And I think as a whole, um, the world is grieving. You know, in, in the U S to date, we’ve lost 400,000 people to the COVID epidemic. Many people have lost their homes. They’ve lost, uh, their financial stability and so on. So we’re going to talk about how that has. May have impacted your eating and again, what you can do about that. So I hope you will come join me next week for that podcast about the relationship between eating disorder, eating disorders and grief.

Please give me five stars if you feel so moved so that we can get the word out about the podcast and share my podcasts everywhere you can. I hope you’ll do that. Trying to build my numbers up so I need all the help I can get. All right, this is Dr. Ross signing off. Dr. Carolyn signing off. See you next time.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast and that it’s been helpful to giving you some insight into your food cravings and also raising your awareness about where they come from and what you can do about them. So, thanks for listening in. Please give me as many stars as you think I deserve hopefully five and then share this podcast with as many of your friends as you can. I’d appreciate it. I look forward to seeing you next time when we’ll be talking about grief and loss and eating disorders.

Thanks again, Dr. Carolyn signing off.