“This is a body mechanism that has been proven for millions of years,” says Professor Johannes Wechsler, President of the Federal Association of German Dietitians (BDEM). A bout of hunger gave our ancestors the signal they needed to survive to eat.

But: Today in our society there is virtually no shortage of food. Some even have too much on their hips. How to deal with such attacks?

What do we crave and where does it come from?

Cravings for sweet, fatty or salty foods occur, says Lars Selig, head of the group of nutritionists at Leipzig University Hospital. “But it’s usually associated with something sweet.” Johannes Wechsler confirms: “Classic food cravings occur when blood sugar levels are too low. The body tells the brain: there is a deficit in the system.” The stomach growls and hurts when it is empty and contains too much acid.

But, and this is the whole point: cravings can also be a habitual feeling. He will contact you in certain situations or similar times. For example, the desire for chips when we are sitting on the couch in the evening. Or a craving for chocolate while we’re working on the computer.

“If you have frequent cravings, you should listen to yourself,” advises Lars Selig. “Is it an appetite, perhaps related to some situation or time of day, or a real feeling of hunger?”

Whether it’s pickles or chocolate: during pregnancy, the body often gives even clearer signals about what it needs.

© dpa / Christine Klose/dpa-tmn/dpa

How do I get this out?

It helps to look at your own patterns and take some notes along the way. For example, using the following questions: When and where do hunger pangs usually occur? How long has it been since you last ate? What was the last thing I ate? What has my body done since then?

If several hours have passed since breakfast at work, the body can clearly signal a real deficiency.

Something to keep in mind: Hunger pangs can also cause illnesses, such as diabetes or an overactive thyroid. Anyone experiencing other symptoms, such as sweating or shaking when hungry, should check with their doctor for the cause.

Do pregnant women experience food cravings more often?

“From an evolutionary point of view, it is especially important for a pregnant woman not to suffer from nutritional deficiencies,” says Johannes Wechsler. The pregnant body must think about the unborn child and may react more sharply. Whether you have a greater appetite for chocolate or pickles—or both—depends on your own preferences.

How should I respond to cravings?

Real hunger must be satisfied. However, cravings are usually characterized by a strong desire to eat. Someone who experiences this often eats quickly and thoughtlessly – and therefore often eats too much and too unhealthy.

Preparation helps. “We recommend that patients, in clear situations, think carefully about what they can eat when they have food cravings,” says Lars Selig. “It doesn’t help to dictate anything. What works best is that you think about yourself and adapt to your own preferences.”

Where do cravings come from - and what helps with them?

Find alternatives. A healthy fight against food cravings starts with good preparation—with a plan for what’s best to eat if the worst comes to worst.

© dpa / Christine Klose/dpa-tmn/dpa

Essentially, a mixed diet is better than one meal at a time. For example, a sandwich contains not only carbohydrates, but also fats and proteins. By the way: protein saturates longer than carbohydrates; healthy sources include cottage cheese or natural yogurt.

Some fruits and vegetables also contain bitter substances that suppress appetite: for example, chicory, cabbage, grapefruit or pomegranate. A banana provides “better” sugar than sweets: it is absorbed by the body with a delay and does not cause an increase in blood sugar levels.

Tip: Prepare snacks on the go or at home. “There might be something sweet underneath,” says Lars Selig. “But not a whole pack of gummy bears, but, for example, about twenty, which you then consciously enjoy.”

But what if the craving is just a big appetite?

If you feel hungry again an hour after lunch, your appetite may have increased. This means: there is no need for energy supply yet. Especially if you still want to watch your weight. Then, according to nutritionist Wexler, it is useful to drink half a liter of warm water, tea or diluted fruit juice. “It settles his stomach because he has something to do.”

How can I prevent food cravings?

The best way to prevent food cravings is to eat a regular, balanced diet. “So that the body receives a signal: energy is supplied regularly,” says Lars Selig.

Ideally, this is three balanced meals a day, not too dense, plus two small snacks. “This means that neither fat, protein nor sugar levels rise too high and you have a balanced metabolism,” says Johannes Wechsler. On the other hand, he calls the so-called deficiency charts, which supposedly tell you which nutrients you’re missing during which type of hunger attack, scientifically meaningless.

Of course, it is necessary to take into account specific living conditions. “I’m glad that some patients with stressful daily lives can eat three meals a day,” says Lars Selig, “others will first have to switch to five meals a day.” It is important not to develop snacking behavior, i.e. constantly eating small amounts. Although this avoids hunger pangs, it can lead to obesity.
© dpa

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