Are you really hungry? Or do you just need a hit of comfort food? Here’s how to know the difference, according to Dr. Gary Foster, the director of Temple University’s obesity research center: 

  • First, ask yourself: Am I hungry for a specific food? Like salted caramel ice cream or a Doritos Locos Taco? If you’re craving something specific, it’s most likely not real hunger. It’s what Dr. Foster calls “reward-driven hunger.”  

  • Next ask yourself: Is my stomach growling? Do I have hunger pangs? If the answer is yes, it’s real hunger, what Dr. Foster calls “physiological hunger.”  

  • Finally ask yourself: Have I eaten in the last four hours? If you have, your hunger is a “reward-driven” craving. If you haven’t eaten, it’s probably real “physiological hunger.” Basically, think of it this way: Reward-driven hunger is a false signal to eat. You’re not starving, you’re reaching for food out of habit or to soothe your emotions. 

So how can you break the habit? Dr. Foster says try what psychologists call “behavioral substitution.” That means do something else that occupies your mouth and hands like calling a friend instead of snacking. Also think BEYOND the snack. What happens after you eat a handful of cookies? Is there any benefit? Is it helping you? 
Dr. Foster also suggests distancing yourself from food triggers. Physically move away from the food that’s tempting you whether it’s avoiding the bakery at the grocery store or not walking down the street with that pizza shop you can’t resist. 
Lastly, Dr. Foster says, since a lot of our cravings are based on emotional triggers like feeling lonely or stressed. Let yourself feel that emotion instead of stuffing it down with food. Our emotions peak and then fade in about 15 minute cycles. Coincidentally, about the same amount of time it takes a craving to pass.