I get asked a lot of questions about cravings and how to overcome and deal with them. The short answer is to figure out why the craving is there in the first place. Is the food craving a result of a mental or physiological association or from a food addiction or a combination? Once you know this answer, dealing with the craving becomes simple.
Some foods create a physical addiction, like dairy. When our bodies break down the casein protein in dairy products, casomorphins are created. Yes, like morphine. Just like the drug, these casomorphins make us feel happy, relaxed and can be addicting.
Cravings for a specific food may not really be for that particular food but a nutrient you’ve come to associate with it. I've used the example before of my sister and her craving for an everything bagel. It didn't matter what else she ate, she craved that bagel. After a few times, she realized it was the sea salt on the bagel that she really looking forward to. Now she knows when she's craving a bagel, it is her body's way of saying it needs more sodium. By increasing her sodium, her craving goes away.
Emotional eating and comfort food, we've all heard of it and have fallen prey to it as well. We associate foods with happy memories, such as holiday or family tradition, a happy time in our lives ('I made these brownies in college') or past experiences of comfort and love ('Mom made this for me when I was sick'). Foods can evoke certain feelings, for example many people turn to ice cream when they're feeling down to help them feel better. Ice cream is usually a big part of celebrations, like birthdays and holidays, and we often associate this happiness with the ice cream (or pie).
Cravings can also be a combination of these things. I used to eat watermelon and mangos in the summer, but these foods can also hydrate the body. So now when I crave watermelon and mango, I could be feeling sentimental or I could be overheated, or maybe both.
A friend of mine had a quote on her fridge that said "If hunger is not the problem, food is not the solution". Seeing this before she opened the fridge door helped her realize she when she wasn't hungry but craving something else (whether it was a nutrient or a feeling). This helped her choose a healthier food option or to call a friend instead.
I came up with a saying that can help with cravings as well, my sister and I use it all the time. Before you take that first bite, say out loud "I'm not hungry but I'm going to eat this anyway". This is great for cravings. It forces me to realize that I'm not hungry and look at why/what I'm about to eat
If you do have a food addiction, whether it's dairy, caffeine or something else, you may feel withdrawal symptoms when removing it from your diet. These can vary from person to person, but often pass within 72 hours, although it can take longer for some people. These cravings should stop once the addiction is broken.