Craving Chocolate? This May Be the Reason Why

Craving Chocolate? This May Be the Reason Why

Cravings are linked to biology, psychology, and behaviors which can lead to harmful habits over time.

The biology of cravings

Research [1] has shown how our brain is involved in this urge to eat certain foods through the hypothalamus.

This brain region regulates hormones and chemicals related to hunger, stress, pleasure, and pain.

One of the essential chemicals released and controlled by the hypothalamus is dopamine, a “feel good” chemical. Dopamine is one of the main contributors to cravings [2].

Eating certain foods associated with a reward, pleasure, and pain or stress reduction releases dopamine causing an association between that food and feeling good.

The psychology of cravings

Repeatedly eating foods that exert a feeling of pleasure can become a habit that could lead to health complications.

Research [3] has shown how following these food cravings repeatedly can lead to a conditioned response which leads to the creation of a habit.

Having vivid images of how the food looks and smells can lead to having an intense craving and, more often than not, consuming that food [4].

Social Media

What role does social media play when it comes to food cravings? We are constantly being bombarded with advertisements and perfect pictures of hyper-palatable foods.

Hyper-palatable foods stimulate increased intake due to their higher amount of sugar, fat, or salt. These foods are preferable to our palate and satisfy our cravings.

More often than not, overexposure to visual imagery can lead to intense cravings.

Our Moods

Research has also investigated how our mood can affect food cravings. Negative mood states [5] such as stress, anxiety, boredom, and sadness can release cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone.

Increased cortisol levels are linked to increased food intake and indulging in specific cravings [6]. Positive mood states also show this response.


Our bodies constantly produce and regulate hormones that control our physiological and behavioral processes.

    • Cortisol, commonly known as the “stress hormone,” regulates eating behaviors and choices. Elevation causes you to crave sugary, salty, or fatty foods because your brain believes it needs fuel to fight that stressor [6].
    • Ghrelin [6], or the “hunger hormone,” stimulates appetite and plays a big role in your cravings!
    • Leptin [7] is the opposite of ghrelin. This hormone inhibits hunger and thus regulates fat storage. An imbalance between leptin and ghrelin has been shown to promote food cravings.


We often disregard sleep and its overall effect on our health and dietary intake.

Lack of sleep is one of the most common issues in our society, particularly in adolescents and young adults.

Research [8] has shown a direct correlation between reduced sleep and significantly higher levels of food cravings, portion sizes of foods at lunchtime, feeling hungrier, and increased susceptibility to food rewards.

Studies in the past decade [9] have shown a negative relationship between sleep deprivation and food cravings. This further explains how sleep disruption is linked to an imbalance in leptin and ghrelin.

Can uncontrolled cravings affect my health?

What starts as “oh, it’s just a small piece of chocolate” can quickly become an uncontrollable craving that could affect your health.

Food cravings are a risk factor for eating disorders and obesity. Research [10] has shown a direct and significant association between food cravings, binge eating, and eating disorder behavior.

When cravings become a habit, caloric intake increases since people prefer to consume hyper-palatable foods such as chips and sweets. This excess intake could place individuals at risk for developing medical conditions such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart disease.

Five tips for managing your cravings

  1. Mindful eating and acceptance: these two strategies have been studied in the last two decades and have effectively reduced food cravings [3].

Mindful eating refers to being aware of the experience of eating at a specific moment; being present without other distractions such as TV, cell phones, work, studying, etc. Mindful eating is a great tool to help reduce food cravings and other components that lead to cravings, such as stress and food cues.

Decentering in mindful eating, “all experiences are impermanent in nature, rather than them being permanent or reflecting an objective reality,” reduces reactivity to food cues and cravings and increases resilience to stressful events [4]. Therefore, decentering can reduce cravings triggered by stressors such as work, study, deadlines, etc.


2. Exercise: This well-known tool has helped individuals improve their mental and physical health, from weight loss to stress reduction, and food cravings are no exception. A study on inactive men shows how 12 weeks of supervised aerobic exercise reduces total cravings [5].

Fitting in exercise can be difficult due to our fast-paced lifestyles, and people often complain they don’t have enough time or are too tired to spend 90 minutes in the gym. A study on interrupting six hours of sedentary work with six-hourly 5-min of moderate-intensity walking resulted in decreased food cravings, fatigue, and improved mood in participants [6].  This suggests that being active at work or school and taking short walking breaks could reduce food cravings and improve overall well-being.


3. Identify your trigger foods: Avoid having your go-to craved foods in the house.

It takes more planning and energy to get your craved foods if not readily available, making consumption more complicated and potentially avoiding the craving. The phrase, “the dose makes the poison,” is relevant regarding cravings. Identifying which foods can trigger your cravings will allow you to reduce the frequency and portion sizes of your craving. It is OK to consume craved foods every once in a while!


4. External stimuli and stressors: Avoid watching cooking videos, pictures, or advertisements when moody to limit or avoid environmental cues that might trigger a craving.

For excessive cravings, try recording your shows without commercial breaks with potential food temptations.

It is also essential to identify what makes you have a food craving! Is it a deadline at school? Or the end of the month report at work? Or is it an upcoming cycling competition?

Identify, identify, identify!!! Knowing what situations make your regular mood change is a tool to help reduce such stress and subsequently reduce or potentially eliminate your food cravings.


5. Hyperpalatable foods: Avoid having hyperpalatable foods in the house that tell your brain to have more!

Instead, switch to healthier foods. Rearrange your pantry and your fridge. Trade the chocolate fudge ice cream for yogurt topped with thawed frozen fruits. Satisfy that sweet craving by looking for recipes that use fruit as a source of sweeteners, such as dates or bananas.


Five healthy and easy snacks to satisfy cravings

  1. Smoothies are simple, nutrient-dense snacks. Blend frozen fruit with the protein powder of your choice. Unsweetened peanut butter powder and a dash of cinnamon will take your smoothie to a new level.
  2. Mini granola bars are convenient on a bike ride or the go; they are easy to pack and won’t weigh you down.
  3. Energy balls are a versatile and easy-to-carry snack. They can be made with peanut butter, almond butter, oats, flaxseed, and dark chocolate chips! There are many recipes out there, and they can be whipped up in as little as 10 minutes!
  4. Try a yogurt parfait! Thaw some dark sweet cherries and spoon them over plain Greek yogurt. This snack is an excellent source of calcium, protein, and antioxidants!
  5. Trader Joe’s dark chocolate-covered frozen fruit bites satisfy sweet cravings. Choose between banana or strawberry varieties.

Cravings can be curbed!

It may seem that overcoming intense cravings is futile; however, with some knowledge, your cravings can be curbed. Understanding what motivates your cravings is the key to gaining control over them.

Techniques such as mindful eating, finding your triggers, and external sources can be helpful. Exercise has shown some potential benefits.

Know you are not alone; we all have food cravings from time to time. Support is key to overcoming even the most challenging cravings. Join our Facebook community or sign up for our course waitlist.

The Evolution of Women’s Cycling Nutrition

The Evolution of Women’s Cycling Nutrition

I always thought of myself as a gym rat. Training hard to get stronger, maintain my health, flexibility, and mobility. Never in my wildest dreams would I have considered myself a cyclist. Sure, I took the random spin class here and there, yet to be completely honest, I kind of hated it. So how did I become this obsessed cyclist dietitian who now feels comfortable using terms like cadence, FTP, average speeds, and lap times all while wearing padded shorts? Read on to find out!

The Beginnings of Fear

From the time I was a young child, I watched with envy as men, women, and children zipped around effortlessly on their bikes. Look Ma, no hands – many exclaimed loudly as they pedaled by, waving their hands freely in the air. Truth be told, I never experienced the traditional rite of passage that most 4 to 6-year-olds are privy to—learning to ride a bike. I cannot recall the actual reason I never mastered a 2 wheeler. Perhaps it was the early memory of a young boy getting hit by a car in front of my house that had a lasting, negative impact. Needless to say, I spent much of my childhood dodging plans whenever cycling was involved. It got to a point where I was embarrassed to admit that I never learned the most basic of skills that even a 5-year-old can master. After some time, I just accepted that I clearly preferred pointe shoes and the ballet barre to my two-wheeled nemesis.

Lady Lace: My First Ride

Fast forward many years and I got engaged to someone whose preferred form of exercise was casual cycling. He vowed that he could teach me.

One morning, on a quiet street near our new home, my husband took on the task of teaching me to ride a bike.

I mounted my new lavender ride, which I lovingly named Lady Lace, and wobbled my way to finally balancing on 2 wheels.

I wish I could go on to say that I lived happily ever after, cycling into the sunset, but sadly, I still could not overcome my paralyzing fear and Lady Lace was ultimately donated to a worthy party. I decided that life with two feet on the ground was more my speed. Yet, the envy I felt when I saw cyclists was still palpable, but not enough to jump on the saddle to relieve my fear of the unknown.

My Silver Lining of Quarantine

For us gym rats, 2020 hit hard. Gyms and fitness facilities closed and with them, our means of obtaining meaningful exercise. For me, chronic injuries made running out of the question. With stress quickly mounting, I became desperate for some “real” cardio. I cautiously glanced over at the old burgundy and silver Mongoose mountain bike that had been a permanent dusty fixture in our garage since my daughter was a teen. She barely rode, so this “old” bike” was almost new.

One morning, perhaps after a fit of quarantine anxiety, I got up the nerve to hop on the bike. My son stood by as I mounted the saddle and watched as I rode my first cautious meters down the road.

I remember that day, the discomfort of feeling winded after a mere mile, yet full of pride at what I had accomplished.

As the days turned to weeks, the miles increased, the fear diminished and hesitance turned to passion. The mongoose was traded in for a coral-colored Felt road bike. Flat pedals morphed into clipless SPD. Cycling kits soon dominated the workout drawer. AND Women’s Cycling Nutrition was born.

The Birth of Women’s Cycling Nutrition

Cyclists, as I have come to realize are a tribe unto themselves. Early on in my cycling journey, I was welcomed into a few women-specific cycling Facebook groups. Through these groups, I found my people, women who were as possessed as I was by the mere mention of anything cycling-related. The few nutrition questions peppered in were always where I felt most comfortable jumping in, offering up the knowledge from my 30 years as a registered dietitian.

It soon became clear, that a separate women’s cycling nutrition Facebook group was not just warranted, it was needed! The rapid growth of our private group further proved how extensive the need for science-backed nutrition information was.

What You Can Expect

In 2020, we saw a huge uptick in the number of women taking up the sport of cycling. Because cycling is mainly a male-dominated sport, there is little female-specific nutrition information readily available. Sadly, much of the viral nutrition information is based on fads, not science.

Since then our mission expanded to provide evidence-based nutrition guidance and support to all women cyclists, no matter their experience. We aim to teach female cyclists how to fuel correctly, hydrate efficiently, feel strong and confident while reaching their health-related goals.

So stick around, we will be posting regular nutrition information on many different topics.

Here are some easy ways to stay in touch: sign up for our newsletter and if you are not already a member, request access to our free private Facebook group.

If my story resonates with you, we would love to hear from you!