Cravings and true hunger are two very different things. Hunger is your body's signal that you should probably find some food soon because you're running low on fuel. Cravings are your body wanting specific food for a specific reason, regardless of if it is running low on fuel or not. Sometimes they are warranted, but with the way most people eat and live these days, hunger cues are often thrown off and cravings take over. Before you know it, you can't trust what your body is telling you it needs.

A good way to tell the difference between real hungry and cravings is, would you eat a cucumber if it presented to you? If the answer is yes, you are really hungry and need nourishment, but if it's no, you're just craving something.

Cravings are powerful and you may need to white knuckle through them for a bit, but you can cut cravings and get your hunger cues back on track by trying the following:

1) Eat in small intervals. The trick to avoiding hunger is to not get hungry. You can all go home now! It sounds obvious, but if you feed your body a steady supply of fuel, you won't experience the highs and lows of energy crashes that cause cravings. Plus, if you do get hungry, it won't be the 5 alarm, skipped-hungry-and-went-straight-to nauseaus feeling that makes it harder to take the time to find or prepare a healthy meal, making you more likely to reach for something fast and convenient that will just spur more cravings.

2) Get more sleep. Cravings are your body telling you it needs it something. Hormones are what start the whole ball rolling, and if your hormones are out of whack, it can send the wrong message. When you regularly don’t sleep enough, your body produces too little leptin (which suppresses appetite) and too much ghrelin (which stimulates appetite). Cortisol is also released when you are sleep deprived, which is a stressful state for the body, which tells your body to store fat around your middle. Getting more sleep will even out your hormones and, thus, your appetite.

3) Skip Sugar. Sugar is one of the biggest craving causers and it's because it traps you in a vicious cycle: you eat sugar, which spikes your blood sugar levels, giving you a kick of energy that burns off extremely fast. Your body senses the blood sugar crash, so it makes you crave more sugar to get more fuel in you quick. This is why you can eat a huge plate of Chinese food, but you're already picking at the leftovers before you get them home. Skipping sugar, which appears in sweet treats as well as white, processed carbs will combat the problem while eating whole grains and healthy, complex carbs will break down slowly and keep blood sugar levels even so you don't experience the jarring highs and lows.

4) Learn to love volumetrics. Your stomach doesn't gauge calories to feel full, it gauges, literally, how full you are. Since your stomach only recognizes volume, choosing foods that are low in calories but high in volume can fill you up longer. These foods generally tend to be water- and fiber- rich, like fresh fruits and vegetables. Filling up on these as much as you can and making it a habit to eat them before your higher calorie, less voluminous foods can give you a head start on your hunger cues and keep you from over indulging..

5) Drink water. Then drink some more. Under the same principal as volumetrics you can "trick" your body into feeling full on zero calories with good old fashioned H2O. Plus, a lot of people mistake being thirsty for being hungry so always chug a glass of water before you eat to keep yourself in check.

6) Find a healthy substitute. When cravings hit, they are sometimes hard to ignore. Distraction works well- go for a walk or chew some gum to keep your mouth busy, or find a healthy substitute. If you want chocolate, which is full of sugar and will leave you craving more chocolate when you're done, make a chocolate protein mug cake, which is full of protein and healthy fat which will satisfy your sweet tooth but also actually leave you satisfied.

by Kelly Turner

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