Can Nature Help Curb Unhealthy Cravings?

Waking Up Early

Stress and intense cravings for unhealthy foods often go together. You’ve probably experienced days where you fell into unhealthy habits, grabbing ice cream or other treats to make yourself feel better. Now, new research suggests there may be an uncomplicated way to reduce intense food cravings – spend more time looking at green spaces and in nature.

A study from the University of Plymouth in the UK is the first to demonstrate that passive exposure to nature and greenspaces, simply viewing them from home, is linked to both less frequent and less intense cravings. The research builds on previous findings that exercising in nature can help curb cravings for unhealthy foods and even alcohol and cigarettes. The subjects enjoyed the benefits even without engaging in physical activity.

Why Do Cravings Matter?

Giving in to cravings for unhealthy foods too often can contribute to obesity, diabetes, and other health issues. Cravings for foods high in sugar and fat contribute to the greatest global health challenges, including cancer, obesity, and diabetes. The main reason cravings harm is they’re high in calories. While they may taste good, they’re typically low in nutrients and high in calories, making them major contributors to weight gain.

Beyond individual benefits, finding ways to reduce cravings could have significant public health impacts. The link between cravings and emotions has been revealed by multiple studies. Negative moods and emotions can precede and trigger food cravings and lead to a loss of self-control around eating.

Research also indicates that negative emotions drive addictive eating as well. Finding ways to manage stress is another strategy for curbing unhealthy cravings. Simple approaches like taking a short walk outdoors, calling a friend, listening to uplifting music, or practicing mindfulness can boost your mood if you do them consistently. When you feel more balanced and positive emotionally, you become less susceptible to negative cravings.

Science clearly shows links between emotions, cravings, and behaviors. Boosting natural mood enhancers could help break cycles of addiction and that includes spending time in nature.

The Positive Impacts of Nature

Why nature? Access to green spaces has been tied to better mental and physical health in multiple studies. Some of the findings include:

  • People living near more green spaces tend to have less mental distress, anxiety, and depression.
  • Time in nature is associated with lower cortisol levels (lower stress), greater happiness, and improved sleep.
  • Neighborhoods with more green space have lower rates of many health issues, even when accounting for socioeconomic differences.

The reasons for these broad health benefits are varied – exposure to diverse bacteria, increased physical activity, more social interaction, air filtration, temperature regulation, and stress reduction. Sometimes, we need bird songs more than another YouTube video!

Putting It Together: Nature and Cravings

The University of Plymouth study surveyed over two hundred adults regarding their access to green spaces, frequency of visiting nature, recent physical activity, and cravings for substances like alcohol, drugs, or unhealthy foods.

The key findings are that access to gardens/allotments and views of greenery from home were linked to less intense and less frequent cravings, even after adjusting for physical activity levels. Passive exposure to natural spaces seems to offer benefits too. Outdoor workouts are beneficial but so is sitting quietly in nature.

Applying the Research to Real Life

Turns out that surrounding ourselves with trees, parks, and gardens is great for your health. The green spaces in cities boost more than just the scenery – emerging research links them to less stress and fewer food cravings too.

Simple daily steps like taking in views of gardens or taking short walks through local parks appear to provide easy, accessible ways to curb unhealthy cravings. Our natural environment has so many opportunities to integrate nature’s therapeutic power – make the most of it!

Nature As a Remedy for Cravings

There’s something rejuvenating about being surrounded by trees, gardens, and green open spaces. Who doesn’t feel more relaxed when surrounded by nature? Although scientists are still piecing together why, one reason may be the effect it has on stress hormones, like cortisol.

Studies show that spending time in the greater outdoors helps lower cortisol to a healthier level. Plus, nature has a restorative effect. It gives us a break from information overload and the constant noise of daily life. Simply put, it gives our minds a break – and we need that!

Even a window view of the great outdoors has benefits. When you look out upon nature from indoors, the benefits include:

  • Reduced stress
  • Improved mood
  • Restored ability to focus.
  • Decreased impulsiveness.

It reminds us of our deep-rooted human bond with the natural world written into our DNA. Pretty powerful stuff! For all the technology in the world, sometimes you just can’t beat a quiet walk in the woods or park. It effortlessly snaps things back into focus if you let it.

The take-home message? Spending more time in natural environments may reduce cravings while also having a calming effect on your mood. So, take more breaks and enjoy the great outdoors!


  • Williams A. Seeing greenery linked to less intense and frequent cravings. University of Plymouth. Published July 12, 2019. Accessed January 23, 2024. https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/news/seeing-greenery-linked-to-less-intense-and-frequent-cravings
  • ‌Sagui-Henson SJ, Radin RM, Jhaveri K, Brewer JA, Cohn M, Hartogensis W, Mason AE. Negative Mood and Food Craving Strength Among Women with Overweight: Implications for Targeting Mechanisms Using a Mindful Eating Intervention. Mindfulness (N Y). 2021;12(12):2997-3010. doi: 10.1007/s12671-021-01760-z. Epub 2021 Sep 24. PMID: 34584574; PMCID: PMC8460847.3.
  • How Parks and Green Spaces Can Improve Your Health – Outreach & Engagement. Outreach & Engagement – NC State University. Published June 30, 2022. Accessed January 23, 2024. https://oe.ncsu.edu/how-parks-and-green-spaces-can-improve-your-health/#:~:text=People%20who%20spend%20more%20time,of%20happiness%20and%20well%2Dbeing.
  • Seeing greenery linked to less intense and frequent unhealthy cravings. ScienceDaily. Published 2019. Accessed January 23, 2024. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/07/190712120211.htm#:~:text=Summary%3A,alcohol%2C%20cigarettes%20and%20harmful%20foods.&text=FULL%20STORY-,Being%20able%20to%20see%20green%20spaces%20from%20your%20home%20is,foods%2C%20new%20research%20has%20shown.
  • ‌National Center for Biotechnology Information, How Does Urban Green Space Impact Residents’ Mental Health: A Literature Review of Mediators
  • “20 Minute Contact with Nature Reduces Stress Hormone Cortisol.” 04 Apr. 2019, https://neurosciencenews.com/nature-cortisol-stress-11001/.

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