What Do Your Food Cravings Mean?

Food cravings – we all get them. But did you ever wonder why some people crave salty, crunchy snacks like potato chips, while others want high-carb side dishes such as mashed potatoes or sugary treats like chocolate? What you crave, when you crave it and how often you crave it says something about your health.

Understanding the underlying reason for your cravings can help you get them under control. You can start by figuring out what type of craving you’re feeling. Marc David of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating says there are three categories of cravings–supportive, dispersive and associative.

Supportive cravings are driven by instinct. They’re your body’s response to needing specific foods to help you recover from an illness or nutritional deficiency. You may have noticed a yearning for citrus fruits while recovering from a cold or a hankering for steak if you’re struggling with anemia. Severe anemia also can trigger pica--cravings to chew ice cubes or eat dirt and paper. (If you are experiencing pica, speak to your doctor as soon as possible.)

Eating the same foods every day increases your likelihood of developing supportive cravings. Many people fall into an eating routine because it makes it easy to keep track calories and nutrients. However, narrow eating routines can limit your intake of certain nutrients, which can trigger your body to crave them. For example, if you crave:
  • Salty foods like potato chips, nachos or French fries, it may indicate a high level of cortisol (stress hormone). To help manage your cortisol levels, eat high quality protein such as eggs and lean meat, and complex carbohydrates like brown rice, beans and vegetables. If your doctor approves, adding a couple of yoga classes to your weekly schedule also might help.
  • Sweet foods like candy bars, it can mean your blood sugar is low. Low blood sugar can be the result of dieting or eating too many highly processed foods that cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash. Combine protein with a complex carbohydrate at snacks and meals. Examples include berries with yogurt, peanut butter on whole grain bread and milk with cereal. Cravings for sweet foods brought on by low blood sugar may also be a sign of something more serious. You should talk to your doctor about this craving.
  • Chocolate, it may suggest a possible magnesium deficiency. Getting more seeds (pumpkin, sunflower and sesame), beans (navy and black) and spinach into your diet can help raise your magnesium levels and may help ease chocolate cravings.
  • High-fat dairy foods like butter, ice cream or cheese, it might be related to a calcium deficiency. For a lower calorie approach to getting in your calcium, snack on walnuts and eat several servings of green leafy vegetables and salmon each week.  
Dispersive cravings are more or less the opposite of supportive cravings--it’s when you want unhealthy junk food that will drain your energy level. These types of cravings often stem from highly emotional situations that increase your energy or stress levels. To counteract this response, your body will crave comfort foods, which are generally laden with sugar and fat. During stressful circumstances, you may be able to control stress and emotional eating by drinking black tea to lower cortisol levels, listening to calming music, chewing gum or meditating.

Associative cravings are driven by memories and nostalgia. Many people have deep meaningful associations with food, which is why your want old family dishes around the holidays, favorite desserts after an accomplishment or comfort foods when you’re sick.

Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University found that smelling foods you associate with memories–like apple pie, spaghetti sauce or cotton candy--can also elicit cravings. They think memory and pleasure-seeking areas of your brain (hippocampus, insula and caudate) are involved.

Studies have linked enjoyable activities with the release of dopamine, a chemical messenger that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Experts believe the same process occurs when you eat foods that are tied to fond memories or feelings of happiness. 

If you’re trying to prevent weight gain from family dinners and holiday parties, work on controlling your associated cravings by strengthening your willpower. Social psychologist Dr. Roy Baumeister says willpower can be strengthened like a muscle through exercises. For example, working on a puzzle that is tough to solve, watching a funny movie while resisting the urge to laugh or watching a sad movie while resisting the urge to cry.

If you’re battling cravings, work with your doctor to help you identify the type of craving and underlying cause. If you don’t have an MDVIP-affiliated doctor, click here to locate one. Continue reading to learn more about controlling your food cravings »



11 Comments
Dena Hudson
Oct 22nd, 2016
MD Vip have always been kind and timely,
Barbara Burr
Oct 20th, 2016
I love my mdvip doctor my first visit he asked me what were the top concerns i had i told him my hearing was to the point i could'nt hear out of my left ear well he got right to work recommending a specialest last week i had surgery this week i can hear out of my left ear again for the first time in over a decade and its only going toimprove over time
1 Reply
MDVIP
Oct 25th, 2016
Greetings Barbara.

This is such good news! We’re glad that you were able to get the hearing restored in your left ear. And hope that your hearing continues improving.

In good health, MDVIP

Barbara Burr
Oct 20th, 2016
I love my mdvip doctor my first visit he asked me what were the top concerns i had i told him my hearing was to the point i could'nt hear out of my left ear well he got right to work recommending a specialest last week i had surgery this week i can hear out of my left ear again for the first time in over a decade and its only going toimprove over time
1 Reply
MDVIP
Oct 25th, 2016
Greetings Barbara.

This is such good news! We’re glad that you were able to get the hearing restored in your left ear. And hope that your hearing continues improving.

In good health,
MDVIP
Carol B.
Oct 20th, 2016
I found this article most helpful. I do eat healthy, but struggle to the point of tears for whatever it is that I'm craving. It's a daily battle for me.
1 Reply
MDVIP
Oct 25th, 2016
Greetings Carol.

We’re glad you found the information helpful. Cravings are a battle for many people and can interfere with managing weight and conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. We hope that some of the suggestions in the blog are able to help you.

In good health,
MDVIP

sally roberts
Oct 20th, 2016
love MDVIP
1 Reply
MDVIP
Oct 25th, 2016
Greetings Sally.

Thank you very much. We really appreciate your kind words.

In good health,
MDVIP
Marian Weber
Oct 20th, 2016
I pretty much stick to a healthy diet and always believed that you are what you eat. However, I am human and do occasionally get the "munchies", I keep a box of shredded wheat cereal in the house. It provides gives me the crunch without any added sugar or salt!
Diane Pietrucha
Oct 19th, 2016
Periodically I crave carbs. Mostly pasta. Certainly different than chocolate which I almost never crave.
Ann Russell
Oct 19th, 2016
Good information to help us filter some reasons we may indulge at one ime or another.
1 Reply
MDVIP
Oct 19th, 2016
Greetings Ann.

Thank you very much. We’re happy to read that you found value in the information.

In good health, MDVIP

Caryn
Oct 19th, 2016
This was VERY good information. I love to eat and I eat good food at meals but I tend to look for junk in between for snacking. Frustrating.
1 Reply
MDVIP
Oct 19th, 2016
Greetings Caryn.

We’re glad you found the information helpful.

In good health, MDVIP

Anne T Piscioneri
Oct 19th, 2016
I also love my doctor. His endless knowledge always amazes me as is his kindness and patience.
I feel well served.
1 Reply
MDVIP
Oct 19th, 2016
Greetings Anne.

We’re glad to read that you’re happy with your doctor.

In good health, MDVIP
Lowry a griffon
Oct 19th, 2016
Love my physician he is smart., available and kind. Thus far at 86 My main problem is not being able to sleep well but we are working on it. I worked for over 40 years and never learned to relax. I can always think. Is someone I need to help or something I could be doing
1 Reply
MDVIP
Oct 19th, 2016
Greetings Lowry.

We’re glad to read that you’re happy with your doctor and we hope that you are able to improve your sleeping habits and get some rest.

In good health, MDVIP

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