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What Food Cravings Mean and How To Control Them

Posted Sep 22 2008 10:03am


Is this what happens when “The Crave” hits?

Craving: an intense, urgent, or abnormal desire or longing

We’ve all been there. You have a sudden, intense urge to eat something sweet or salty. It’s never broccoli. It’s probably not a salad. It’s nearly always chocolate. Or ice cream. Or pretzels. Potato chips. You name it…if it’s unhealthy, there’s probably been a time when you just had to have it. Where do these cravings come from and how can you keep them at bay without devouring the entire pumpkin pie?

It’s What You Crave

The big thing to note about a craving is that it’s not just a desire to eat. It’s not mere hunger. A craving is for a very specific food and nothing else will satisfy your need. When your stomach is growling and you’re famished, any food will do. When your brain is saying “I NEED THIS!,” only that particular food will work. Or will it?

A sharp, intense craving typically means that your body is lacking in some essential nutrient. It may be a particular vitamin or mineral or if you’re having a hypoglycemic response to a high-sugar meal, it may be glucose that your body demands. Here’s a list of commonly craved foods, many you may crave at some point in time, and what they may be saying about your nutritional status. Even better, here are much more healthful foods that will shore up those nutritional deficiencies.

Control Your Cravings

Crave This?You Need This...So Eat This.
ChocolateMagnesiumRaw nuts and seeds, legumes, fruits
BreadNitrogenHigh protein foods: fish, meat, nuts, beans
Alcohol, recreational drugsProteinMeat, poultry, seafood, dairy, nuts
Salty FoodsChlorideRaw goat milk, fish, unrefined sea salt
Coffee or teaPhosphorusChicken, beef, liver, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, legumes


The complete list is here at 2nd Wind Body Science. What you’ll notice by looking over the list is that the very foods that serve as healthful stand-ins for the craved foods are invariably Real Foods. Organ meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seafood, red meat, legumes, and a couple mentions of grain (which I’ll let slide). Nearly everything on the list that you should be eating is unprocessed.

Controlling Your Cravings

It’s funny, I no longer find myself having cravings for sweet and salty snacks for the most part (unless I have a couple drinks too many, then it’s anybody’s game). In fact, if I eat too much junk, I find myself going “I just want a big ol’ salad to get back on track.” As evidenced by the list above, a big part of controlling food cravings is eating a nutrient-rich, Real Foods diet. As we’ve seen, cravings are often the result of the body’s desire for specific vitamins and minerals. So it follows logically that a diet full of the necessary vitamins and minerals is going to knock down most cravings.

Here’s a trick that has been proven in a study to improve willpower: take a picture. This article by Douglas Robb of Health Habits shows that dieters taking pictures are less likely to overeat.

One volunteer told the researchers: ‘I had to think more carefully about what I was going to eat because I had to take a picture of it. ‘I was less likely to have a jumbo bag of M&Ms. It curbed my choices. It didn’t alter them completely but who wants to take a photo of a jumbo bag of M&Ms?’ Another volunteer said the photo diaries actually improved the quality of his diet.

Personally, I’ll stick with just eating a high-quality diet that keeps me from needing to worry much about willpower. But the photo trick is interesting nonetheless.

Do you have specific foods that you crave? How do you deal with your cravings?

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