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Food Cravings: What They Mean And How To Stop Them!

Last updated on July 25, 2020

Every single person on this planet gets food cravings. But what exactly are food cravings and what do they mean?

There are two types of food cravings, normal and frustrating:

  1. Normal – when you are hungry, food cravings are natural response telling your body to go prepare food
  2. Frustrating – when there is an imbalance, your mind is unable to stop thinking about food even if you aren’t hungry!

Basically food cravings mean your body is trying to communicate something to you. 

Your craving’s meaning could be simply that you are hungry, but you may be missing something too.

More likely you are lacking sleep, stress relief or nutrition – but you may be missing a specific vitamin as well.

In this post you’ll learn all about the meaning of cravings and how to prevent food craving from occurring:

  • What Do Food Cravings Mean On Average For You?
  • What Food Cravings Are Telling You?
  • What Does It Mean When Your Body Craves …?
    Food cravings and what they mean

    What Do Food Cravings Mean On Average For You?

    1. Missing “Slow Burning” Calories
    2. Stress / Emotions Cue
    3. Physical Environment
    4. Lack Of Sleep

    Missing “Slow Burning” Calories: 

    30g of high protein rich food examples like 5 eggs, strips of bacon, protein powder scoop
    Examples of foods that are high in protein and fat

    Most Americans don’t eat enough protein and fat. Instead they consume too much sugar and carbs. 

    One problem with this is that, sugar and carbs get turned into energy by your body very quickly. Protein and fat, on the other hand, burn slowly.

    For example, a big bowl of pasta will make you feel full for an hour or two. But soon those calories will be converted to energy by your body. You’ll be left feeling hungry with food cravings, even though you just recently ate!

    On the other hand, what would have happened if you had mixed in chicken and olive oil with your pasta? You would have felt full and satisfied for 3-5 hours instead of a measly 1-2 hours!

    In this case food cravings mean you’re hungry for nutrients

    Stress / Emotions Cue:

    Stress and other negative emotions can cause food cravings too.

    Why? Foods can give your brain a temporary break from thinking and worrying.

    While you eat for a few minutes you don’t have to think. You can shut your brain off. 

    For a few minutes you don’t have to worry about bills, family, work, corona virus, etc.  Often this is what your food craving means.

    Plus, the sugar from emotional eating can provide a high or numb feeling.

    picture of a habit loop of cue, routine and reward as context on how to resist the urge to eat

    Unfortunately, this high or numb feeling can become very addicting.  Foods like donuts, chips, or cheese (and many other foods) can literally bne addicting for this!

    The key is to realize you are not craving these foods for nutrients, but rather you are craving the high or numb feelings that result from eating these foods, as well as the temporary break from thinking.

    Seeing the underlying craving meanings behind these different foods can allow you to change your behavior in the future 🙂

    (Down below we’ll discuss general strategies on how to handle food cravings, so keep reading)

    Physical Environment:

    Food cravings can become triggered by your physical environment. 

    For example, let’s say you normally come home from work in the evenings.

    You’re hungry and tired so most days you sit in the kitchen and eat. 

    Your brain associates the kitchen with relaxation, warmth and stress relief. This conditioning gets repeated many times.

    Then one day you leave work early and you eat a nice meal at a restaurant with co-workers. 

    You feel full as you drive back home, but right when you walk up stairs to the kitchen, you are hungry again! 

    What gives, what’s the meaning of these food cravings?!?

    These food cravings are occurring because you have eaten so many times in the kitchen after work. 

    The kitchen is now an “environmental trigger”.

    Other triggers can include driving by a certain fast food place on your way home. 

    The quiet, dark house once everyone is asleep is another common environmental trigger for late night eating.

    Lack Of Sleep

    picture of woman sleeping at her desk to show how to avoid things that make you sleepy before bed

    Most adults are lacking sleep. 

    When you lack sleep, you’re going to want energy.

    You’ll probably have cravings for coffee, soda and other sugary foods for those quick bursts of energy. 

    Notice the trend?

    Food cravings are about two things:

    1. You didn’t eat enough and need food
    2. You crave the way the food makes you feel (not the food itself) and need stress relief, sleep and/or self-care

    What Food Cravings Are Telling You?

    Once we understand food cravings and what they mean …

    Then we can understand what food cravings are telling you.

    They are telling you two things:

    1. Eat more complete meals more often
    2. Take better care of yourself 

    *Sometimes you are missing a nutrient, but step 1 99% of the time takes care of that

    Eat More Complete Meals More Often

    Here are some strategies to fix your food cravings if you are lacking nutrients.

    • Drink More Water
    • Protein, Fat and Carbs Every Meal
    • Eat Complete Meals / Snacks Regularly

    Drink More Water

    clear glass of water with water droplets splattered on the ground

    Part of getting a balanced meal is hydration. 

    A good rule of thumb is to have a cup of water every time you eat. It’s easy to remember that way.

    Please note that caffeinated beverages like sodas and coffee will often dehydrate you. 

    And in terms of sodas, you definitely don’t need those! They have zero health benefits!

    But I’m not here to judge 🙂 One idea is simple:

    If you just have to have that coffee or soda, then at least initially try balancing out every cup of coffee or soda with a cup of water.

    Protein, Fat and Carbs Every Meal

    Nutrition can easily become too complex.

    One simple guideline I try to follow myself, and that I see clients resonate with, is the protein, carbs, fat guideline.

    Every meal you eat – breakfast, lunch and dinner – you try to get protein, carbs and fat.

    Example:

    • Breakfast: Oatmeal (carbs) with nuts (protein/fat) and yogurt (protein/fat)
    • Lunch: Greens (carbs) with chicken (protein) and olive oil based dressing (fat)
    • Dinner: Sweet potato (carbs) with veggie burger patty (protein) and cheese (fat)

    Eat Complete Meals / Snacks Regularly

    time of clock showing regular eating with 'eating' in red words taking the place of 9am, noon, 3pm and 6pm

    Your body needs fuel like a car to run.

    If you run out of gas, your car breaks down. So too with your body. Your body is in need of food!

    A powerful guideline is to really try to follow a flexible meal schedule. 

    This means you eat approximately every 3-5 hours.

    Example:

    • Breakfast 8am
    • Lunch 12pm
    • Snack 3pm
    • Dinner 6pm
    • Optional Snack 9pm

    Take Better Care Of Yourself 

    • Change your routine
    • Get more sleep
    • Avoid getting too hungry

    Change Your Routine

    If you come home everyday and go to the kitchen, try switching things up.

    Walk around the block first before you go inside.

    Take a different route home from work.

    Study your craving. When does your craving occur? What happens right before you craving?

    Is it stress? An argument? A location?

    Study your craving patterns and then switch them up!

    Get More Sleep

    I suggest a simple sleep app to get started.

    Something that will track your sleep.

    For most of my life I have struggled with getting enough sleep.

    But once I got the Sleep App for Android, I could finally track the hours of my sleep.

    I saw my two week averages, my sleep cycles, etc.

    This data really motivated me to increase my average score!

    Tracking my sleep made sleep like a game!

    I started out with an average of less than 7 hours, and now I am up to 8+ hours of sleep per night on average!

    I’ve never felt better!

    Avoid Getting Too Hungry

    This one relates to the item above, Eat More Regularly.

    If you eat more regularly, you’ll prevent getting too hungry.

    If you get too hungry, your chances of binge eating go dramatically up!

    While most times food cravings are general and not super specific, it’s possible that you crave specific foods as well.

    This next section will look at certain foods.

    What Does It Mean When Your Body Craves …?

    What Does It Mean When Your Body Craves Chocolate?

    chocolate bar with sugar crystals

    Very frequently you’ll hear that chocolate cravings mean a magnesium deficiency. 

    This could be true, but the more likely reason why you are craving chocolate is more simple.

    You’re tired and stressed out.

    Chocolate has both fat and sugar so it can partially fill you up while providing a boost of energy.

    Plus, chocolate is associated with positive feelings like Valentine’s Day 🙂

    Your body probably needs more sleep, a bit more protein, and some stress relief. But don’t cut out chocolate entirely!

    Trying to cut out chocolate entirely is a bad idea, so don’t do that 🙂

    Instead, indulge in your chocolate craving and have a chocolate bar.

    Just be sure to eat a complete meal more regularly and see how you feel afterwards!

    What Does It Mean When Your Body Craves Salt?

    If you exercise a lot then you may crave salt. 

    When you sweat, your body sweats out salt.

    So if you ever have a really intense workout or hike and suddenly crave potato chips, now you know why.

    Another frequent reason your body may crave salt is because you aren’t eating enough, or are trying to eat too healthy.

    For example, you may be trying to only eat greens and lean proteins and be a very clean eater in general.

    Or, you may be obsessing over weight loss and accidentally going on an extreme diet.

    However, these mindsets about clean eating or weight loss could easily backfire.

    After all, if your body is in a situation of electrolyte imbalance, then you will have salt cravings automatically!

    If you are having a crazy craving for salt and you are a healthy eater, this could be why.

    What Does It Mean When Your Body Craves Sweets?

    Most likely you haven’t eaten enough, or regularly enough.

    Most likely you are simply experiencing low blood sugar. 

    When you have low blood sugar, your body will crave carbs or something sweet in order to boost its blood sugar levels.

    However, this leads to the dangerous cycle we discussed earlier.

    You eat carbs, but then the carbs get burned up very quickly by your body.

    You’re left with low blood sugar and food cravings a few hours later, wondering why you’re hungry again.

    A better solution is to eat “slow burning” foods that have protein and fat in them as well. 

    Your body will still get the blood sugar, and you won’t be hungry again for quite some time.

    What Does It Mean When Your Body Craves Coffee or Tea?

    Coffee is addicting. It’s good for you overall, but addicting.

    My guess is that you’re addicted, and you are lacking sleep.

    Double whammy.

    My advice – get more sleep, and cut back on the coffee a bit.

    What Does It Mean When Your Body Craves Fatty Foods?

    A) you’re not getting enough fat in general or …

    B) fatty foods represent a release for you, and you’re seeking these foods for the emotional reasons we covered above.

    Please note not all fat is bad.

    Sure, fried foods with tons of fat are generally considered to be unhealthy.

    However, foods like the ones below are known to have fats and are good to include in your meals:

    • avocados
    • olive oil
    • meats
    • eggs
    • nuts
    • yogurt

    What Does It Mean When Your Body Craves Red Meat?

    You could possibly be experiencing iron deficiency, or a lack of zinc or vitamin b. 

    Your body does need these vitamins so it makes sense if you crave red meat because red meat provides these vitamins.

    However, you can get many of these from eating dark, leafy greens like spinach.

    Get some more spinach for a week and see if your cravings go down!

    Conclusion

    Eat more balanced meals, more regularly.

    Get some more sleep. 

    Switch up your routines a bit. 

    See how your food cravings respond.

    Oh and one last thing!
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