The 4 Types of Food Cravings

types of food cravings

If you’re alive then the chances are you have experienced cravings. I don’t think I know anyone who hasn’t craved after something. Maybe it’s something typical like chocolate or ice cream, or maybe it’s something a little less typical like ice or dirt!

In pregnancy, cravings are seen as normal and teachers. They let us know that we are craving after a particular nutrient our growing baby needs. So if we can see cravings as teachers in pregnancy why does this not translate over when we experience cravings outside of pregnancy?

I never used to see them as anything other than a nuisance. I used to feel that they meant there was something wrong with me – in the sense that I wasn’t able to “control” them.

Of course there WAS something wrong with me...

but I was taking it way too personally and not seeing them as a GOOD thing.

I refused to listen to what they meant because I was emotionally affected in how they made me feel and what they did to me.

Cravings are our body’s instruction on how to heal – we just need to learn the language

healing cravings

If I had stepped back and for a moment asked “What does this craving mean?” – I would have been a lot better off. That’s really where you need to start. What does the craving you are experiencing mean? What is it telling you?

Of course, in the moment it is always going to be difficult. Cravings can be intense. I remember having intense chocolate cravings and I was starting to get really fed up with being a slave to them.  

I would go out really late at night, just to get some if ​I was craving and out of stock in my own cupboards. I would go out even when it was ridiculously icy JUST for my chocolate fix. It was ridiculous, I was ridiculous!

So one day I decided to go cold turkey and see what happened.

I felt 3 days of utter emotional and physical pain

It took 3 days to finally crush the grip that the cravings had on me and afterwards I felt good and free for a considerable amount of time.

A weight had lifted but it was 3 days of utter pain – emotionally more than physically. I still experienced cravings now and then, just not as intensely as in those 3 days.

Now I realize I didn’t need to be that hard on myself. And it didn’t solve the cravings completely.

But what had happened exactly? Why did my craving appear in the first place – why had they formed and why was it so emotionally draining?

The starting point of this conversation begins with an understanding of the 4 types of cravings.

The 4 Types of Cravings

1. Nutritional

Let’s start with the most obvious and the one we covered briefly above.

Many cravings that you have are your body’s way of saying I need some nourishment. This is why they are very common during pregnancy.

In fact just being hungry could be considered a craving. You certainly crave food then! However when it is more specific, it is usually because that thing you are craving has a specific nutrient your body is lacking and needs.

Different cravings mean different things

chocolate craving

To give an example: my chocolate cravings could have been a signal that my body needed magnesium. In fact, as an asthmatic, this isn’t really surprising. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to asthma as well as a whole host of other issues including type 2 diabetes, migraines, hypertension to name a few.

Around 50% of Americans are deficient in magnesium. So you have a 50/50 chance of your body craving some magnesium.

Mmmm cotton...

I have also had extremely weird cravings too. One time I was suffering from the desire to eat cotton. No joke. Fresh clothing just smelt delicious.

It turned out it was due to low iron and magnesium – taking magnesium supplements rectified this for me. My iron levels went up and I no longer felt anything towards cotton clothing!

Since taking the magnesium, I have also found that I have had no chocolate cravings whatsoever. (It’s also helped my asthma...but that’s another story).

Supplements aren't always necessary

Of course you DON’T necessarily need to take a supplement. You could just seek out other foods that have magnesium in such as pumpkin seeds, almonds etc.

I still try to keep my diet high in magnesium but sometimes if you are really low, a supplement is a good option. In fact some people believe you can never get enough magnesium by food alone in this day and age. In that case, it might be worth getting a test done to assess your magnesium levels.

If you’re craving bread, your body maybe after chromium and /or nitrogen. Other foods such as spinach, sweet potatoes, nuts and seeds would be better options to seek out instead first, and see how the craving is after you’ve had them.

You need to fill your diet with good foods that cover your nutritional needs

So for the nutritional aspect, you do need to take a look at your diet as a whole and see where you could be including the nutrients your cravings indicate you are lacking. You need to fill in the gaps so to speak.

2. Physical

Ever experience the afternoon slump? Sure you have! The afternoon slump usually occurs around 3-5pm – the hours just before you get to go home. You feel fatigued, tired – you want to go home.

This a common time when our blood sugars drop​

tired afternoon slump

This is a common time when our blood sugars naturally drop – hence why we try to search for energy via our cravings. We basically confuse this need for energy with hunger, when in reality we need to take a nap or have some chill out time or actually do the opposite and move.

Your brain uses a lot of glucose to function so at this time, you tend to want to grab sugary snacks to pep you up so you can finish the day.

Take a nap or get up and MOVE

Instead, if at all possible a quick break would be ideal. If you can get a 10 minute break either to take a minute to relax or to walk about – go for a quick walk outside, that would be great.

Maybe take a bathroom break and go the long way round so you can get a proper walk in.

As most of us sit at a desk all day, giving your body this movement time is essential, particularly when the afternoon slump is likely to hit. You will feel a massive difference if you do this and are unlikely to go for the sugary snacks instead.

3. Emotional

I am sure that most people have had their moments of comfort eating. Sometimes our cravings can be about avoiding what out body is really telling us – that we are upset, bored, stressed or even excited.

Positive feelings can also cause craving

christmas celebration

It doesn’t have to be a “negative” feeling that sparks us to eat. Look at the amount of celebrations that are focused around food – pretty much all of them.

By eating, we dull these emotions or stuff them down so we can avoid them or “cope” with them.

Some foods can make us feel happy​

Some foods, particularly sugary food, has the ability to make us feel happy too: even if for just a few minutes. Sugar causes our dopamine levels to spike and make us feel good – we get rewarded for it, but for only a short time.

Over time we build up tolerance, which means we need to eat more and more sugar in order to feel these nice dopamine effects.

I used to eat several large chocolate bars everyday. I am pretty sure I was living off off mostly sugar. Sometimes, particularly when I first acknowledged the issue, I would feel immensely guilty when I caved to these cravings. I would feel bad about myself – feel pathetic that I couldn’t just not eat it.

You are NOT weak or BAD for cravings

But you are NOT weak for having cravings or for caving to them. You shouldn’t feel guilty – it is OK to cave to a craving. Each time just take some lessons from it – what happened? Did you ignore the emotional cues that led to your wanting it? Or was it something else.

Life is chaotic

life is chaos

Sometimes we can get wrapped up in it so much we don’t really spend a moment to acknowledge what is going on in the moment. When we do that it usually results in us ignoring our hunger cues, ignoring our stress or emotional cues and then bingeing because we have intense cravings when the hunger or stress gets too much but we were too late to notice it

Your cravings are your guide

cravings guide

They will lead you to a better and healthier relationship with your body. You need to listen to them to get to the root causes.

These emotional cravings can also leave us feeling weighed down and sluggish afterwards. Emotional cravings are like yearnings. For many people, life is pretty dissatisfying.

We crave purpose, meaning and fulfilment.

In some moments we can feel far from having a purpose or far from feeling fulfilled.

Most of us haven’t been equipped with how to deal with these feelings properly. Instead we may use something – in this case food – to dull them; to allow us to ignore them for a period of time.

Many people snack mindlessly when they watch TV. It’s because they are BORED.

Seriously...bored.

They eat to keep the boredom at rest. What would really be the better option is to get up and do something else. Something much more fulfilling. TV obviously isn’t fulfilling what the body and mind truly needs.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts our body, just like our hearts, can be seduced by the wrong things. We need to unravel this and look deeper in order to overcome it.

Nostalgic Cravings

Nostalgic cravings are another type of emotional craving. These tend to be cravings we associate with a past event or happy/sad memory. For example, whenever I visit my Grandmother, I can smell her cooking. I yearn for her cooking again – all the things she used to make my siblings and I when we were over.

Whenever I see my dad, I want a roast dinner as he used to make us one every Sunday without fail.

These foods have meaning for me.

family dinner cravings

When I cave to a craving for something like this, I get to momentarily relive a little bit of my past I enjoyed.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us have past memories that are centered around food to some extent. These types of cravings don’t tend to be out of control like other emotional cravings.

4. Bacterial

bacteria cravings

This one doesn’t get spoken about much. Physical, emotional and nutritional cravings are spoken about a ton everywhere. However bacterial is usually an afterthought or not considered at all.

It is worth acknowledging at the very least. Our bodies are full of bacteria. Our digestive system needs good bacteria to function properly. Of course there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

Some can overgrow and turn toxic. If we look at candida yeast – this is a common problem for many people. The reason this gets out of hand and becomes harmful is because it lives off the sugars and carbohydrates that we eat. If you’re eating tons of sugar, you’re feeding them and feeding them too much!

When I first quit chocolate I felt really rubbish. I had headaches, body aches and REALLY strong sugar cravings. This was definitely a sign of a bacterial imbalance. I had been feeding the bad bacteria tons of sugar over the months and years.

It isn’t just food though that can help candida flourish. Prescription drugs such as birth control or antibiotics can kill off good bacteria It is often advised to take a good probiotic after a course of antibiotics to help elevate your good bacteria levels again.

If you have problems with bloating, brain fog, poor skin, yeast infections or sugar cravings; this could be a problem for you.

Reducing, or cutting out sugar completely as well as adding in a probitoic (kefir is an ideal choice) to get your system back to functioning optimally is essential.

Conclusion

By looking at the different types of cravings, I hope you are able to see and recognize what potentially are some of the causes of your own.

To really start to unravel cravings, you need to take a moment to acknowledge your craving in the moment.

Take a look at it and you will find deeper meaning.

cravings have deeper meaning

This might require you to move through some very uncomfortable emotions and/or physical experiences.

It will be worth it though. Life isn’t a predictable and straight path – it’s unpredictable and all over the shot, which just makes it more scenic.

Listen, investigate and question your cravings. Try not to hate them or to even ignore them – you’re wasting energy and actually giving them more power that way.

If you want some inner peace, and less struggle, pay attention. It’s not as hard as you might be thinking it is.

Kelly
 

Kelly C is the Editor of Hard Boiled Body. She is passionate about health, well being, running and minimalist. As a competitive runner, she has insight into the struggles of balancing work-outs with good nutrition and injury prevention. She has also had her fair share of weight problems, particularly revolving around cravings and binge eating, which she is able to give her insight and experiences on overcoming.

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