Cravings can mean different things for different people.
What one person might crave, another person might not.
However, there are some general cravings that most people experience at some point in their lives. For example, most people get a ‘sweet tooth’ for sugar at some point in their lives!
Underneath the cravings for food are specific patterns, triggers and cues.
When you study the patterns behind food cravings then you come to a deeper understanding of what your food cravings actually mean.
In this blog article, we’ll explore both food cravings and the deeper patterns underneath the cravings!
- First you’ll see the more common food cravings in a Food Craving Meanings Chart you can see down below. Like chocolate! These surface layer cravings for food are related to nutritional deficiencies.
- Second, beneath the chart we’ll explore the common food patterns behind these cravings. In this section second we’ll explore the deeper layer behind the food cravings which relate to your emotions like stress and boredom.
Food Craving Definition
There are two important food cravings definitions:
- Food craving based on genuine physical hunger. In other words your body is hungry and needs fuel!
- Food cravings based on other factors like emotions, boredom, rebelliousness, triggers, etc. In other words, emotional eating.
So what do your food cravings mean? If you’re experiencing a sudden, intense craving for a certain food, it’s probably emotional.
On the other hand, if you’re gradually becoming more and more hungry throughout the day and your cravings build up slowly, it’s probably physical hunger.
When you look at the chart below, the assumption is that you’re genuinely hungry (we’ll talk about the emotional stuff after!).
The Most Common Meaning of Craving Food
Is That You’re Hungry!
When you have a craving, it’s your body’s way of telling you that it needs something. Usually, that something is food.
The most common meaning of craving food is that you’re hungry. When you’re hungry, your stomach feels empty and may even growl to let you know it needs to be filled.
There are other reasons why you might crave food even when you’re not hungry. If you’re stressed, tired, or emotional, you may find yourself wanting to eat even if your stomach isn’t growling. We’ll talk about these reasons farther down below.
So, if you’re wondering what do my food cravings mean, the most likely answer is that you’re simply hungry.
Food Craving Meanings Chart
This chart lists:
- The most common food cravings
- The most likely nutritional deficiency
- Some ideas on foods to eat to reduce the nutritional deficiency
What Food Cravings Mean Chart
This chart reflects the most obvious fact about food cravings.
When are deficient in nutrients, we crave those nutrients.
Here are just a few examples:
- Water – when lacking water you get thirst cravings, or signals to drink more water
- Salt – when your body is lacking in salt, you will crave salty foods
- Sugar – when needing a quick energy hit or craving something sweet
- Fat – when wanting to feel more satiated
- Protein – when needing to repair muscles or tissues
- Carbs – when needing a quick source of energy
The food craving meaning chart reflects the simple idea that if you’re craving a certain food, most likely you’re lacking the nutrients that food contains.
For example, just this past weekend I had a craving for milk. I even bought whole milk at the store and drank a half gallon over the weekend!
I must have had a calcium deficiency because that milk tasted delicious!
Now a few days later, my craving for milk has largely gone away. My calcium deficiency has been nutritionally satisfied!
The easiest way to know if your cravings are a sign of nutritional deficiency – after you eat the food you crave, then your cravings go away!
If you are craving sweets at night this is the most likely reason as well!
Using The Food Cravings Meaning Chart
The Food Cravings Chart lists a few ideas about the nutritional deficiencies you could be experiencing if you’re craving the 8 foods listed on the chart.
Here are each of the 8 most common food cravings listed in more detail and what they most likely mean, from a nutritional standpoint:
Chocolate Craving Meaning
Of course chocolate cravings can be emotional. However, from a nutritional perspective chocolate cravings also make sense.
Chocolate contains magnesium which is a mineral that helps with relaxation and cognitive function. It also has tryptophan which helps the body produce serotonin, known as the “happy chemical.”
And what about craving chocolate when you’re PMS-ing?
Well, chocolate cravings during PMS may be due to the fact that female bodies crave more magnesium when their menstruating.
This is because during our period, women lose a lot of magnesium through the loss of blood. And since chocolate is a good source of magnesium, it makes sense that women would want to eat more of it when PMS-ing.
So, if you’re craving chocolate, it could be your body’s way of telling you that you need more magnesium. You can get magnesium from other foods like dark leafy greens, nuts, and seeds. But sometimes, nothing hits the spot like a big piece of chocolate!
Sugar Craving Meaning
If you’re craving sugary sweets, from a nutritional perspective, your body needs more fuel.
You may be lacking in energy due to not eating enough calories, or you may need more nutrients like carbohydrates or simple sugars. What your body is telling you is that it needs more of the basic building blocks for energy.
There could be an emotional reason for your sugar craving as well. Maybe you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or even depressed and are using food as a way to cope. Or, perhaps you’re bored and are looking for something to do. Sugar can give you a quick burst of energy and pleasure, but it’s not a long-term solution to any problem.
We’ll talk more about emotional eating below, but in general, if you find yourself constantly craving sugary foods, it’s important to take a step back and look at your overall diet and lifestyle.
Are you eating enough nutrient-rich foods? When you eat, do you feel satisfied afterwards?
Salty Foods Craving Meaning
If you are craving salty foods, most likely you are lacking sodium!
At the eating disorder center where I work, clients oftentimes are given salt tablets to add sea salt to meals.
The clients simply aren’t getting enough salt in their diet!
In addition to sodium deficiency, it’s also possible that your body is lacking chloride.
If chloride is deficient, you can try getting more fish, tomatoes, lettuce, or olives.
Of course, it’s also quite likely your body is needing more fuel too! Salty foods like chips, fries and the like all contain lots of calories.
So if you’re hungry and low on sodium and chloride it would make a lot of sense to start craving salty foods.
Oily Foods Craving Meaning
If you are craving oily foods, it could be because you’re lacking the nutrient of calcium.
To get more calcium try eating spinach, milk, broccoli, figs or plums.
And of course, let’s not forget that if you’re hungry then oily foods contain lots of healthy fats which keep you full and satisfied.
Plus, in general if your diet is low in healthy fats you’ll start to crave fats.
If you’re low in fats, calcium and you’re hungry then it makes perfect sense why you’d crave oily foods which contain fats.
Coffee Food Craving Meaning
If you are craving coffee, the most likely nutrient deficiency is phosphorus.
Of course you may be sleepy or addicted to caffeine – but we’re just talking about nutritional deficiencies right now!
If you’re missing phosphorus, eat more vegetables and nuts.
There could be several other nutrients lacking as well, which could explain your coffee food cravings.
- Sulphur (try cranberries, broccoli)
- Salt (try salt, seaweed)
- Iron (try nuts, figs, spinach, plums, figs, broccoli, kale)
Soda Cravings Meaning
We all know that feeling. You’re thirsty, you’ve been staring at the soda machine for what feels like hours, and your mouth is watering just thinking about that sweet, carbonated goodness.
But why do we crave soda so much? What is it about this seemingly innocuous beverage that has us coming back for more, even when we know it’s not good for us?
Admittedly, your craving for soda is probably an emotional eating issue, as opposed to a nutritional deficiency.
There are many emotional reasons people crave soda:
There are a few reasons why soda cravings are so hard to resist. For one, soda is loaded with sugar, and our brains love sugar. Sugar lights up the reward center of our brain, giving us that little hit of pleasure that we crave.
What’s more, when we drink soda, we get a double whammy of sugar and caffeine, which can be even more addictive.
But it’s not just the physical properties of soda that make us crave it. There are also emotional reasons why we turn to soda when we’re feeling down or stressed out.
For many of us, soda is a comfort food. It reminds us of childhood or a simpler time when we didn’t have to worry about things like calories or sugar intake. Drinking soda can also be a way of self-soothing when we’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed.
So if you find yourself craving soda, try to take a step back and figure out what’s really going on. Are you thirsty? Bored? Stressed? Once you know the root cause of your craving, you can find a healthier way to cope.
However from a nutritional perspective, soda can suck calcium from your bones. If you’re lacking calcium, try getting more milk, plums, kale, figs or broccoli.
Bread Cravings Meaning
Similar to soda, if you’re craving bread or similar items like croissants, muffins, etc …
Then you’re most likely in an emotional eating situation, more so than a nutrient deficiency.
However, it’s possible your food craving for bread is because of an insufficient amount of nitrogen.
To get more nitrogen try getting more nuts, seeds, or dark leafy greens.
There are many emotional reasons people crave bread.
Like the emotional reasons people crave chocolate or sugary treats, if you’re bored, stressed, or tired you may start to crave bread for:
- Boredom – When we’re bored, we often turn to food for entertainment. We may not even be hungry, but eating something can help pass the time.
- Stress – Like boredom, stress is another common trigger for emotional eating. When we’re stressed, our bodies produce the hormone cortisol. This hormone can increase our appetite, and make us crave foods that are high in fat and sugar.
- Tiredness – Tiredness can also lead to emotional eating. When we’re tired, we may not have the energy to cook or prepare a healthy meal. We may also be more likely to make poor food choices when we’re exhausted.
These are just a few of the emotional reasons people may crave bread. If you find yourself reaching for a slice of toast or a bagel more often than usual, try to take a moment to identify what might be driving your craving.
Once you know what’s behind your craving, you can work on finding other ways to cope.
Pre-Menstrual Cravings Meaning
Zinc is a vital component of blood, and so if you’re getting cravings right before your period, then it’s possible insufficient zinc is responsible.
In that case, try eating more leafy vegetables, broccoli, kale or root vegetables next time.
However, not all cravings are created equal.
If you find yourself constantly craving unhealthy foods even though you’re eating a balanced diet, it could be a sign of an underlying issue.
This is especially true if you’re struggling with weight gain or other health issues.
Now that we’ve discussed nutritional deficiencies, let’s talk about emotion reasons behind food cravings.
(If you want more info about nutritional deficiencies, read this CDC report here.)
Do I have a nutrient deficiency or an emotional deficiency?
Step 1) You have a craving, then using the food craving meanings chart and information above.
Example hypothesis: I am craving chocolate, so I may be lacking the nutrient magnesium.
Step 2) Try foods that may replenish your hypothesized missing nutrient. Make a note if the nutrient helps or not.
For example, if you hypothesize you are missing magnesium, try fruits or nuts and see if your craving goes away.
If the craving goes away after you fulfill the nutrient requirement, then you are good to go!
But what if the craving is still there?
Let’s say you’re craving chocolate so you eat some nuts which contain magnesium (see food cravings meaning chart above!).
Then you even eat a chocolate bar to really make sure that you’re getting magnesium.
But soon after you finish the chocolate bar, you are still thinking about chocolate! What then?
When you still have cravings even after getting the nutrient, you have a case of emotional eating.
How to tell the difference between nutritional deficiency versus emotional eating
The reason emotional hunger is easily confused with nutrient deficiency is because both make you crave specific foods!
However, there are differences between the signs of nutrient deficiency versus the food cravings of true emotional eating.
1 – Gradual Hunger Versus Sudden Hunger
For starters, you can notice if your hunger comes on suddenly or gradually.
If you are lacking a nutrient you may be hungry for food, but your hunger will not be sudden.
But if you are emotionally hungry you’ll only want a certain food, and you’ll want it right now!
When you are lacking a nutrient, the hunger or urge to eat will come on gradually. Emotional hunger on the other time is sudden and irritating!
2 – Do you feel guilty after eating?
This is the classic sign of emotional eating.
It’s simple. Do you feel guilty after you ate?
While it’s possible guilt and genuine hunger get mixed up, in general, if you feel guilty after you’ve eaten then you know you ate for emotional reasons instead of physical.
3 – Specific Food Cravings Versus General Food Cravings
The biggest indicator of emotional eating is that you ONLY want 1 certain food, such as:
- A specific fast food restaurant dish
- One particular type of flavor
One client I met recognized his specific cravings for Philly Cheesesteaks were emotional because that’s all he wanted and he felt like nothing else could satisfy him!
Likewise, you might be unable to stop thinking about a particular food.
Even if you ate a hearty meal that made you feel comfortably full, you would still want to keep eating!
This happens many times for people. They try to eat healthy, but then after they eat healthy, they still desire something ‘unhealthy’!
This is the biggest sign of emotional eating. For more info on binge and emotional eating, read my 101 guide here.
Emotional Food Cravings Meaning
As you can see from this emotional food cravings meaning chart, there are many reasons why people might emotionally eat.
Some people do it because they’re bored, others because they’re stressed or anxious. Some people turn to food for comfort when they’re feeling lonely or sad.
There are many more reasons for emotional eating:
- Exhausted from long day of work
- Hormonal changes
- Anxious or stressed
- Boredom or loneliness
- Angry or resentful
- Depressed or sad
- Reward yourself
- Recovering from an eating disorder
Whatever the reason, emotional eating can be a destructive habit. It can lead to weight gain, as well as other health problems like high blood pressure and cholesterol.
If you find yourself emotional eating, it’s important to try to figure out what’s driving your behavior. Once you know what’s behind your cravings, you can start to address the problem and break the cycle.
If you’re not sure what’s causing your emotional eating, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do I turn to certain foods when I’m feeling stressed or down?
- Do I eat until I’m stuffed, even if I’m not really enjoying the food?
- Am I eating when I’m not really hungry?
- Do I eat more when I’m around other people, even if I’m not really hungry?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, emotional eating may be a problem for you.
But don’t despair – there are ways to overcome it.
With a little effort, you can break the cycle of emotional eating and start living a healthier, happier life.
Food Craving Meanings – Conclusion
So what’s the deal with food cravings? There are two main reasons behind them. The first and most common are your normal, everyday food cravings.
When you’re deficient in certain minerals and nutrients it’s normal to crave foods that provide those nutrients. For example, if you don’t get enough zinc in your diet you might start craving oysters or other zinc-rich foods.
However, the second also common reason people crave food is for emotional reasons. Emotional eating can be triggered by stress, boredom, anger, sadness or any other emotion.
If you’re not sure why you’re constantly reaching for snacks try taking a step back and evaluating what’s going on emotionally that might be causing you to eat more than usual.
Ok, what other questions or comments do you have?
Let us know in the comments below – what do you think about our Food Craving Meanings Chart?