What does food craving mean? Ultimate guide

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What does food craving mean? Ultimate guide

Food cravings are your body’s way of telling you that it needs a specific nutrient or combination.

For example, if you’re craving something sweet, it could mean that your body is lacking in carbohydrates and looking for a quick energy source. 

Conversely, craving salty foods could indicate a need for more electrolytes or minerals, such as sodium. 

Please pay attention to these cravings and understand what they mean rather than simply giving in to them.

Why Do We Crave Certain Foods?

Some food cravings may be due to external triggers such as advertising, smells, or social situations. However, most of the time, our body tries to communicate something through these cravings.

Many factors can contribute to food cravings, including:

  • Nutrient deficiencies: As mentioned earlier, a specific food craving may indicate a deficiency in particular nutrients.
  • Emotional triggers: Many people turn to comfort foods when experiencing stress, anxiety, or other emotions. These foods are often high in sugar and fat, which can provide temporary relief but ultimately lead to an unhealthy cycle of emotional eating.
  • Habitual eating: If you indulge in certain foods at a specific time or situation, your body may crave them as a routine.
  • Hormonal changes: Women often experience food cravings during their menstrual cycle due to hormone fluctuations. Pregnancy can also bring about intense cravings for specific foods.

The body’s way of communicating its needs

Our bodies are incredibly intelligent and can communicate with us in many ways. One of these ways is through food cravings. When we experience a craving for a specific type of food, it may indicate that our body is lacking something and needs it to function at its best.

Instead of viewing food cravings as a weakness or giving in to them without thought, we should see them as our body’s way of communicating its needs. By understanding the underlying reasons for our cravings, we can make more informed choices about what to eat and nourish our bodies holistically.

How to respond to food cravings

When facing a food craving, it’s essential to listen to your body and respond in a compassionate and empowering way. Here are some tips for responding to food cravings:

  1. Pause and reflect: Before giving into a craving, take a moment to pause and reflect on why you may be experiencing it. Are you feeling stressed or anxious? Did you skip a meal or eat too little? Understanding the root cause of your craving can help you address it more effectively.
  2. Stay hydrated: Sometimes, our bodies can mistake thirst for hunger, leading to cravings for certain foods. Stay hydrated by drinking enough water throughout the day to see if that helps manage cravings.
  3. Choose healthier alternatives: If you’re craving a specific type of food like chocolate or chips, try to find a healthier alternative that satisfies your craving while providing nutrients for your body. For example, swap out regular chocolate for dark chocolate with higher cocoa content, which has less sugar and more antioxidants.
  4. Practice mindful eating: Instead of mindlessly giving in to a food craving, practice mindful eating by paying attention to the taste, smell,

Common reasons for food cravings

Emotions: Many people turn to food as a comfort or distraction when dealing with difficult emotions such as stress, sadness, or boredom.

  • Nutrient deficiencies: Cravings can also be our body’s way of telling us that we lack certain nutrients. For example, craving red meat may indicate an iron deficiency.
  • Hormonal changes: Fluctuations in hormones, such as during menstruation or pregnancy, can increase food cravings.
  • Habitual eating: We may also crave certain foods simply because we are used to eating them at a particular time or in a specific situation.
  • Deprivation/restriction: Restricting ourselves from certain foods can lead to more intense cravings for them. Finding a balance and not completely cutting out any food groups is essential.
  • Social influence: Seeing others eat or talk about specific foods can also trigger cravings for those same foods in us.
  • Lack of sleep: Not getting enough can affect our hormones and increase cravings, especially for sugary or high-fat foods. So, it’s important to prioritize getting enough quality sleep each night.
  • Underlying health conditions: Some medical conditions, such as diabetes or hypothyroidism, can cause changes in appetite and cravings for certain foods.
  • Medications: Certain medications can also affect our appetite and cravings. It’s important to talk to a doctor if you notice any changes in your food cravings after starting a new medication.

What are the three kinds of cravings?

Food cravings are a natural part of the human experience, often reflecting our body’s needs or emotions. Understanding these cravings can help in managing them more healthily. Here are unique types of food cravings:

1. Selective Cravings

Selective cravings are intense desires for specific foods. These are often linked to emotional responses or memories of the particular food. For example, craving your favorite chocolate bar may be tied to comfort or stress relief.

2. Nonselective Cravings

Nonselective cravings are less specific and usually indicate hunger or thirst. People experiencing nonselective cravings might feel a general urge to eat anything without a particular food.

3. Emotional Cravings

Emotional cravings arise from feelings such as stress, sadness, or boredom. These cravings often lead to comfort foods such as ice cream or chips temporarily relieving emotional relief.

4. Habitual Cravings

Habitual cravings occur out of routine or habit. For instance, someone might crave a snack every day at 3 PM simply because it has become a chronic eating time.

5. Nutrient Deficiency Cravings

These cravings are the body’s way of signaling a lack of certain nutrients. For example, craving salty foods might indicate a sodium deficiency, while a desire for fatty foods could suggest a need for essential fatty acids.

6. Physiological Cravings

Physiological cravings stem from the body’s genuine need for energy or hydration. If you’ve skipped a meal or haven’t had enough water, you may experience these cravings.

7. Sensory Cravings

Sensory cravings are triggered by sensory experiences—sight, smell, or taste. For example, the aroma of freshly baked bread or the sight of a juicy burger can stimulate a strong desire to consume those foods.

8. Seasonal Cravings

Seasonal cravings are influenced by the time of year. In winter, people might crave warm, hearty foods like soups and stews, while summer cravings might lean towards cool, refreshing treats like salads and fruits.

9. Contextual Cravings

These cravings are linked to specific situations or environments. For instance, being at a movie theater might trigger a craving for popcorn, or attending a barbecue might lead to a desire for grilled foods.

10. Pregnancy Cravings

Pregnant women often experience unique cravings due to hormonal changes. These can range from common foods to unusual combinations like ice cream pickles.

11. Pica

Pica is a type of craving for non-nutritive substances such as ice, dirt, or chalk. This condition often indicates specific nutrient deficiencies or underlying health issues.

What kind of cravings indicate deficiency?

Cravings can sometimes be the body’s way of signaling a deficiency in essential nutrients. For instance, a strong desire for salty foods might indicate a need for more electrolytes, such as sodium or potassium, crucial for maintaining fluid balance and nerve function. 

Similarly, a chocolate craving could suggest a magnesium deficiency, as this mineral is vital in muscle and nerve functions and energy production. 

Additionally, an intense urge to consume red meat or other protein-rich foods might indicate a lack of iron or vitamin B12, which is critical for healthy red blood cells and overall vitality. 


Food cravings are more than random urges; they are meaningful signals from our bodies and minds, highlighting various needs and desires. 

These cravings can stem from emotional states, such as stress or sadness, where comfort foods provide temporary relief. They can also indicate physiological needs, 

like hunger or dehydration, prompting us to seek sustenance or fluids. Nutrient deficiencies are another vital aspect, with specific cravings pointing to a lack of essential vitamins or minerals. 

For instance, a longing for salty snacks might reveal a need for more electrolytes, while a desire for chocolate could hint at a magnesium deficiency.


What do food cravings mean emotionally?

Food cravings emotionally signify underlying feelings or stressors, often reflecting a need for comfort or emotional relief.

What do different food cravings mean?

Different food cravings can indicate various needs, including emotional comfort, physical hunger, or specific nutrient deficiencies, reflecting the body’s and mind’s unique requirements.

About the Author

Jared Levenson is a former binge eating wrestler turned Zen Buddhist Monk, Internal Family Systems counselor and nutrition wellness coach. He's helped hundreds of people through universal meal principles and internal family systems to make peace with food, stop binge eating, and find true health and wholeness.


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