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The meaning behind cravings

Last Updated: 19 January 2019








The meaning behind cravings

It’s been said that we crave what we’re lacking in our diets – but is there any evidence for this? Or is it an old wives tale that craving red meat means you’re lacking in protein and iron?

Scientists believe that while craving sweet things, alcohol or starchy comfort food may be linked to a need for the feel good chemicals produced by eating these foods (like the happy neurotransmitter serotonin), the theory that your body craves foods containing nutrients you’re deficient in is sketchy.


Mood and food

When you’re anxious, tired, emotional or stressed, it’s likely that you’ll crave foods to give you a ‘pick me up’ – often this means sugary, caffeine-packed comfort food and drinks. Unfortunately, the mood boost while eating these foods is short-lived, and it’s quickly followed by a fall in mood and energy, leading to a vicious cycle of cravings.


Spot your craving patterns

Most people have times they’re more prone to cravings – perhaps it’s during the mid-afternoon slump, or on a Monday morning on the way to work. Hormones also play a role in cravings and many women find that cravings are worse before or during their period. These cravings are typically for serotonin-boosters like chocolate or carb-rich foods, which can boost the body’s stress managing glands, the adrenals.   


Take back control

The first step is to work out when your cravings happen and set yourself an action plan. What could you do to avoid giving in to your cravings?


The first way to combat unhealthy cravings is to keep your blood sugar and energy levels steady. This will not only reduce your hunger pangs and energy slumps, but also keep you mentally prepared to face the cravings.


Eating small, regular portions of whole grain foods (oats, rye, brown rice and whole grain bread), lean protein (fish, poultry, eggs, beans and natural yogurt) and mood-boosting good fats (found in oily fish like salmon and mackerel, avocadoes, nuts and seeds) will help.


Cutting back on the unhealthy culprits, typically caffeine, highly refined carbohydrates (like sugar, bread, white pasta, biscuits, crisps, and many breakfast cereals) and alcohol will help you to break the vicious cycle of mood and cravings. Some people find going cold turkey is the only option, though you may find weaning yourself off is a better tactic.


Distract yourself

Another way to beat your cravings is to use the distraction technique – find something you really enjoy that’s easy to do, it could be having a bath, watching your favourite box set or listening to your favourite piece of music. The next time your craving hits, do this activity for at least 10 minutes. By the time you’re into it, your craving will probably have disappeared.



Written by Ruth Tongue

(MSc Nutrition)

Weight loss
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