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The Wellness Library

What Do My Food Cravings Mean? Plus 4 Tips for Satisfying Cravings

by | Mar 15, 2023 | Nutrition

A stack of peanut butter cups sits on a pink plate.

Do you struggle with food cravings? You’re not alone! This is something that comes up pretty often in coaching sessions with patients and is one of my favorite topics to discuss. With just a little mindset shift and training ourselves to pause, cravings will no longer be something we dread!

RELATED: Can sugar impact my hormones? YES—here’s how.

What do my food cravings mean?

Most people associate cravings with guilt, shame and loss of control. I would like to shift that narrative and offer that cravings are actually a good thing! Cravings are information for us, to  help us understand what our bodies need. The key is tuning in and listening for cues to help us figure out what direction to take.

When we have cravings, our body is trying to tell us something. One really useful strategy to start getting used to is pausing and asking ourselves, what is my body trying to tell me? What do I need right now?

A lot of times, cravings come on when we are stressed, tired, overwhelmed, bored, frustrated, or feel some sort of void. Since food is so accessible and convenient, we often turn to it instead of tuning into what our bodies actually need.

RELATED: Sugar—a quickstart guide.

Primary vs. secondary foods

There are two types of foods to consider here: primary and secondary. Secondary foods are the actual foods we put into our mouths every day. Primary foods, however, are not foods at all but they have the potential to nourish or deplete us.

Primary foods include things like our relationships, careers, social circles, creativity, finances, joy, overall health, and physical activity. When one, or many, of these areas are out of balance, we won’t be able to feel our best. This is a concept I speak to my patients about often. 

RELATED: How to hone your time management skills to reach your wellness goals.

What do primary foods have to do with food cravings?

So what do primary foods have to do with cravings? When we are ‘craving’ something, it’s typically not actually the food that we’re craving! We usually have some sort of primary food area that is out of balance, or needs some attention.

So how can you identify if the craving is food-related or if something is out of balance elsewhere?The next time you feel a craving coming on, try to deconstruct it and get to why it’s actually happening. Pause, take a deep breath and ask yourself what you really need in that moment.

Try to see if you can figure out the root cause of your craving and address it instead of immediately imbibing whatever ‘food’ you were ‘craving.’ Perhaps you need a hug, to rest, to move, to vent, to connect with a loved one, or maybe you’re just thirsty.

If you still feel a strong craving for a particular food, try crowding out that food with something a little healthier. The key to being able to do this is by being prepared in advance. If you stock your pantry and fridge with healthier options, it will be a lot easier to grab those. A few tips to help you be prepared:

  • Wash, cut and prep any fruits and veggies you grab from the grocery store and store in airtight containers in your fridge. When you’re feeling hungry or craving something, let those be your go-tos.
  • Have things like hummus, guacamole or nut butters on hand to have with your fruits and veggies (these will keep you fuller for longer and are delicious!).
  • Have healthier store-bought snacks on hand. Some of my favorite brands are Siete, Lesser Evil and Larabars or RX bars.
  • Keep dark chocolate around for a quick way to satisfy a sweet craving.

If after you’ve tried all these tips and you’re still craving something sweet (or salty or sour), there’s nothing wrong with that! You’ve been mindful about your eating habits, which means you can consciously make that choice and fully enjoy the experience. The most important thing is to develop the ability to tune into our body’s cues and do our best to get to the root cause of our cravings.

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