8 hidden meanings behind cravings

Most of us don’t give our body much thought until something goes wrong and it causes us pain or discomfort.

But when you begin to tune in, you’ll find that your body actually has exquisite ways to communicate all sorts of important information with you. And one of the ways it does this is through cravings.

When our body begins to generate strong cravings for certain kinds of foods, we can be sure it is trying to communicate something to us.

At first it can feel confusing to figure out because sometimes our cravings often don’t make sense.  I can remember a woman I was working with asking me, “I have such intense cravings for foods that I know aren’t good for me…it makes me wonder why I would want to trust my body at all?

I can understand that perspective from the first glance.  But when we look a little deeper and trust in the process, we can identify what is out of whack by using our cravings as signals.

Here are 8 potential causes of cravings.  Let’s look at these as a starting point.

1. Water

Dehydration can often be perceived as mild hunger. If you find that you are getting strange cravings of hunger when you have eaten recently, try drinking a large glass of water and waiting 10-15 minutes to see if the hunger signals stave off. Or try to stay ahead of the game and keep yourself hydrated through the day.

2. Lack of a Core Need

When we are not filled and satisfied in areas of our life that are more essential to our well being like joy, meaning, creativity, purpose, love, laughter, we can begin to substitute the food we eat for our lack in those areas. Being in a difficult or unloving relationship, being bored or unmotivated at our jobs, lack of exercise, being cooped up indoors for too long, or feeling stagnant in personal growth can all manifest as strong food cravings, particularly for sweet foods.

3. Ying/Yang Balance

Our bodies function under the need to maintain homeostatis or dynamic balance. When we are out of harmony, we often will experience a strong craving to counter the excess in our diets or lives.  Foods and experiences have either yin qualities (expansive) or yang qualities (contractive). For example if we are craving sweet foods (high yin) we may need to examine if there is an excess of contractive elements or foods in our diet or life.

4. Comfort Seeking

Foods are used by many of us from a very young age to reward, calm, nurture and comfort us when we are feeling sad, lonely or needy. This emotional connection to food can become deeply seeded and will often continue to play out in our adult life without our even being aware of it. Sometimes the craving we is simply our conditioning to reach for certain foods that temporarily make us feel better or to numb us from uncomfortable feelings.

5. Seasonal

The foods that are naturally harvested in each season, also have qualities that balance the elements of that season. For example foods that are in abundance in the summer months, work to cool our bodies off in the heat of the season. In this way, our bodies have an intuitive sense of which foods will help balance what we are getting an excess of in each season. The longer we eat in season, the more we find these natural cravings surface.

6. Lack of Nutrients

In today’s modern world, we have available foods that are completely lacking of nutritional value– they have been so overly processed that they contain calories but little to no nutrients. This is never the case in nature. And so our bodies don’t count calories, but they seek the adequate amount of nutrients and will continue to exhibit hunger signals until they receive the nutrients needed to survive. I have seen many times a dramatic reduction of someone’s cravings when they switch from processed to real foods.

7. Sugar Addiction

Never before in human history have we consumed the amount of sugar that we do now. Our bodies are simply not designed to manage it and often times the impact it has on our body is more like a drug than a food. Sugar consumption can set up biochemical responses that will cause intense cravings for more and more sugar. Getting a handle on this one aspect of our diet makes a huge difference in our physical, mental and emotional health. I’d love to send you instant access to my Sweet Relief from Sugar Cravings virtual workshop.  Click here to get it for free.

8. Glass Ceiling Syndrome

Have you ever noticed that when things are starting to go really well, you find yourself self-sabotaging?  If we are feeling strong, energized and healthy, we can also find ourselves facing intense cravings toward foods that will depress our mood and success.  If we give in, we can begin the intense craving cycles that keep us swinging between highs and lows in attempts to balance ourselves.  But if we recognize this happening we can thwart the attack and keep on track.

Most of us don’t have much practice in trusting our body to give us the information we need to keep it healthy and vibrant, but once we begin to practice the art and science of becoming our own health expert, the language gets clearer and clearer.

What meaning have you discovered underneath your body’s signals? Have you experienced any of the above possible causes of cravings?

Lisa Byrne

Lisa is the bestselling author of Replenish and founder of WellGrounded Life. She's got a big-hearted vision of a world where moms are fully equipped to live calm, healthy, and vibrant lives. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, three kids, and 110 pound yellow lab.

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  1. number eight…screams my name!

  2. Oh, my goodness! How much I needed this list today!

    Earlier tonight, my husband and I were walking through the grocery store, and I had to stop for a minute. I admitted to my husband that I needed to stop because a man had walked by with a fountain drink filled with soda and I had almost impulsively reached out and taken it! I haven’t had soda for months, and I was overwhelmed with the urge to attack this little old man and steal his soda!!! My husband couldn’t stop laughing at the thought of me pushing down an old man, but I was horrified that it had even entered my mind!

    Thanks a lot for helping me understand my crazy cravings!

    • Love that story, Jennie…has me giggling over here, too 🙂 I know cravings can feel crazy but they always have something pretty smart to say!!

  3. This post couldn’t have been more timely! I’m sitting here late at night, wanting something sweet, knowing I probably shouldn’t. Brilliant – I’m probably dehydrated and once I thought of the cool glass of water, I actually started wanting it instead. I can’t promise that response for future cravings, but I’m goin’ with it for now! Thanks 🙂


    • Love, it Lana…and you may surprise yourself at how many times you can figure it out that quickly by just paying attention!

    • Yes! I used to snack by the computer at night, usually on very unhealthy foods. About six months ago, I started bringing a water bottle to the computer instead, and I very rarely find I am actually hungry and need to grab something to eat. That in turn has helped me reduce my sugar consumption all the time, since I’m not pigging out every night on some processed junk! Great you listened to your what your body was really telling you!

  4. Oh, so many! Especially the water issue. This has always been a struggle for me. I find that I have to get creative to make this a more desirable habit.
    Love this post! I found myself thinking “yes, that’s so true!” many times while reading. 🙂

  5. I constantly crave sweet foods. I recently switched to a better multi vitamin and I have noticed a decrease in the sweet cravings. I have also started to try and reach for less processed sweets when I do get a craving, like dark chocolate instead of a chocolate bar, or homemade cocoa protein balls sweetened with raw honey instead of brownies. It seems to be helping I am finding I am full with less.

    • Victoria- what a great comment! I love that a couple simple shifts that gave your body the nutrients it needed curbed the cravings for you so noticeably- fantastic!!

  6. Love this. Oh, so many for me. Especially the water issue. I have to get creative at times to make this a more desirable habit.

  7. I think I’ve experienced almost all of those explanations for cravings. We’ve been taking baby steps around here toward eating a much more whole and natural diet. And the difference I feel is amazing but it is so easy to self-sabotage.

  8. I have most definitely noticed that the more sugary things we eat around here, the more we WANT. It is a vicious cycle. We do our best to make lots of fruit and veggies available for easy snacking, in an attempt to curb all of our cravings for sweet, processed food.

  9. As I read through your article, I felt like most of it was common sense. Sad thing is, I’m just not applying it when I should be!!! Thanks for the reminders and explanations about what all these cravings mean, I needed to hear it today.

    I drink green smoothies daily and cannot over-stress how much this has helped with cravings and just my overall health. They are my saving grace on days when I am stressed and all I want is to make a cake and eat the whole thing.

    • Green smoothies changed my life! 2 years ago I did a 30-day, drink a quart of green smoothie a day challenge. While I sometimes tired of them (as I do now) and had to make myself make blend up those greens and fruits just to keep going on the challenge, soon my body began to crave them. All those nutrients so easily absorbed into my body made me feel better than I did when I was a teen-ager! I don’t drink them daily anymore, instead trying to have one or two a week or just eat greens most days, but the effects of daily drinking them for a while have lasted. I don’t get depressed any more, my body wants much better foods, and I have managed to keep off at least 5 of the 15 pounds I lost in the several months I drank them daily. (I hadn’t done the challenge for weight loss, but it was a pleasant side effect of better nutrition and fewer cravings.)

  10. Enjoyed the article. Really good info. I was told that sometimes a craving for carbohydrates and/or sweets can be an indicator that more protein is needed. After observing myself, I noticed this is often accurate. Frequently when my protein intake is low, the cravings for carbs do increase. We truly are fearfully and wonderfully made.

    • Becky, I’ve experienced the same thing. I love carbs and sweets, but they leave me feeling hungrier than ever. I’ve recently begun eating one or two eggs for breakfast along with my oatmeal, and that helps stave off the cravings.

  11. Oh, my, my. I think God is knocking on my door again, saying, “Follow me, little one. You cannot do what I want you to do if you are not in better health, with plenty of energy for the ride!” I have been inundated this week with wonderful posts on how to achieve better health. Kind of funny, since I wrote about croissants this week…

    I just started reading “It Starts with Food, Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life” because my daughter lent it to me. Your information is very similar to yours. Today I am considering how to make a possible radical change in my eating habits.

    Thanks for the list and the lift!

  12. Today marks the end of the 11th week since we started gradually switching over to organics and healthy sourced meats, we were really hoping that getting rid of all the nasties in our food today would help with my chronic pain. About two weeks ago I started noticing that it doesn’t take nearly as much food to satisfy me, and I went from craving something chocolatey EVERY day to barely wanting to touch the little organic cookies in my cookie jar! I had started to wonder if it was because my body is getting all the proper nutrients and then I saw this post, so great timing! 🙂

  13. It’s no secret women’s menstrual cycles are a huge culprit to cravings, especially
    in the area of CHOCOLATE! For me it’s like clock work. Usually a week before my period I start craving chocolate things. I am not surprised anymore when this occurs, it’s a confirmation of something to come!

  14. Dear Lisa,

    What a wonderful article, thank you! This truly was such a help and the sections regarding Lack of a Core Need and The Glass Ceiling Syndrome (especially this one) spoke most loudly to me . . . . it’s such a help to take a moment when you find yourself acting out (whether it is reaching for a snack you shouldn’t have) or saying something snippy to your spouse and ask. . . why am I doing this? Sometimes I find myself having the cookie or even picking a fight with my husband when all what I really needed (and wanted) was a hug!
    Thank you, Lisa, this was a great reminder!
    Sincerely, Elizabeth Lane

  15. I used to experience major cravings for foods like hot chips, bread and cheese – mainly savoury. After being hospitalised with a body in meltdown I was diagnosed with severe intolerances to dairy, nightshades (which includes potato), yeast, chemicals and preservatives and some minor foods. What the cravings came down to was my body was producing a morphine like chemical to combat the pain and damage these foods were causing in my gut – and I’d crave them because I wanted the ‘high’ they gave me. With careful management of my diet I’ve returned to 140lbs and gained energy and my life back. ALWAYS consider that cravings signal something you need to address with your body.

  16. if people will not change their ways: abusing mother earth. It’s not yet too late. Start now and not tomorrow.

  17. This is so fascinating. Thanks for bringing it to mind, Lisa.

    I’m a student of mindfulness and have recently been taking a backseat to my behaviours, so I can study why I do certain things when I do them, even if I know they are negative and have a negative impact on how I’m feeling.

    Most of the time it’s a combination of stress and boredom that get to me. But your post clarified that it’s not necessarily boredom of the “I have nothing to do” variety (because with two little kids underfoot, a budding writing career and a household to manage – nothing to do doesn’t exist!) It’s more the fact that I am lacking in stimulation or self-care.

    Super interesting, and I know I’ll be listening to myself carefully over the coming days, to see what else my body can tell me.

  18. These are great. Here’s another one – being tired. I get serious cravings if I haven’t had enough sleep.
    Actually, I just wrote my own blog post about how I handle sweet cravings, and I’ve got some more tips there on what to do if these cravings hit.

  19. Water has always been my downfall- I need more of it and, of course, less sugar. I find myself steeping in a second teaspoon of sugar into my tea when I could learn to acclimate my taste buds to simply one. Better yet, stevia works wonders to sweeten up foods naturally.

  20. Michelle says:

    I was reading this post thinking, yes I know these reasons, I know them and it still doesn’t help. Despite knowing the reasons and doing everything in my power to compensate for them and manage them I eventually cave to my cravings. That’s when I read reason 8 – Glass Ceiling Syndrome. *Click* that explains why the cravings always hit just when I think I’ve finally beaten them. I gave up sugars for 3 weeks, then I “managed” sugars for three weeks (it wasn’t supposed to be about deprivation after all, it was supposed to be about balance). I was doing really well, I’d shed kilo’s and felt heaps better. But suddenly I’m way off track again, out of balance and consuming anything in my path without thinking. It’s not that I’m trying to “make up” for what I’d missed, I’ve just fallen back into my old patterns. Perhaps it is a craving for familiarity…

  21. I eat bad because I am broke as shit. Eating healthy is expensive. I am scraping a dollar together to go get a McDouble from the grease trap. I was involved in a car accident on the 19th of Feb and instead of focusing on healing and getting better I get to focus on being homeless and looseing all my shit because landlords, power companies, furniture rental places, car loan banks don’t give a flying fudge sicle if your in a coma

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