What Do Cravings Really Mean?

Registered dietitian Kavanagh Danaher shares her top tips to deal with cravings

Should you give into your food cravings?

While some reports suggest that intense food cravings are a sign of a nutritional deficiency, Kavanagh Danaher, a registered dietitian in B.C., says otherwise.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there regarding cravings, which breeds this idea that you need to white-knuckle your way through cravings; that you shouldn’t give into the foods you want,” Danaher tells Wellness Matters. “This leads you down the path of feeling guilty, which creates a terrible relationship with food.”

Over the years, we all become conditioned to think a certain way about our food and health. “For example, for some, sweets provide a certain comfort, and spark off happy memories,” says Danaher. “Most of the time there is something underlying our cravings; some kind of stress or imbalance with our hormones.”

Studies have shown that high-sugar and high-fat foods have a feedback effect that inhibits activity in the parts of the brain that produce and process stress and related emotions. These foods are also shown to increase feel-good chemicals in the brain, including dopamine, serotonin and opioids.

“It’s important when you have a craving to realize what’s happening. Are you working and suddenly crave pizza? Could this be because something is stressing you out? If you take time to listen to your body, you will soon see a pattern,” says Danaher. If you understand why you have the craving, you’ll be able to decide whether or not to act on it.


Kavanagh’s top tips to deal with cravings

  1. Understand the difference between hunger and cravings. Hunger is when any food will do; a craving is when only that one food will satiate you.
  2. Take time to listen to your body. Is there something that’s stressing you out?
  3. Definitely don’t white-knuckle your way through cravings. Sit down, enjoy the food, but pay complete attention to it by turning off your screen. And be sure to stop when you’re satisfied and understand how it has made you feel and why.