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What are Some Causes of Food Cravings?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Food cravings are intense yearnings for a certain type of food. Sweet or salty foods are common cravings as are protein foods such as meat or cheese. Most are thought to be caused by hormones, fluctuations in blood sugar levels, emotional and psychological reasons or sometimes by nutritional deficiencies.

Hormones such as those produced in pregnant women can cause some very strong food cravings. Studies show that men experience cravings less than women. Pregnant women tend to experience them during pregnancy as their body's way of making sure they eat to feed the growing baby and/or to ensure they receive all of the nutrients they need for the baby and themselves.

"Pica" is the name given to the unusual food cravings pregnant women may sometimes experience such as a craving to eat mud. Cravings for things that are not normally eaten as food may signal iron or other nutritional deficiencies. Some nutrition experts state that some cravings for chocolate may be a sign of a B vitamin deficiency. People allergic to a certain food may sometimes actually experience urges to eat that food.

We do not always crave foods that are good for us. Stress, depression and a lack of sleep can cause "junk" food cravings. We sometimes may turn to "comfort foods" that we associate with pleasant feelings and overeat these foods when we are stressed, depressed or tired. Urges for quick sugar energy, alcohol or foods or drinks containing caffeine or carbohydrates are common when we are tired and want to feel energized.

Fluctuation in blood sugar levels may cause food cravings. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can be caused from not getting enough calories or not eating at regular intervals. Hypoglycemia can cause a person to crave food as the body feels as though it is starving.

Food cravings tend to lessen if we eat regular balanced meals and get all the vitamins and minerals that we need in our diets. Exercise may also help control them by keeping the body in a more relaxed and fit state. Regular exercise has been shown to increase endorphins in the blood and this often leads to a feeling of well being and lowered tension in the body.

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Discussion Comments

By anon942585 — On Mar 28, 2014

While hormone and nutritional issues can lead to cravings, as can diet and exercise, the primary source of most food cravings is more complex, and includes visual cues, memories, stress, previous exposure and psychological factors. Chess player is right: food restriction can lead to cravings, and Mentirosas' observation that addiction plays a role is also accurate. --Omar.

By feasting — On Oct 14, 2012

Sometimes, you can reduce your food cravings by eating something similar in flavor to what you are craving, if the food you really want is bad for you. I eat pretzels or veggie chips instead of fattening potato chips, and this usually satisfies the craving.

I think I really crave salt more than the actual potato chip. Sometimes, even popcorn will work, as long as it has salt and a little bit of butter on it. I buy the light butter variety to cut down on fat and calories, though.

If I want something sweet, I try eating grapes or pineapple. This usually cuts down on my craving for candy.

By shell4life — On Oct 13, 2012

Every pregnant woman I've ever known has craved pickles and ice cream. They don't eat them together, but those are the two that seem to be very common.

They crave them at weird times, too. Usually, late at night, they absolutely have to have one or the other, so they send you to the store.

After they have given birth, the cravings go away. My best friend hasn't craved pickles since, and though she still enjoys ice cream, she doesn't absolutely go nuts if she can't get it at midnight.

By Perdido — On Oct 12, 2012

@ColdRain – I was able to lose thirteen pounds by limiting my portion size. I had learned that trying to fight food cravings was futile, but allowing myself a few bites of what I craved once a day would lead to success.

I think that my body just wanted the experience of the flavor and texture more than to be full of what it craved. I made sure to eat the bites slowly and enjoy every molecule of flavor, and this satisfied the craving.

By wavy58 — On Oct 11, 2012

@mentirosa – I agree with you. High-calorie and high-fat foods have been proven to be addictive, much like certain drugs.

Once we have known the glory of a gooey chocolate-caramel dessert, our brains have stored that information. Our minds perceive it as a pleasure inducer, and we seek it out.

Also, I've experienced this with potato chips. They are so completely satisfying, even though they have very little nutritional value. So, I crave them every day.

By anon123064 — On Oct 30, 2010

I've been having really strong cravings for salad all week. I've eaten them six times and still want more. The really crazy thing is I've never liked lettuce!

By ColdRain — On Aug 25, 2010

ChessPlayer- Thank you for the good tip. I think it is important to allow yourself to eat your favorite foods once in awhile to help curb food cravings.

However, don't forget to limit your portion size. If you let yourself have a big piece of chocolate cake every week, you will not lose much weight. Instead, let yourself have a bite or two of your favorite foods once a week. This will help satisfy your craving but will also limit calories you are intaking.

By ChessPlayer — On Aug 25, 2010

I find that I crave certain foods when I am on a very strict diet. When dieting, I severely limit my food intake and don't eat many of my favorite foods. This causes my body to feel deprived and ultimately causes me to binge because I am craving food so much.

A good tip is to not completely deprive yourself of your favorite foods. Allow yourself to indulge in your favorite foods once a week. This will help curb your cravings and control binge eating.

By mentirosa — On Jan 29, 2009

I think lack of certain nutrients in our bodies might cause cravings, but in many cases I believe that we crave foods because we become somewhat addicted to it.

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