The Psychology of Cravings


Cravings. It’s a hot topic and one that inevitably comes up in my nutrition consults. Have you ever wondered why they occur? Of course you have! But I bet it’s never been really broken down into categories of meaning.


All cravings have a cause and while some are biological, others are purely psychological. I’m going to delve into both but we’ve got to start on the same page: Hunger is controlled by the stomach but cravings are controlled by the brain. While hunger is a survival mechanism, cravings are all about your body communicating with you.

This doesn’t mean cravings are your brain playing tricks on you, rather it could be an indication you’re falling short or deficient in a vitamin or nutrient. Marc David is the Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. His research on cravings exposed three specific craving categories.

1. Supportive Cravings

A supportive craving occurs when your body yearns for a food that enhances healing, fulfills a nutritional need, or neutralizes an imbalance in your body. It’s all instinctive! Have you ever seen a cat chewing on plants or grass or a dog eating pieces of wood or dirt? These animals don’t know they’re helping shift their blood pH back to normal or neutralizing acidic poisons in their system; they’re acting upon instinct beyond reason.

Some of the most prevalent cravings I see in consultations are simply the body’s way of telling you it needs something.

Sugar cravings are caused by fluctuations in blood sugar. This happens when people don’t plan their meals and then reach for refined sugar snacks. Sugar cravings can also be brought on by a lack of B vitamins. But there’s a vicious cycle: Refined sugars can cause vitamin B depletion. (Stress too!) The simplest fixes for nixing those sugar cravings are to consume high-fiber foods (beans, whole grains, fruit) and supplement with a B vitamin.
I prefer Shaklee’s B Complex because it contains all 8 essential Bs, is water soluble and bio-optimized for maximum absorption. #winning

Chocolate Cravings typically mean you’re experiencing a magnesium fluctuations. A sign of magnesium deficiency can be difficulty sleeping. Supplement with magnesium and you’ll kill two birds with one stone: slow down the cravings for chocolate AND sleep better! (That’s why I give our toddler a dose of magnesium before bed.. it ensures a good night’s sleep.. for everyone!)

High magnesium foods include nuts, seeds, fish and leafy greens. I love Shaklee’s OsteoMatrix which provides Calcium, Magnesium and Vita D. For those squeamish about swallowing vitamins (or for kiddos), Shaklee makes a Chewable Cal Mag that includes these 3 super vitamins and nutrients! Try also Shaklee’s VitalMag.
Salt Cravings are quite common and can be an important clue or sign that your thyroid and adrenal glands may be in need of minerals. We’ve all been duped into eating refined (mineraldepleted) table salt and processed foods which only serves to continue to weaken these vital organs. On the other hand, high quality sea salts contain an abundance of naturally balanced minerals that will help you hit those cravings AND help restore health to your adrenals and your thyroid. Mineralrich sea salt also helps to alkalize your blood (so disease cannot thrive) and balances acidic foods like animal proteins.

BUT err on the side of caution when it comes to sodium intake. The Standard American Diet truly is a SAD one. You’ll find lots of sodium in places you never thought to look (check your sweet breakfast cereal)! Make sure your body is getting the right kind of salt and those cravings should hit the road.

Cheese Cravings are pretty prevalent. Believe it or not, you crave this fatty food because your body is craving fat! Specifically Essential Fatty Acids from Omega 3’s (EPA and DHA). While the best choice may not be to run out and start consuming tons of fish, there are some great ways to get your Omegas!

When eating fish, limit fish high in mercury to 1-2 serving a week: King (and Spanish) mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, bluefish, halibut, tilefish, ahi tuna, and bigeye tuna. When dining on sushi, keep in mind mercury is highest in tuna, mackerel, sea bass and yellowtail. On the other hand, eel, salmon, crab and clam are lower in mercury. When in doubt, smaller is better. Anchovies, Sardines and scallops are good bets!
The cleanest way to get ultra pure Omegas? Our family (biological and Pure Physique) supplements with Shaklee’s OmegaGuard fish oil capsules. The fish oil comes from small cold water fish and is ultra pure.
Red Meat Cravings are typically a sign of iron deficiency. Have a hankering for a big juicy hamburger that just won’t go away? You can supplement with foods like prunes, figs, dried fruits (watch for sugar consumption), beans and legumes. I personally like to keep it simple and get my daily dose of iron in my multivitamin. Shaklee’s Vita Lea comes in an Iron formula made specifically for women. If you need a little extra iron, there’s an Iron plus C Complex that’ll help do the trick!

Back to the three types of food cravings:

2. Dispersive Cravings

A dispersive craving is a desire for a food that drains health and diminishes our energy. Read that sentence again…

The ultimate effects of dispersive cravings can be feelings of heaviness, guilt and lack of energy. At times, many of us long for foods that inevitably cause us harm, especially in excess. This can include foods like sugar, alcohol, fried food, and junk food.


Think about it: as humans, we all yearn for meaning, purpose, love, and the fulfillment of our desires. Sometimes our yearnings can become distorted. A dispersive craving is simply a distorted yearning in the body. Your body gets duped into thinking that excessive consumption of harmful substances will be helpful.

Dispersive cravings can be compared for a heart looking for love in all the wrong places. The heart and the body can be easily seduced. No blame.

3. Associative Cravings

An associative craving is an odd cross between the other two. It occurs when we yearn for a food that has a rich, deep, and meaningful association with our past. Have you ever suddenly longed for a food from childhood when visiting family? Spaghetti and meatballs? Hot chocolate?

Our brain has associated these foods with “feel good memories” of the past. Associative cravings are the most difficult to deal with because surrendering to such a craving can help you re-live feelings that may bring their own special psychological healing. The bottom line here: biology and nostalgia can make a fascinating and almost mystical meal.

All Cravings fall into these three categories.

My advice is this: reach, first, for a glass of water. Cravings can come on because your body is dehydrated. We misinterpret our body’s need for water as hunger pangs. In fact, 80% of us are chronically dehydrated! Drink water and wait a half-hour. THEN you can start to understand the specific craving your brain is signaling for.

Finally, be in tune with your stress levels. An American Psychological Association survey uncovered 1 in 4 Americans rates their stress level as 8 or higher on a 10-point scale. I can personally attest to this finding based on nutrition consultations.

We are overstressed and undernourished.

Bottom Line: The Body craves because The Body knows. Get in tune with your body and you’ll start to see patterns in your cravings. Most important, have a plan of action for when those cravings hit