The different types of cravings and how to deal

Craving something? Is it a physiological, emotional, or mental craving? Understanding the difference can help you respond more effectively.

The Flourish team

If you’ve been following us for a while, you probably have come to realize that food restriction isn't the answer to all your problems. In fact, it is very much the problem itself, leading to symptoms of binge eating and food obsession (and if you’re new here, welcome! We are so glad you’re here!). 

But you may be starting to see that letting go of that restriction and facing your food fears isn't all sunshine and rainbows. The number one thing that freaks people out about the prospect of not dieting is the tsunami of food cravings that come with it. Good news is, when you have rejected the diet mentality, cravings don’t need to cause all that drama. Rather than feeling the need to fight and resist them, these cravings serve as an opportunity for you to better understand the messages from your body. 

Inside your body is this beautiful and complex web of signals that interpret your external environment and translate that information into valuable cues. When it comes to cravings, it’s helpful to classify them as physical, emotional, or mental triggers. Cravings aren’t a problem. They’re merely a signal that there’s something deeper to interpret. So although cravings may feel problematic, they are actually not trying to sabotage your health efforts or derail you into the bottom of a chip bag. 

Physiological Cravings

When your body doesn’t receive its basic energy needs through proper nutrition and adequate sleep, backup systems kick into high gear to keep the machine running. If you are underfed (whether from restricting your calories to match the needs of a 7-year-old child or from skipping meals due a busy day at work), your body not only amplifies is hunger, but cleverly target those cues to crave foods with a quick energy delivery system aka simple carbohydrates aka vending machine Cheez-Its, cookies, and breakroom donuts. A similar effect occurs when you are under-slept. Research has shown how sleep deprivation can impact satiety signals through up-regulating ghrelin (your hunger hormone) and down-regulating leptin (your fullness hormone). Your insatiable appetite is your body’s effort to find an alternative source of energy. 

Emotional Cravings

Ah, an all too common challenge. Let's be real—emotions are hard. When your boss yells at you, it's much easier to eat your feelings in Girl Scout cookies than it is to address the feelings of insecurity, frustration, or failure that may arise. And maybe if you were to actually take a hard look at those emotions, you'd find the conviction that you need to leave your job, and oh gosh, what would that mean?

So instead, you numb out and are left confused as to why you’re not living the life you want. This isn’t about NOT emotional eating. It's about what you’re missing out on when you choose to ignore those emotions. The “good vibes only” philosophy is a universal fallacy. You will only experience half of your life if you’re only willing to address positive emotions and invalidate the negative through a band aid solution with food. 

Mental Cravings

The more you retract something from yourself, the more you're attracted to it. This effect is exactly what happens when we demonize certain foods and believe that 1) you're “bad” if you consume “bad” foods, and 2) those foods have some type of control or power over you.

Imagine that I told you that you could have your biggest fear food for every meal. After your initial fear subsides, it'd be very exciting and even feel like “freedom.” But eventually, after the thrill has run its course, chocolate cake for breakfast will lose its novelty. You’ll start feeling a little bored and feel a little tired of having an upset stomach. Maybe you’ll even start craving other flavors or textures. This is the beautiful thing about neutralizing foods—the strength of those mental cravings begin to diminish and you discover your true food cravings rather than cravings that stem from deprivation. 

The Solution

Rather than attempt to extinguish and fight those food cravings, listen in on what they are trying to communicate.

Headshot of Claire Siegel
Claire Siegel
Co-founder, CEO
Claire Siegel is the founder and CEO of Flourish. Claire has made it her life’s mission to help women create a sustainable approach to their physical and mental well-being.
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