What Your Food Cravings Really Mean, According To A Dietitian

Ever wonder why you crave chips when you're stressed? A dietitian explains.

junk food cravings
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You know what happens when that 3pm feeling strikes. You’re entirely jonesing for a piece of chocolate or absolutely can’t got on without another cup of coffee. Or maybe you just can’t get a plate of pasta or potato chips off your mind. They’re food cravings. And when they strike, they strike.

“Emotions associated with food cravings include anger, sadness, loneliness, apathy, despair, happiness sadness and loneliness, apathy and/or despair, happiness,” says registered dietitian Rochelle Sirota. “Any of these emotions can call for any type of reward or distraction… Emotional eating often serves to distract a person from the real issue or to deter having to deal with the issue at hand.”

But as it turns out, food cravings are often associated with very specific emotions. That’s why we consulted with Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN, to give us a better idea on what your food cravings exactly mean, and here’s what it could be:

When you crave sweets…

“When your sweet tooth is acting up it could be a sign that you’re either feeling down or low on energy,” says Moskovitz. “It could also be triggered by various other reasons including hormonal, or not eating enough carbs.”

And chocolate, in particular, can have an even more powerful effect. “Chocolate is usually the ultimate ‘soul food’ that can offer a quick mood pick-me-up and and food for the soul,” she says. “It can also indicate a need for more intimacy in your life or feeling like you need more human-to-human contact, considering its a top aphrodisiac.”

When you crave spicy foods…

“If you want to add a little heat to your diet, it could mean that you’re in the mood for some adventure or looking for a thrill,” she adds. “Some people also find spicy foods more satisfying and filling in general.”

When you crave crunchy foods…

“If you need to relieve some stress or tension, crunchy foods might be your go-to,” Moskovits says.

When you crave salty foods…

“Whether you’re feeling high-strung, over worked, or even depressed, salty foods may help activate our feel-good emotions in the brain that help us relax and stay calm,” she says.

When you crave pasta…

“Like most carbohydrate-rich foods, pasta is the ideal comfort food for when you’re in need of extra tender, love and care,” she tells us. “If you’re feeling overwhelmed or even sad, pasta can be the most convenient way to feel soothed and comforted.”

When you crave dairy…

“We usually link dairy with yummy desserts or nourishment, especially from childhood,” she says. “When you can’t get dairy off your mind it could be that you’re really just feeling nostalgic or looking for a quick reward that brings you back to the more carefree days of your adolescence.”

When you crave caffeine…

“There is a direct positive correlation between feeling tired or burnt out and the desire to drink more caffeine,” she says. “In all forms, especially coffee, caffeine offers us a boost of energy or mental alertness especially when we’re feeling like we need a little help to tackle the day and all life’s responsibilities and/or stressors.”

So what can you do?

“For some people, the only way out of the loop is to totally abstain, but for others it makes sense and seems less daunting and more gentle to wean off or switch to a less unhealthy alternative,” Sirota adds.

Making the swaps you need to make can help you better control your food cravings, like these better-for-you sugar craving choices that won’t ruin your diet!