Understanding Food Cravings

Updated: Feb 29, 2020

Why You Have Cravings & What They Mean

Cravings are something we all deal with… trust me, even I get them!

But it can actually be really fascinating to learn more about some reasons why we crave certain things.

There are a few main reasons for cravings: hormones, emotions, and nutrient deficiency.

Hormones: an imbalance with hormones like serotonin or leptin can cause us to have food cravings.

Emotions: have you noticed when you're stressed, overwhelmed, or feeling down the first thing you want to reach for is junk food? This is where the term "comfort food" comes from -- using food for emotional reasons. I'd even say this is the most significant cause of cravings out of all three.

Nutrient deficiency: another reason for cravings could be a lack of nutrients within your body, causing the craving to "crave" what you're lacking nutritionally.

Our hormones and emotions are always at work, so understanding the root of the cravings you have and helpful ways to deal with them can be a game changer.

Take a moment to think about what craving do you struggle with most frequently?

For me, my cravings are typically for chocolate… ok, to be honest it’s really anything sweet.

Types of Cravings & How To Satisfy Each One

One thing we can do is swap unhealthy cravings for healthier options -- which is actually very easy to do!

Here are the most common cravings and how you can replace them:

Salty and crunchy

When you feel the desire for a salty snack, instead of reaching for potato chips, try nuts like cashews or walnuts. Keep the portions small though. And if you want to snack guilt-free, go for air-popped popcorn sprinkled with your favorite herbs. It's so simple and delicious.


Choose dark chocolate (such as 65% or greater) without a lot of sugar added in. These are very easy to find in any store now, so take a trip down the chocolate aisle and find a good quality, organic dark chocolate to enjoy. It's full of magnesium too, and since many people are deficient in this mineral, it could explain why you crave it!


Sugar cravings are probably the most common of all. Luckily nature gave us lots of healthy sweet options, so try making a fruit salad out of melon, peaches, and cherries. Always keep dried fruits around too for a quick snack when your sweet tooth strikes. These are great to carry in your purse, so you always have something available when the craving strikes.


Dreaming of a pastry? Make sprouted grain toast and drizzle it with raw organic honey. Fold it over, and you'll have a sweet-tasting treat that will hit all the right notes.


Soda can be hard to ditch if you've been drinking it for years, so easing out of the habit with sparkling water is a great option. Choose flavored sparkling water with no sugar such as Spindrift or LaCroix, and you'll be able to satisfy that desire for carbonation without all the sugar and chemicals that soda brings to the table.

Look for healthier ways to manage your cravings, and you'll find that healthier versions can taste just as good, if not better!

Practical Ways to Ditch The Cravings

Cravings likely aren't going anywhere, so learning some helpful tools to combat cravings when they strike will leave you equipped to handle them as they come. Which is why I want to share some tips that you can immediately implement! Some are lifestyle changes that you can begin to be more mindful of in hopes of seeing a decrease in cravings overall. I can't wait to hear which one works best for you!

1. Hydration is key

You'd be amazed by the improvements you feel when you're properly hydrated. If you aren't already. While there is no set amount you "have" to drink, a good rule of thumb can be to aim to drink half of your body weight in ounces each day to maintain hydration. But really, the best way to know is by looking at the color of your urine. Think about what you would look for in your patients. If it's clear or light yellow you are hydrated. If it's dark yellow, you are not well hydrated. When you're dehydrated, your body can mistakenly think it's hungry when really it's just needing water. Cravings and overeating come in to play here when dehydration is in the equation. Now, for a busy nurse at work, I know this can be easier said than done. You might be an expert at holding your bladder even! But having a hydration game plane is so important. If you aren't sure how to do that, reach out to me and I can share how I can help!

2. Get to the root of your cravings

When you feel a craving strike, sit with those feelings and take note of where they're stemming from. Are you feeling bored? Is something bringing you down emotionally? Are you overwhelmed during a busy shift? If you can stop and take note when you feel a craving come on, you'll begin to notice what your primary triggers are. Knowing your triggers will help you to understand when a craving may come on before it even happens, and you'll be able to stop them in their tracks.

3. Eat more often throughout the day

Making sure you don't work up too much of an appetite can help you stay away from cravings. That means don't skip breakfast (and maybe even look at increasing breakfast some), plan head for some quick and easy snacks/lunch at work, and have an idea of healthy meals for when you are at home. If possible, you can even pack a healthy snack to keep your blood sugar stabilized throughout the day so you can keep those cravings at bay. If you haven't had a chance yet, make sure to download my FREE Energy Boosting Snacks for the Busy Tired Nurse here.

4. Get enough sleep

When you're sleep deprived, your body's systems aren't getting the fuel they need to operate at optimum levels. Aim for getting at minimum 6-7 hours per night, if you already aren't. If you're already getting this minimum amount, try to get an extra 30 minutes to an hour and see how you feel with the extra sleep in your system. You'll make wiser choices when your brain is sharp after a good night of sleep, and you'll feel better in general, which is a win. If you work shift hours or struggle to get enough sleep, this is another time to reach out to me (just email me by clicking on the contact page) and I am happy to share how I can help you with that.

5. Keep the foods you crave out of sight

I'm sure you've heard the saying "out of sight, out of mind" -- and we're going to use those wise words here, too. If there are certain foods you tend to crave more than others, try keeping them out of your kitchen. That way, when a late-night craving strikes, you can't just mosey into the kitchen and grab your favorite bag of chips. If it would require you to hop in the car and drive to the store for your craving, you'll be much more likely to pass the craving by. And if you are at work and struggling with foods brought in by others, let's chat!

6. Let go of the stress

I know, it can be tough, and we can't eliminate it completely and you are going to have stress just with the nature of being a nurse. But I guarantee some things in your life cause you stress that you have the power to improve. Letting go of as many stressors are possible will reap far more benefits than merely lowering cravings, too!

7. Do something else

It's said that cravings typically last only 3-5 minutes. When you feel a craving come on, get up and do something else. If it's a day off, try distracting yourself by going for a walk, catching up on some housework, calling your best friend, or diving into a hobby. If you are at work, try keeping busy, talking to a co-worker, do a few deep breathes, or even step out for a little bit of fresh air if possible. Before you know it, you'll have forgotten about that nagging craving.

8. Chew Gum

Pick out some sugar-free gum from your favorite health food store and pop it in your mouth next time you feel a craving come on. The act of chewing can subside your craving almost instantly.

9. Swap smartly

Lastly, if that craving is too intense and none of these tips are working, simply swap smartly. We previously talked about healthier options to common cravings, so use your smart swap list and enjoy yourself. You'll be surprised how much the healthy version still satisfies the craving!

Healthy Snack Ideas to Curb Your Cravings

I hope you enjoyed this learning all about cravings and how to handle them. I wanted to leave you with some yummy and still healthy recipes that can you can turn to when you have any cravings.

First, if you have not yet from my website, you can grab this Guilt-Free Dessert Series.

Also, I have TONS of ideas saved on Pinterest! Simply follow me on Pinterest at The Nurses' Dietitian. I have pins for Wholesome Sweet Treats, Healthy Snacks, Breakfasts, Lunches, Dinners, Meal Planning & Prep, and more just waiting for you to check out!

That way you’ll be well-equipped next time a craving strikes.

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