Lets talk about cravings.

When it comes to cravings there seem to be two camps that attempt to explain the “I NEED ALL THE BROWNIES NOW” phenomenon. These camps, while they have some similarities, are operating from two different points of view. They are the physiological camp and the psychological camp.


The physiological camp posits that when you’re craving things like sweets it really means you’re low on specific nutrients like chromium or carbon phosphorus and to eat nuts, broccoli, cheese or meat.

The psychological camp blames your sweet cravings on your emotions and tells you to get your sh*t together.


If you read material written by the physiological camp, it can pretty much be summed up as such: whenever you crave sweets, soda, chips or basically anything other than nuts, broccoli, cheese or meats, what your body actually needs is: nuts, broccoli, cheese or meats.

Not to brag, but my body has never once craved Sour Patch Kids accidentally in it’s pursuit of a burger. Sorry, hasn’t happened. I have craved Sour Patch Kids on enough occasions to know that it’s because something is going on emotionally or hormonally and a little thing called stress is F-ing with me.

If you read material on the psychological camp, it breaks it down like this:

  • Carbs – you’re feeling deprived, stressed, or over-worked.
  • Caffeine- you’re lacking motivation in your daily activities, tired/dehydrated.
  • Creamy – you’re in need of a feel-good food to quell your worrisome thoughts.
  • Crunchy- you’re frustrated.
  • Sweets- you’re tired, stressed and/or sad.

This is me. Like, I take vitamins, I eat a lot of food on a daily basis, I don’t have problems getting my nutrients. For me, cravings are so much more about emotions than they are about nutritional deficiencies. And I think, to an extent, a lot of people are the same way.

If we weren’t all at least somewhat wired like this the Food Network would not exist. Cooking shows, food and fitness blogs, the culinary industry would not exist in the forms that they do if we weren’t all wooed by the emotional aspect of food.

For example: what do I always NEED when I’m trying to write a post and I’ve been staring at a blank page for what feels like forever? Something crunchy. I’m frustrated and getting anxious as the minutes tick by. The post isn’t writing itself and I find myself browsing the app store for technology that will write posts for me. Give me that salty crunch of a chip or popcorn or a crunchy granola bar or what have you. However as soon as I start writing I realize that I’m not hungry at all. Thanks for nothing, emotions!

Where am I going with this? Well, if you’re like me you see this emotion-craving link to be your Achilles’ heel, but what if we turn it into a strength…


What if every time one of those cravings hit, we actually knuckled down and confronted the source of our stress rather than trying to numb ourselves to it?  Do you even realize how productive and successful and mentally healthy we’d be if we confronted everything head on?

This is my summer goal. Want to join? I was going to call it a nutritional goal but that loses the point entirely.

The point is to get the focus away from food and onto life. Onto the things you want to make happen. Onto the things that scare you. To give it a topical analogy, it’s the anti-Merida makeover. This makeover isn’t about getting “pretty” and forfeiting your bow and arrow- aka the symbol of your strength- in the process, this makeover is about getting dirty in order to find your personal bow and arrow. (For an awesome perspective on the Merida makeover controversy, go to Nicole’s blog).

What are your thoughts on the physiological vs psychological theories?

Do you agree with one side more than the other?

Do you crave certain foods in times of stress?

What are your summer goals?


47 Thoughts on “Braving The Craving

  1. Thanks for the shout out Charlotte! ‘…this makeover is about getting dirty in order to find your personal blow and arrow.’ LOVE IT!

    So, how am I planning to get down and dirty this summer? When it comes to running, I want to continue building my base for a fall marathon. And I’d love to reach my 5K goal of breaking the 20-minute barrier. I haven’t been close in years (those pregnancies and babies may have something to do with that!), so I’d love to see how close I can get!

    Nutrition wise, my family believes in all things in moderation. We want our girls to understand the importance of healthy eating, but we want them to know it’s ok to have special treats too. However, I probably need to dial back on the caffeine a bit. I crave fountain coke WAY too much and probably has to do with being tired AND dehydrated.

    And let’s get superficial for just a sec! I haven’t waxed my eyebrows in far too long. Those fuzzy caterpillars need some serious groomin, ya’ll!
    Nicole @ Work in Sweats Mama recently posted…Breastfeeding & Fitness After BabyMy Profile

    • Hahaha my errant hairs could use some attention too now that you mention it! :) your fitness goals are so awesome!! wow a 5k under 20 minutes blows my mind, and obviously a fall marathon is amazing! nutrition wise, i could dial back on the caffeine too, for sure. i notice it especially on days i’m feeling under motivated for whatever reason. i should look within rather than to outside sources to that energy. (but i agree fountain coke is just SO good!)

  2. I crave sweets. I’m actually reading a book called “Obsessed” which is all about americans and food addictions, whether it’s from obesity or eating disorders. I will absolutely be joining you in this challenge. Cravings are something that I’m trying hard to work on. Yesterday I gave in a bit but I know how to avoid that in the future. It’s really interesting to think about when you crave something! I guess stress is second nature to me :)
    pickyrunner recently posted…Handling itMy Profile

    • Ohh I want to get that book! And i think that sometimes giving in to cravings is totally fine, it’s when giving in all the time starts becoming a habit and a pattern in your life that its time to take a good hard look at what’s really going on.

  3. Interesting post – I definitely fit in the ‘psychological camp’ except when I have rare cravings for salty crisps when I’m doing intensive exercise (but I figured it’s because I need the salt 😉 ). As a (mostly) reformed binge eater I can 100% say that the thing that changed my behaviour the most, was tuning myself in with my emotions when the cravings hit. Bingeing for me was a way to (literally) swallow up my emotions and put a lid on it. An important part of it was realising that it was O.K. to feel negative emotions (whether it was sadness/anxiety/loneliness etc. etc.) and that I could just sit with them as opposed to act upon them. Good luck with your challenge!
    Lucy @ Lucy On The Lookout recently posted…The Time I Almost Cried in a Race: We Own The Night Nike 10KMy Profile

    • Thanks Lucy! And I 110% agree with everything you just said. I would binge for the same reasons and it took a long time for me to get myself to be ok with feeling those feelings. Yes, those feelings are uncomfortable but they’re not going to kill you. All they are trying to tell you is that it’s time to take action in some part of your life, feeling them is a necessary step in moving forward.

  4. Great summer goal! I should definitely join you on this. My sweets craving is at an all-time high and we know that’s no way to properly fuel an active body.
    My summer goals are to make it to the start (and finish) lines of my races. Keeping my fingers crossed that my knees and ankle hold up!
    Abby @ Change of Pace recently posted…Perfect rideMy Profile

    • Oh i hope your joints hold up!! And i love that- making it to the start and finish lines of your races :) sometimes there is a victory in just showing up :)

  5. This sentence: “If you read material written by the physiological camp, it can pretty much be summed up as such: whenever you crave sweets, soda, chips or basically anything other than nuts, broccoli, cheese or meats, what your body actually needs is: nuts, broccoli, cheese or meats.” made me laugh for the longest time!

    I’m pretty sure the great majority of my cravings is due to emotions. No one needs froyo as frequently as I seem to! But froyo’s yummy, so by default, my body always wants it. Occasionally, if I have a day where I don’t eat a lot of protein or a different macro, the next day I’ll usually want more of that. But in most cases, it’s the first scenario. :)
    Beth @ Mangoes and Miles recently posted…Scenes from the Cleveland Half-MarathonMy Profile

    • Gosh froyo is so yummy isnt it?? and its guilt free and full of calcium :) i just love it. and yeah i agree i have those days when i eat really unhealthy, and then i’ll literally crave a salad the next day. but those are special situations, for the most part its driven by my emotions too.

  6. Very interesting! Definitely makes sense!
    Alyssa @ Road to RD recently posted…#19My Profile

  7. I’m definitely a psychological camper. I know this because I’ve tried to satisfy cravings for chocolate and sweets with cheese or nuts, and it never worked. I’d eat the cheese or nuts, and then go back for the chocolate 😉 So yeah – psychological. I’ve never been a huge emotional eater, but I definitely notice my cravings for carbs and sweets go way up when I’m having a rough day. And who can forget the munchies that hit when you’re studying for finals or trying to write an essay? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have gotten through college without gummy bears 😆
    Amanda @ .running with spoons. recently posted…. you won’t find happiness in a smaller pair of jeans .My Profile

    • ” know this because I’ve tried to satisfy cravings for chocolate and sweets with cheese or nuts, and it never worked. I’d eat the cheese or nuts, and then go back for the chocolate”

      I have done this! It sucks! I should have just eaten the damn chocolate in the first place 😛
      Alex @ Brain, Body, Because recently posted…1 Part Fitness, 2 Parts Food, 10 Parts Bitching About AllergiesMy Profile

    • Hahaha I’m pretty sure I wouldnt have gotten through life without gummy bears :) I love those little guys. I just need to eat them for the right reasons, and not as ways to make myself happy, or less stressed, or what have you. And I’m the saaaame way- whenever I try to satisfy a craving with a healthier food, i just end up eating the thing i’m craving after all the healthy stuff anyways.

  8. Oooooooooh, my. Yes, yes, and hell yes. I’m definitely in the Psychological Camp (they could also be teams, maybe. Team Psycho?)

    My big problem is that I use food as an avoidance maneuver. Like, I sit down to do my homework and then realize, “God, this sucks,” so I go eat instead. When I’m done, I sit down to do my homework again and think, “God, this still sucks” and then go eat instead. I’m trying to face it! I really am.

    Maybe I should only do stressful things in a vacuum that has no food. Like the library.
    Alex @ Brain, Body, Because recently posted…1 Part Fitness, 2 Parts Food, 10 Parts Bitching About AllergiesMy Profile

  9. I love love love reading your posts! I think I can relate in minor ways to both, but I think I’m more on the “get your sh*t together” side. I mean, really, I find myself snacking when I’m bored. That’s my biggest emotional connection. I would like to join you in this because I don’t want to numb my mind when I should really be in better control of it. I mean, really, who eats an entire jar of cookie butter all at once? That is surely some sort of cray cray stuff. Per the usual, your post is enlightening and motivating. Make some sort of challenge for the summer and sign me up.
    Meghan @ fitnesscrEATures recently posted…Circuit TimeMy Profile

    • hahaha- YUP. I’ve eaten whole jars/boxes/pints of you name it in one sitting and not even considered it hard. like, i wasnt gasping for air by the end because I was so full or anything, i was disappointed i couldnt keep shoving more in my mouth. i think thats how you know its emotion driven, i dont think anyone is just that hungry. although, i have been known to get absurdly hungry too :)

  10. THIS. I’m a mix of both, since I crave sweets and broccoli with equal frequency (although at totally different times, obvi). I’ve learned not to deny my psychological cravings, though, because then I get ragey — so I keep low-fat frozen Greek yogurt on hand at all times for when the craving for sweets hits, . It gives me protein and calcium while satisfying my sweet tooth, which is a win-win in my book. :)
    Lillian @ Seize the Latte recently posted…No Mas: A RantMy Profile

    • oh the frozen greek yogurt is a great tip! its satisfying yet still healthy. i love it! and yeah denying cravings isnt the best idea, because i get that ragey side too, but figuring out where they’re coming from is something i need to get better at

  11. every once in awhile my craving is totally my body saying it needs something, but that is usually during marathon training…the rest of the time yes totally emotional.

    I recently just realized what you said, when I am working on a new writing project I’ll keep getting up to get something…but I’m not hungry. I have since started trying to take a moment to figure out what is it that I think I’m going to get from that cabinet that will make things better!
    Amanda @runtothefinish recently posted…Altitude Running – Why it’s different and what to doMy Profile

    • Oh that was so me yesterday as I was writing that post!! i think the inspiration came from the fact I knew nothing in the kitchen was going to help me in anyway but i kept “needing” a granola bar, and then some peanut butter toast, etc. so i decided to write about it :)

  12. Once in a while, I’ll crave a huge burger which either means I’m protein or iron deficient. Other than that, I’m firmly in the psychological camp. My cravings are all emotional: stress, frustration, happiness, boredom, nostalgia. I’ve got the whole spectrum covered ;).
    Carly @ Snack Therapy recently posted…Blend 2013 Recap: FridayMy Profile

    • Me too! And yeah sometimes i do crave burgers or a red meat- and i know that i really do need some iron or something. but that doesnt come along too often. its usually because some emotion is making me cray cray.

  13. My cravings are typically emotion-driven! I rarely crave anything when I think my body actually needs something… This was a great post!
    Becky @ Olives n Wine recently posted…BLEND Recap – Part 1My Profile

  14. Damn, girl, you went and gave me the blog tinglies! Lets break it down:
    1.) I’m all over that Disney reference. Because I loved Brave and HATED what Disney was trying to do there.
    2.) I’m completely there for you on the call to unity to all get over it and face our own personal shiz head on – I’m FOR SURE joining you over the summer on this one. Official summer goals just became get better arms, drink more water, face your emotional eating
    3.) You taught me something completely knew – I’d never seen anyone break down the list of what cravings go with what emotions. Looking at that list and comparing it to my cravings, I have to say – it’s pretty spot on.
    4.) You’re pretty. Then again, that’s always true 😉
    Chelsea recently posted…Things I Know TuesdayMy Profile

    • hahaha i love a numeric list in the comments more than i love just about anything!! 1. i know right- that brave makeover was atrocious 2.yay!! love it! 3. yeah its interesting seeing what the science behind cravings tells us, i could read this stuff for hours (and did yesterday) 4. thanks for that smile that gave me, you’re pretty too :)

  15. BURGERS. Particularly a junior bacon cheeseburger with no tomato and extra lettuce from Wendy’s. I was so bad. I haven’t eaten one in a month! But I’ve had INSANE cravings for them, but red meat is no longer a part of my diet. Last night, I even dreamt that I was eating a cheeseburger……
    Check out my post about how I dealt with my burger cravings!!

    • Ahh, that explains it- yeah when you cut out a certain food group, then those physiological cravings will creep up on you like a shark on seal. Lol, i’ve had food dreams too, in fact its not rare for me to see french fries (sometimes flying by me) in my dreams.

  16. Oh my god! I seriously learned so much from this post. usually when I am ridiculously stressed I suffer from loss of appetite. But when I am hormonal I crave cheeseburgers!! But it makes sense because I do not eat a lot of meat. I just started to take iron supplements so I hope it helps : ) Great post!
    breanna recently posted…And we have a winner!My Profile

    • Oh good call, I bet iron supplements will help a lot with that. And yeah I thought it was so interesting to read about the science behind cravings because it made so much sense to me just from experience! A lot of it was so true for me personally, I’m so glad i’m not the only one it resonated with!!

  17. As I type this I just finished off a delicious Godiva truffle in a new flavor (cookie dough) which I now can personally recommend! But personally I think cravings are all about both! You see…the mind and body are in cahoots with each other. They do a great job of tag teaming you up one sugary snack and down a salty one. What starts off with emotional intentions always ends up with physically calming/nurturing side effects. AND then it’s so damn difficult to separate the guilty party…Was it my body screaming depletion or was I just getting played by my mind?…I just don’t know which one I will end up punishing for the mess it left “behind” (pun intended)
    carlotta recently posted…Monday’s NeedsMy Profile

  18. I’ve never been a fan of the physiological camp…if I have it in my head that I want chocolate, so amount of nuts will do it for me…unless of course, they’re chocolate covered. I know I definitely reach for sweets more often when I’m stressed – most of my ice-cream eating happens in exam/final papers weeks!
    Although, if I’m craving chicken, I usually assume that that’s my body hoping for protein.
    Sam @ Better With Sprinkles recently posted…Coming to Terms With My Sweet Tooth.My Profile

    • My thoughts exactly- if i’m craving something healthy, I know it’s because I’m lacking something nutrient wise. But if i’m craving junk, no amount of broccoli is going to satisfy it. It’s just not.

  19. Psychological all the way! Obviously, I don’t crave ice cream because I need cheese or meat. I am guilty of emotional eating, no doubt. I am also guilty when it comes to the “Food Network” comment. I enjoy making food glamorous, nostalgic and downright sinful at times. HOWEVER, I truly believe everything in moderation is the way to go and I eat very heathly outside of the occasional trip for ice cream or Sunday morning pancakes. :) I would love to focus more on the causes for my stress and combat emotional eating! All great thoughts above – great post!
    Rustic Honey recently posted…Sweet & Salty Caramel Brownie Pretzel Ice Cream CakeMy Profile

    • Thanks Lauren! I know- i love the emotional aspect of food, and i think there’s a way to make that all about the positive aspects, rather than the negative. i am a huge food network fan, and i love when nostalgia is part of food. everything in moderation really is the key!

  20. This is SO true. I crave popcorn when I’m studying/working late at night because I’m frustrated, chocolate whenever I’m feeling anxious, sad, stressed and pasta/bread when I feel like things are out of my control. I’m completely in for this challenge…as I munch on the popcorn at my desk.
    Natalie@fit.fun.femme. recently posted…Tuesday Say It, Do ItMy Profile

    • YEP- when things feel out of control i am allll about the pasta. i loved reading the science behind cravings yesterday, i had read up on it before but yesterday was really a crash course- its really interesting how people tend to reach for similar things depending on how they’re feeling.

  21. I can see the truth in both sides. Sometimes when I’m craving sweets it really is because I have not had a well balanced day of eating. However I definitely stress/comfort eat.
    Britt @ BrittsRunningStyle recently posted…Ten Miler and Ragged Mt. HikeMy Profile

  22. I love this challenge and I am willing to join it with you!!
    Emma @ Culturecopia recently posted…A thank you note on my birthdayMy Profile

  23. That’s a good goal, I’m in! I’m definitely in the psychological camp… I’m not craving chocolate right now because I need meat. I want chocolate because it tastes good lol!
    Ari @ The Pace of it All recently posted…Teacher Tuesday: Saying goodbye to the behavior chart.My Profile

  24. Gosh I can relate. Espeically to the psychological cravings. That is me to a T. My emotions affect what I crave and want to eat all the time (sweets). I’d love to join you on this, I really want to kick stress eating to the curb! Great post : -)
    Meredith recently posted…A work and play weekendMy Profile

  25. i love this post. i love how the concept of a craving can be broken down scientifically!
    nicole recently posted…Feeling Welcomed (and noms)My Profile

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