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Myth: Craving a food means your body is lacking those nutrients.

TRUTH: It’s lent and you haven’t had meat on Fridays or chocolate in nearly 40 days.  By Sunday, you’d give an arm and leg just for a small steak and a slice of Black Forest cake.  Your craving is so intense that you body MUST be telling you that it needs the protein, sugar or chocolate, right?  Wrong.  No such physiologic process exists.

However, a psychological association exists.  Research suggests that the stronger a desire or craving for a certain food is, the more vividly it is pictured or imagined in the brain.  Imagery is a cognitive process, so if you’re focused on a food that you desire, you may be unable to focus on other tasks.  Also, this raises an interesting point – maybe this is true in reverse.  It may be possible to reduce food cravings by focusing on cognitively complex tasks.

The pleasure you derive from eating delicious foods triggers a release of hormones in the brain that enhance mood (like serotonin and dopamine).  For me, that trigger is cheese.  Does that mean my body is craving rotten, moldy milk, rennet or bacteria?  Nope – just that cheese gives me pleasure and my body knows that it would boost my mood.  Unfortunately, the foods most commonly craved seem to be high calorie or high fat options – though I guess I’m not too surprised that Brussels sprouts aren’t at the top of everyone’s list.

BOTTOM LINE:  Your body doesn’t crave specific nutrients, but instead may be craving calories or energy.  If your desire for a certain food is overwhelming, studies show that physical activity (even simply a brisk walk) or finding other ways to relieve stress may help curb your cravings.  Some research even suggests that psychological acupuncture may do the trick, but that may just be another myth.


  1. Science Daily: The Psychology of Food Cravings
  2. Web MD: The facts about Food Cravings

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