Written by Jim McNerney Coaching Team

Everyone experiences food cravings from time to time. Recent surveys estimate 100% of women and more than 70% of men experienced food cravings in the past year. In some cases, a craving can lead to a satisfying experience, but when you’re trying to lose weight, a craving can become a major stressor. Cravings happen for many different reasons.

Research into the psychology behind dietary habits now shows three distinct types of cravings that can strike for different reasons. Once you understand these three types of cravings and why they occur, you can hopefully handle them more effectively.

Associative Cravings

Human memory is powerful, and our senses of taste and smell can evoke the fondest memories from our pasts. An associative craving is a type of craving that makes you desire a food with strong emotional roots in your past.

For example, craving a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when you visit your parents may have roots in your childhood when your parents made PBJs for you for lunch. You may also find yourself craving a loved one’s favorite dish while thinking about them. Biology and nostalgia can sometimes lead us to making poor dietary choices.

Supportive Cravings

When the body suffers an illness or injury, it instinctively starts to crave foods containing the nutrients it needs to heal. If you own a dog or cat that has had an upset stomach, you may have noticed your pet start to chomp on grass. This helps settle the animal’s stomach, and supportive cravings for people work much the same way.

You might find yourself craving orange juice while suffering from a cold because the body wants vitamin C to fight the illness. In some cases, supportive cravings are beneficial to your overall health and may aid in recovery from common illnesses and injuries.

Dispersive Cravings

Everyone experiences cravings for unhealthy but satisfying foods occasionally. A dispersive craving is one for a food that disperses or diminishes energy. In some cases, dispersive cravings can be just as strong as supportive cravings, albeit with the opposite effect. The human mind craves experiences, and some of those experiences may be enjoyable at first with negative consequences that follow.

Dispersive food cravings are much the same. You may know that eating a double cheeseburger with an extra-large side of cheese fries washed down with a soda is bad for you, but you’ll feel wonderful while you eat it. Unfortunately, this feeling quickly turns to regret and possibly an upset stomach after you finish.

Fighting Your Food Cravings

Remember, not all food cravings are automatically negative things. Supportive cravings can lead you toward the foods your body needs to recover, and associative cravings can actually lead to positive emotional experiences and even help some people process past traumas. Dispersive cravings are the ones that require the most careful handling. The occasional “cheat day” on your diet probably won’t mean the end of the world, but containing this craving or subduing it with a mild portion of the food you desire can help you move past it without the negative aftermath.

Food cravings are a part of life. Eating healthier is a lifestyle that requires making consistently positive choices. When you feel cravings arise, do your best to determine their cause, what type of food you desire, and whether eating that food would be in your best interests in the long run.