Diet & Nutrition

6 common food cravings and what they really mean

Pasta? Chocolate? Potato chips? There's a reason for that.

By Alicia Pyke
Dietitian Melanie McGrice reveals what’s really behind these common food cravings, and advises whether to give in or not!


“You could be craving chocolate for energy – in which case, have a cup of green tea – or for psychological reasons. If it’s comfort that you want, try a non-food reward, such as having a massage or a hot bath.”


“It’s a common comfort food because the carbohydrates increase your brain’s serotonin production, making you feel happier. I’d recommend eating the pasta, but keeping it to just one cup (when cooked).”


“You’re probably seeking an energy boost. Up to four coffees a day are fine but if you’re having more than that or skipping meals and relying on coffee, that’s a problem.”


“Maybe you’re craving the iron in red meat – or it could be a craving for some familiar home cooking. Eat and enjoy but again, don’t overdo it.”


“This could be a craving for carbohydrates to improve a low mood or it could be a psychological craving for comfort. Try to determine which and don’t overeat if you do have some.”

Soft Drink

“People often crave the caffeine and/or sugar in soft drink for an energy boost. Try swapping to green tea instead.”

How to combat cravings

Gaining control over cravings starts by recognising that you actually have choice about what and when to eat – you don’t have to consume every item that comes to mind! “A food craving is simply a desire for a particular food and it can be either an emotional desire, psychological desire or physical desire,” Melanie says. “If you can determine what kind of craving it is, you can deal with the root cause of what you’re feeling.” Yes, learning how to decipher the difference is all it takes to conquer cravings and so improve your relationship with food forever. “No-one knows your body like you do, so if you’re craving certain foods, consider how often you’re craving those foods and what’s really behind these cravings,” Melanie says.
It could be that cravings only strike when you’re bored or procrastinating. “Then again, they could indicate there’s something else going on, like a nutritional deficiency,” Melanie says. “For example, if you’re craving potato chips it could be the salt you’re really craving, so instead of eating chips – which are high in saturated fat – you could add a little bit of salt to your regular meal or eat some salted nuts, which are far more nutritious.”
“In my practice I see lots of women with emotional cravings for food to help combat stress, as well as those with physical cravings for sweet foods mid-afternoon – the classic time when women typically have an energy slump,” Melanie says. “In both of these scenarios they’re often turning to energy-boosting foods, such as caffeinated drinks, and sugary foods, like biscuits, chocolate and cake.” Whatever the reason, food cravings are common for most women and far less likely to affect men. “Women tend to have more emotional and psychological cravings because we tend to be more in tune with our emotions,” Melanie says. “However, I also believe women tend to be more susceptible to physical cravings because we often have higher nutritional requirements than men, coupled with slower metabolisms.
The fact is women actually require less food than men, which means we need more nutrition in a smaller volume of food.” An imbalance can soon lead to weight gain and poor eating habits such as skipping meals. “Not meeting your nutrition requirements leaves you low in energy, consequently causing you to crave energy-boosting foods,” Melanie adds.
Planning well-balanced meals to better meet your body’s nutritional needs can quickly help you get back on track. The simplest way is to make sure every meal includes a mix of lean protein and carbohydrates for lasting energy. It can also help to follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines, which advise eating daily from a wide variety of the five food groups: vegetables; fruit; grains, “mostly wholegrain and/or high-fibre varieties”; protein from lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds; plus dairy foods. For more information, see
If you’re still battling uncontrollable cravings, try keeping a food diary for a week. By recording everything you eat, how much and when the urges hit, you’ll soon start to see patterns – such as a very light lunch leading to a 3pm trip to the vending machine for a Kit Kat. The next option is talking to a health professional. “If you’re really struggling with cravings, seek out the advice of an accredited practising dietitian who can help you determine what’s causing them and how to best treat them,” Melanie says. To find a qualified dietitian near you, visit