The 3 Kinds of Cravings
Prefer to read this article as a PDF download?
Just enter your info below and we’ll send it to you right now!
If you’re alive, then chances are you’ve craved. Maybe the craving was for some sugar, or chocolate, perhaps pancakes and syrup, bacon, pizza; maybe you had a late night craving for something obnoxiously loud and crunchy, or sinfully cold and creamy. I’m fascinated by the degree to which people can be fascinated by their own strange cravings. Sometimes, it seems like our cravings live at the tricky three-way intersection of biology, desire and insanity. If you don’t proceed slowly, things may get messy. But it just might be that our cravings have a few things to teach us. Lessons that go deep into our nutrition soul. Allow me to explain:

Back in 1984, while working hard to complete my master’s thesis on psychology and nutrition, I had a fascinating encounter with a craving. During several months of intensive day and night writing I would break at six each evening, drive to a local store, and purchase a pint of homemade vanilla ice cream and two bran muffins. This was all I ate for dinner each day. Maybe this would be a featured meal if I ever wrote an epic diet book. I was fit, healthy and strong. Something was clearly working. But, towards the final days of my work, I noticed that not only did I enjoy the bran muffins and ice cream, but I craved them. Intensely. I realized I couldn’t get through the day without my fix.

Here I was writing about psychology and nutrition, and I was addicted to bran muffins and ice cream.

As any good narcissistic graduate student should do, I decided one evening to try an experiment on myself. What would happen if I didn’t give in to the craving? Is it even possible? Could I survive? Would my head explode? Well, I sat on the couch, looked out the window, and agreed to stay there until the craving was gone. How’s that for manly courage? But the longer I sat, the stronger the craving grew, and the more convinced I became that I should end the experiment. But I stayed. I sat, I took deep breaths, I watched my anxiety grow deeper, I toughed it out, and as the overwhelming impulse to eat bran muffins and ice cream peaked, as the longing and pain consumed my entire body, I burst into tears, convulsed on the couch and sobbed uncontrollably.

I don’t know how long I sat and cried, but sometime later I realized I was peacefully looking out the window, watching the birds and the tall grass, deeply relaxed and content. I’d been in another world. Why was I so relaxed? Had I fallen asleep? I remembered the craving episode but it was gone without a trace. Bran muffins and ice cream seemed like a distant memory. I had no more desire for them, nor have I craved them since. (Okay, just once…)

So, what happened? How did the craving disappear? Why did it appear in the first place? And what about the crying business?  We can answer these questions and perhaps unravel some of the mystery by first looking at what I’ve postulated as the three kinds of cravings – supportive, dispersive, and associative.

Supportive Cravings

A supportive craving occurs when the body instinctively yearns for a food that enhances the healing process, fulfills a nutritional need, or neutralizes an imbalance in the body. Have you ever noticed some of the peculiar things pets or animals eat when sick? Cats might chew on plants and grass, dogs can eat old pinecones, pieces of wood, or lick clay deposits. No one tells a dog to eat clay because the positively charged minerals it contains helps neutralize acidic poisons in its system, and shifts blood pH back to normal, nor would the dog understand if anyone did. It’s acting upon an instinctive process far beyond reason.

The same process occurs in human beings. Supportive cravings may arise that seem sensible and obvious, or unexpected and beyond nutritional understanding. Have you ever craved citrus foods when suffering from a cold or flu? It’s easy to justify this biologic desire considering the vitamin C content of oranges and grapefruits, and the cleansing effect of fruit on the body. Other cravings defy traditional understanding but prove remarkably successful. Examples I’ve observed in friends and clients include raspberry juice for headaches and fatigue, fresh figs for depression, and peanut butter for nasal congestion. These cravings are unique to the individuals who experience them, and would probably prove useless for most others. The bottom line here: the body craves because the body knows.

Dispersive Cravings

A dispersive craving is a desire for a food that drains health and diminishes our energy. Though the intensity of a dispersive desire may be as strong as the intensity of a supportive one, the ultimate effects of yielding to such cravings might be feeling heavy, feeling de-energized, and feeling guilty. Many of us long for foods we suspect will yield an adverse reaction, especially when eaten in excess: sugar, alcohol, fried food, and junk food are some obvious examples. So how is it that we can even crave something beneficial, yet also crave something harmful?  If the body is so naturally wise, how could it be so dumb? The answer lies in the nature of yearning. Life itself is a yearning. We yearn for meaning, purpose, love, and the fulfillment of our desires. Behind every human act, no matter how singular or small, is a yearning for more: more life, more depth of experience. Through the many difficulties and obstacles we face, our yearnings may become distorted. The natural yearning for inner strength may become a compulsion for power over others.

The yearning for love may be turned into a hopeless attempt to gain approval from everyone we meet. Or the yearning for self-fulfillment may become an obsession to accumulate money and prestige. The body also yearns. It yearns for food, water, touch, sound and sensuality. It yearns for aliveness through sweet things, tasty things, and whatever stimulates and excites the senses to a heightened experience of life. The body yearns for more of itself. And just as psychological yearnings can become distorted, so can biological ones. A dispersive craving is a distorted yearning in the body. The body is literally duped into thinking that excessive consumption of harmful substances would be helpful. We often yearn for experiences in life we firmly believe are needed. We may pursue a friendship, relationship, job, or money-making scheme that seems smart at the time, but later proves an embarrassing choice. The body is equally blind when confronted with powerful substances or experiences that promise fulfillment, such as intense amounts of alcohol, sugar, and more. The bottom line here is this: just as the heart can look for love in all the wrong places, so too can the body. Both are easily seduced. No blame.

Associative Cravings

An associative craving is an odd cross between the other two. It occurs when we yearn for a food that has a rich, deep, and meaningful association with out past. For example, many people report that when visiting parents or grandparents, they suddenly long for foods from their childhood.  One middle-aged woman craves spaghetti and meatballs whenever she visits her elderly mother. If she didn’t see her mother, she wouldn’t even think of this dish. Yet each time her childhood memories are sparked, she explains that “It feels as though my taste buds step into a time machine.” A friend of mine suddenly found himself wanting bagels with cream cheese and butter. He’d never before eaten this combination of foods, nor did it seem very appealing when he thought about it. He realized later that this was his father’s favorite food, and the craving came at a time when he was longing for his father, who’d died a decade earlier.

On a symbolic level, bagels with cream cheese and butter was his father. By eating this food, he was reincorporating his father into his life. Associative cravings are often the most difficult to deal with because we’re uncertain about whether they’re beneficial or not. For instance, foods from our childhood may be of questionable nutritional value, yet eating them can be deeply nourishing. By surrendering to such a craving we can visit our past, and re-live feelings that may bring their own special healing moment, regardless of the nutritional inferiority of the food. The bottom line here: biology and nostalgia can make a fascinating and almost mystical meal.

Back to the bran muffins and ice cream…

I believe that oftentimes, when we move through our attachments, no matter how tasty and harmless they may seem, we discover something deeper. We might have to move through some discomfort, or pain, or inexplicable tears, and perhaps even some rage. But beyond the land of the uncomfortable, the place we love to avoid when we get stuck on our favorite cravings, is a neighborhood called Inner Peace. It’s a place that lives in all of us, but is sometimes unavailable on our GPS. We can’t always get to inner peace in one straight shot. Sometimes, we just need to take the curvy and unpredictable path through our desires and our longings. This just might be the most soulful and scenic route.

What has been your experience – do you have any funny or transformational craving stories?

My warmest regards,
Marc David
Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014

Tweet Me!

Life Itself is a Yearning  

The 3 Types of Craving 

NOW AVAILABLE: SPECIAL 10TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

The Slow Down Diet: Eating for Pleasure, Energy, and Weight Loss

Get My Book!

Get Your FREE Video Series

New Insights to Forever Transform Your Relationship with Food

P.S. – If you haven’t had a chance to check out our FREE information packed video series – The Dynamic Eating Psychology Breakthrough – you can sign up for it HERE. It’s a great way to get a better sense of the work we do here at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. If you’re inspired by this work and want to learn about how you can become certified as an Eating Psychology Coach, please go HERE to learn more. And if you’re interested in working on your own personal relationship with food, check out our breakthrough 8-week program designed for the public – Transform Your Relationship with Food™ HERE.

  • Great Post Marc,
    I find it a cruel joke of the universe that the more we try to get away from all of those discomforts and pain, the more of the dispersive cravings we have.

    • Geoff,
      That’s a powerful point that many of my clients have expressed their frustration with over the years. Our job then is to see if those cravings are masking a deeper need and try to fulfill that. But yes, balancing cravings can be a tricky task for many.
      Warmly,
      Marc

  • Michele

    When I was a little boy growing up in Japan, I was enrolled at The St. Mary’s International School in Tokyo. Although I was from Italy, I was able to mingle with a lot of other kids, especially from the United States. I was always fascinated by the food products from their culture, and was exposed to them every time I would go to their homes to play. I went crazy for the candy, chocolate, chewing gum and chips. Their packaging, colors, shapes and flavors, along with the fact that they were presented to me by such nice, friendly people, helped to seal the passion I still have to this day for the United States. Just knowing such snacks existed gave me a sense of comfort. I thought to myself, ” They must really love children in the U.S”. I knew right then that I wanted to be an American, and live in the States for the rest of my life. But I had a long ways to go. I was very young and at the mercy of my very traditional Italian parents.

    One of the treats that I was particularly crazy for was Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. The colors of the packaging warmed my heart and the peanut butter became my new favorite novelty. They weren’t selling Reese’s in Tokyo, so I didn’t see them very often… only when a friend would share their delight with me after having it arrived from someone back home. (Sometimes that which I see the least of makes the biggest impact on my mind.)

    As the years went bye and I got older, it was time to leave Japan. We moved to Hong Kong. One or two years in, I found a store down in Stanley Market that sold Twizzlers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I was so happy. So I bought them often and indulged. But somehow, it wasn’t the same feeling. By having them readily available and within such easy reach, I almost forgot why I was even eating them. Yes they tasted good, and yes the packaging still appealed to me, but I had changed. I was growing and becoming more independent and the stories that I built in my mind about my life weren’t as happy, probably because of the pressure of growing up and the unwanted move to a new place.

    After Hong Kong we moved to Italy. Seven more years went by and I only ate a Reese’s cup once when an exchange student from Oregon came to live with my family for a few months. Brian’s mom sent him a box of American goodies for Christmas.

    It wasn’t until I moved to the U.S for college that I understood why I was so attached to the Reese’s and what it meant to me. While I was here I mostly ignored them and didn’t feel the desire to seek them out anymore. I had arrived. I had accomplished my dream of one day living in America. Landing here and becoming a citizen is a huge accomplishment for me, and I have to thank Reese’s for periodically reminding me, during the different stages of my growth, what I was fighting for. It gave me the faith that I needed to know that one day I would be where I always wanted to be. Happy within myself here in the U.S, speaking English as my primary language, and living amongst such warm, loving people!

    Nowadays, whenever I see a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, I pause and reflect on all these things that flash quickly across my mind. My brother feels the same way about them too. He’s a 32 year old real estate agent, and all he wants me to bring to him from the U.S is Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. We eat them together and become children again.

    Recently, though, I’ve been purchasing something similar, but with organic peanut butter and dark healthy chocolate. They’re good, but it’s not Reese’s.

    This is my associative craving. Whenever I crave this treat, I believe I crave that magical childhood feeling of being cradled and embraced by a feel good culture from the country called America.

    • Michele,
      Wow, what a beautiful story of longing, belonging, cravings and a deeper understanding of self! Thank you for sharing your words with us and painting a vivid picture of your experience with food and “elusive treats”. What an interesting and beautiful perspective of what America has inspired people to pursue, I’m sure many other people would tell a different story of the foods produced and manufactured here. I appreciate your great contribution this conversation.

      Warmly,
      Marc David

    • Jamie

      H Michele,

      I love your story so much! Thank you so greatly for sharing this 🙂 Congratulations on living out your dream and becoming an American! We are so happy to have you here!

      Most Sincerely,
      Jamie

    • Cheryl

      Great Story!!

  • Last september/october year, my beloved 8 year old boxer, Clubber Lang, got really sick. It was so hard an awful. Lots of tears shed, especially knowing that it was his time. All I craved were cupcakes and ice cream. Literally to the point when I could taste the flavor and texture. I didn’t give into the cravings and they would go away, but flare back up. On the day that Clubber died, my husband and I decided to celebrate with ice cream in memory of Clubber (he would always get vanilla with peanut butter!). I didn’t eat any still and I survived. The ice cream wouldn’t cure the heart ache that I had. When I finally had my flavor cupcake, it was decadent. It was an experience, and I was glad that I didn’t give into it every single time because it would have never been as amazing–or maybe it would have but I would have suffered with guilt. Life is such an experience and finding the perfect balance just doesn’t happen. It’s living life and as this article described finding that “inner peace!”

    • Hi April,
      You illustrate a beautiful point of being able to let craving be a sign that you need to feel deeper and mourn a loss instead of covering it up with food. Sometimes the lesson is in not indulging in the craving and sometimes it’s giving it to the craving without abandon – like you experienced when eating your favorite cupcake. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. We also thank Clubber Lang for being there for you for 8 years.

      Warmly,
      Marc

  • Prl

    Hi Marc

    Thanks so much for your article on craving . It gives much more insight into the philosophy and agonizing
    psychology of craving. I too have had many weird and wonderful cravings and have found them as fuel and
    inspiration for many poems , stories and sometimes as a companion to fits of uncontrollable sobbing as I am discovering many closet comfort eaters also do. Until now I had never thought of types of cravings and how these different foods may have created sub personalities.
    I wrote this poem as a kind of resolution to embrace the inner child during these moments of delusion and would like to share.

    The Queen of Taboo

    I’d like a castle made of marshmallows
    with Swiss roll doors
    and strips of bubblegum to make the walls
    A Chocolate gateau standing
    in the dining room hall
    A marble floor made of marzipan
    and a chandelier of fireballs

    I’d like hundreds and thousands
    scattered on sheepskin rugs
    with lots of friends around
    to give me lots of hugs

    I’d like a bathtub made of
    icing, with running lemonade
    and ice cream on the side,
    for lazy days
    and strawberry flavored towels
    and cookie dough robes
    and candy floss pajamas
    with liquorice all-sort rings
    to decorate our toes

    I’d like a car made of chocolate
    that doesn’t melt in the sun
    and a sporty helicopter
    made of Belgian buns

    I’d like a praline armchair
    to wave to the day
    and a poffee made of toffee apples
    is that OK?

    Your wish is my command
    anything is possible in my dreamland.

    Taboo? Is it really taboo?
    When having fun little one is all we really want to do?

    • Wonderful and inspiring poetry – it is interesting what is considered appropriate eating behavior and what’s viewed as taboo. Part of the work we do at the Institute has always been about making cravings and emotional eating OK, and seeing the beautiful lessons we need to learn from them, rather than something to fight and control. I loved your poem – we can thank your cravings for the creation of such inspired art.

      Warmly,
      Marc David

      • Prl

        I appreciate the reflection. I don’t actually eat any of the foods in my fantasy poem
        but the very cravings themselves do inspire all sorts of creative masterpieces.
        The next poem may be about peanut butter!

        • Hmm. Peanut butter poetry: you could start a new trend.

          Warmly,

          Marc David

  • Joe

    Great article.

    I had many cravings for alcohol and nicotine when I was younger. I no longer smoke. I just decided to stop one day and that was it. No cold turkey or cravings. Alcohol was different. The craving persisted. At the weekend I would easily knock back a few bottles. Now that I’m getting older (mid 40’s) I’ve become more aware of my own mortality. My body also takes longer to recover. This was my body telling me to wise up. The cravings for alcohol have dropped off to the point that I rarely drink now and I no longer miss it.

  • Hi Joe,
    Alcohol and nicotine are powerful substances indeed, and are able to produce powerful cravings. I am glad to hear that you are listening to your body wisdom and letting your body’s voice be louder than the cravings.

    Warmly,
    Marc David

  • Jen

    Thanks Marc. I really enjoy this breaking down of cravings — not all are alike. I tend to crave dark chocolate and for some strange reason, cashew nuts. I can eat mountains of them when I’m feeling stressed, often alternating between the salty and vaguely sweet. I also appreciate the sharing of this very personal story. See (hear) you in the training in October. I’m currently enjoying listening to the warm up teleclass recordings.

    • Hi Jen –

      Thank you for your solidarity on the topic, and I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying the first glimpse of your studies with us at IPE. Isn’t it amazing how insightful our bodies are when we listen to what they need from us? For instance, both cashews and dark chocolate are rich in magnesium, which helps us to relax. So when those cravings come up, sometimes it’s a sign to you from your body to stop what you’re doing and take a break, to breathe, go for a walk, or simply provide you the opportunity to shift your perspective and tune in to what will help you most in the moment. Those foods also have a richness and depth to them. Probably the kind of thing you need, or enjoy. So glad you are in the training…

      Warmly,

      Marc David

  • Jean

    Very enlightening article, Marc! It comes at the dwindling stage of my 3-yr mourning of my beloved husband Norm and the realization I can no longer use eating as my comfort tool, excuse or soothing safety net !

    While I was busy with many stresses helping the kids and grandkids and myself deal with our sudden and cavernous loss, of closing his law firm and instituting lawsuits on his behalf, selling our beautiful home and the need or requirement of making a new life in a new home…it wasn’t always the sadness of missing him that perpetuated the ease of comforting myself with giving in to many cravings. In the beginning I was simply too busy to give in, the sadness was overwhelming and eating wasn’t a priority! It actually and ultimately was my ANGER as well as DISAPPOINTMENT of some business colleagues or friends of his that betrayed him or us financially and emotionally that catapulted me into not caring what I ate, how much or when…it was the subconscious/conscious knowledge that it was one of the litany of things I could control whether it was healthy or detrimental 🙁 … I would tell myself I will deal better tomorrow or next month; let me just get some of these critical things off my “to do” list that was for the legacy of our children, in honor of Norm.

    As the judicial system grinds slowly and oh so not ethically, the long story short is we got screwed out of over a million dollars! Painful indeed! While I could rationalize it was yet another loss and it is just $$, significant as it was, it was the betrayal that I couldn’t let go of! It ate me up and kept my sadness lingering for Norm!
    How dare someone he was trusting of do that to him and our family! Karma is all I could hold dear; what goes around comes around! Let it go! Ironically even the attorney I hired encouraged me to keep the litigation going even after some events perpetuated by the adversary precluded our victory which he never disclosed to me until I fired him and read through the file. Shameful!
    It truly was devastating and resoundingly turned me off to trusting people and now some attorneys…which my husband was! I was a court reporter ;-)…we were entrenched in the legal field! It was a deep deep blow to the type people me and my husband were and are!

    So this last year I hibernated and licked my wounds or more accurately licked my fingers and everything off my plate LOL!!! Not so funny or visual yet honest!

    Now, after slowly letting go and desperately wanting to move on and heal myself, I’ve taken charge – necessary charge – over finally feeding my heart mind and soul better! I had to take care of everyone else or every thing else first as was necessary, and my eating or health took a back seat! I knew better but didn’t have the strength or desire to make it a priority as I felt the other things I was fighting took precedence!

    I also, to my credit, a year after he passed, got involved w a Rawfood business I invested quite a bit of $$ into that kept me busy yet after two years didn’t survive the economic downturn. I’m just finalizing that business arrangement as I type. So I did attempt to catapult my energy into healthy decisions just not my own eating habits at the same time. Sure, I would juice and detox and eat Rawfood and at the same time eat meat and drink alcohol and desserts and it fluctuated like that for three years with no exercise to speak of as I was just too darn tired; I was drained emotionally, financially and physically! I was barely holding on yet determined to forge forward as hitting rock bottom tends to make you long for magical horizons and hope of better endings or new beginnings !

    So your article couldn’t have come at a better time of my metamorphosis and rebirth!
    Hence my new Manifesto:

    I vow to not make or hold excuses any longer
    I vow to treat my temple more respectfully and lovingly
    I vow to forgive myself and others
    I vow to meet each new day full of hope exuberance and love
    I vow to release my anger and not look back or regurgitate that old painful crap
    I vow to control only what I can
    I vow to be mostly on a plant-based lifestyle
    I vow to be happy w progress and not perfection

    ~ Jean ~

    • Hi Jean –

      Wow! Thank you for sharing your moving journey with us here. What a sad loss for you and your family. My condolences… but also: congratulations for intuitively seeing the shift required of you. You have been on a very tough road, and are coming through with dignity and love. “Letting go” doesn’t mean giving up, it just means you are willing to accept things as they are and move on from there. It’s such an empowerment. If we don’t ask the question we will never get the answer we seek… I’m so glad to hear you are now taking the time to feed your heart and soul. Craving balance is probably one of the more healthful desires out there. Please continue to indulge in it, and to follow a path of consciousness.

      Warmly,

      Marc David

      • Jean

        Thx Dear Marc for taking the time to even respond…we all know how busy you are!

        When asked my intention at the first sweat lodge experience a few months after his passing, I uttered “BALANCE” ! I’ve been seeking its elusiveness during these past years and while the journey hasn’t been pleasant, I can say I know I’m strong and I never give up on principles so judgments have been acknowledged and I AM “LETTING GO”…The lessons of awareness and/or trust have been learned indeed…yet I can now put them in the past and turn toward craving a cleaner lifestyle both mentally, physically and nutritionally…I’ve been diligently working on being plant-based and/or vegan 5 days a week and only have meat occasionally on weekends, yet striving ultimately to be completely off animal protein as soon as I can…I know what IIN has instilled in me and my experimenting and empirically seeing the results and walking my talk is a priority now above anything else. It’s ok for me to be Happy now…Balanced and Spiritually conscious. I know Norm wants this for me as well…it just took me stomping thru some muck to get to the other side :-)…Nothing rewarding comes easy. I did enter a Warrior Dash race last year…so who knows what’s on the agenda this year for some challenging exercise and motivation. I look forward to discovering what is on the horizon and cravings of foods of all kinds is part of the dynamics of LIFE xoxo

        • Hi Jean –

          I think you’re on the right track — balance, letting go, and becoming spiritually conscious … and the key to it all, you’ve got it: Now.

          Warmly,

          Marc David

  • Esther Hills

    Beautiful article.

    Only last week, as I opened a box of Lindt chocolates, I suddenly realised, like a bolt of lightning, that what I was looking for, wasn’t in that box. I wanted it to be, but it wasn’t. After stocking my house with every tasty thing I ever craved, culminating in my favourite Lindt chocolates, I was struck by the knowledge that what I wanted was an interesting life, a life of love, of security and of adventure at once…..and the more I tried to satisfy that yearning with a box of chocolates, the more I numbed that drive to find something more in life. I knew I faced the decision to either keep numbing my drive for better and deeper things with food, or to sit with all my discomfort, frustration and pain and let my soul-hunger drive me to where I want to go. I was afraid to make that decision, but I’ve made it, and I’m not turning back.

    I loved your article, it said it so so well and clarified what I’m going through even more.
    Thank you!

    • Hi Esther,

      What a beautiful realization! What an incredible moment, thank you so much for sharing this. I think it’s simply amazing what can happen when we stop getting in our own way, and decide to “be in our own corner” instead. We are so much more powerful when we support the transformations we so deeply desire, rather than when we resist them. The very best of luck to you in these next steps of your journey of discovery.

      Warmly,

      Marc David

    • Alissa

      Esther, you’ve smacked me in the face with this line, “what I was looking for wasn’t in that box”. That’s so ridiculously simple but helpful – massive thanks for sharing.

  • Jean

    What I’m saying is I CRAVE TO BE BALANCED !!!

  • I really appreciate how you broke down the cravings into these three categories. There is something insightful and relieving to know that there are things bigger than willpower and discipline at the wheel. Sometimes it’s nice to have that reminder:).

    • Hi Dani,

      Thanks for reading. Great to hear from you – I hope all goes well in your world. I’m glad to hear this post allowed you to have that experience of insight and relief. This is how we know it rings true. There’s much more to the story than iron wills: it’s about living life and enjoying the ride. Sometimes that means giving in, and sometimes that means letting things just be.

      Warmly,

      Marc David

  • Leslie

    I have all three types of cravings, regularly and often. Now what?! ;(

    • Lindsay Young

      Hi Leslie,

      Lindsay here from IPE.

      Maybe what’s next is to celebrate being human, enjoy it all, and if there are cravings you have that you want to minimize, then you have a great place to do some work on self. Life is a long term classroom. Cravings are often here to teach us something. Enjoy the learning…

  • Hillary Dunbar

    I love this post! After 21 years of marriage I recently ate my way through a divorce. I knew I was dealing with stress and transition with food. Now that the dust is beginning to settle I feel more capable and ready to refocus and put the practices that make me feel healthy back into place. My body tells me it needs more rest right now, my love of cooking is returning and I desire to move my body in ways that makes me fit and strong. There were many lessons to learn through this life change and now on the backside I am beginning to understand and reflect. Your article has clarified what I instinctively knew … thank you!

    • Hillary –

      What a journey you’ve been on! Congratulations for your presence and courage through this bumpy life transition. It is so important to heed our body wisdom when it tells us these kinds of things: I need rest, movement, joy, food, I want to feel strong, etc. I’m delighted to hear that this post can provide some support for you.

      Warmly,
      Marc David

  • Jean

    Marc, this is very insightful and helps to explain why I may reach for chocolate covered espresso beans everyday at 3:00 in the afternoon! On a different level, there was a time in my life where what I desired from others was superficial, selfish and material. Those were the days that I starved myself, worked out 6-7 days a week until blue in the face, and obsessed about my weight on a daily basis. It wasn’t until I realized that the quality of my life was going downhill fast and I needed to turn to God completely before it was too late. After about a year, I found real inner peace, but what slowly changed as well was my lack of desire for maintaining a perfect outer appearance. I wasn’t interested really at all in body image and looks. It was as if those things reminded me of my old lifestyle and that felt bad. Eating and exercising patterns changed (not for the better) and I began the fight to an uphill battle with weight gain coupled with increasing age. It has taken 4 years to find myself back to being interested in eating healthy- for real! and exercising regularly just for the health and energy aspects. It’s the cravings that make it the hardest. Thank you for the article and I look forward to more!

    • Hi Jean,

      You’re so welcome, of course.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. What a powerful realization this must have been: it was your attention upon the sacred that was required. Beautiful! I love it. What I hear you saying is that you’ve been on both sides of the fence: the obsessive body chase, and the sacred. And now you’re being shown the need for balance. I’m glad you’ve found your way back into being kind to yourself and seeing the need to love your body in a deeper way.

      Warmly,

      Marc David

  • This brought me to tears. What a beautiful and non-judgmental look at cravings. So many points hit me in the heart, but the section about dispersive cravings.

    ” A dispersive craving is a distorted yearning in the body. The body is literally duped into thinking that excessive consumption of harmful substances would be helpful. ”

    I’ve never heard it articulated so clearly. The humanity of the body means it yearns.

    Thank you.

    Brynn

    • Hi Brynn –

      I’m glad this post revealed something deep and emotionally true for you. Sometimes it’s just as simple as standing back and letting the body crave what it craves, and then be willing to sit with it and wait and listen; without blame or fear or judgment. You’re so right: the nature of being human means we yearn.

      Thanks for your kind words.

      Warmly,

      Marc David

  • Tim

    I often have this strange craving for the end of a Romaine lettuce heart. I mean that part that holds all the leaves together.
    Weird.

    • Hi Tim –

      There’s so many good-for you things going on in romaine!

      I’m particularly fond of the center of the heart as well… I wonder if it’s an attempt to get to the minerals in the soil, as you’re eating the base of the plant’s support, or maybe you like “hearts.”

      Cravings are not always logical though, so enjoy it anyways!

      Best,

      Marc David

  • Treena Wynes

    Fabulous blog! Sums it all up perfectly. When clients first come to see me, they say, “just tell me what to eat so I can stop over-eating!” I tell them that it just doesn’t work that way. We need to unravel the reasons behind their cravings and compulsive-eating behaviors.

    • Hi Treena –

      Fantastic! I love that you get it. Keep doing what you’re doing,

      Warm Regards,

      Marc David

  • Marcia

    Hi Marc!
    I love your books, your inspiring non judgemental words!
    My affair with cravings is far from over… Some weeks I get them under control and feel great, until the pulsing urge attacks me again… So i get confused: are there differences between cravings, compulsion, addiction… Are there lines to draw?
    Admire your work!!

    • Hi Marcia –

      I truly appreciate your thoughtful words. Yes, there are differences around all of these for sure, addiction being the most extreme form of attachment on emotional and biologic levels. I would not so much worry about the right definition to put on your challenges, and rather focus on gentle and clear ways to work with them. A great book for this is The Gift of Our Compulsions by Mary O’Malley.

      Best regards,
      Marc David

  • Donna

    Hi Marc,

    I really liked the speakers yesterday and can’t wait to listen today! Dr. Hyman and John Robbins are two favorites of mine. This past spring I joined the Food Revolution that John and Ocean Robbins began and enjoyed listening to all the wonderful speakers that John interviewed for the program.

    My craving story happened 28 years ago when I was pregnant for my wonderful son. I was a healthy eater (I am a super healthy eater now!) knowing that what I put into my body was going into my baby. I craved 3 things: watermelon – I was not gaining that much weight and my Doctor was concerned because that’s all I ate for the first few months, but the craving was something I had never experienced before; spaghetti – at least once a week I needed homemade spaghetti with meatballs; the last was pizza – again once a week. Good thing I am a good cook because it would not have satisfied me to eat something that did not taste great! Maybe it would have curbed the craving! I eat those things now, but a much healthier version of them. It is funny because my son’s favorite fruit is watermelon and he is a pasta connoisseur! I guess that’s not the worse I could have passed down to my son! 🙂

    I am excited to learn more about the Institute for the Psychology of Eating and will be tuning in the rest of the week!

    Thank you,

    Donna

    • Hi Donna,
      What a great craving story!
      Looks like your son knew what he wanted as soon as he came in.
      I’m also so glad to hear you’re enjoying the Conference!
      It’s been an amazing experience to share ideas with these amazing people.
      If there’s anything you would like to know more about in regards to the work we do here at the Institute, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at info@psychologyofeating.com

      Thanks for tuning in!
      Marc

  • Nathan

    The root of all this is that hungry ghost within.
    Reminds me of Gabor Mates last book he wrote called, “In the realm of hungry ghosts”.

    The book is about addiction I just came across the psychology of eating tonight and I’m loving the connections made.

    Another book and work came to mind Marc, and that was “Heading the shame that binds you”.

    I practice a modality called the BodyTalk system and I’ve recently been guided by my.gut and intuition to learn more about nutrition. So this is amazing because I love psychology.

    You’ve from the Colorado area, so you might be familiar with the Integral Institute and the A.Q.A.L. ( all quadrants all level) philosophy of Ken Wilber.

    I love how you are integrating nutrition and psychology, I believe it’s important. It’s important because having awareness about the root of our shame is healing, and like you have mentioned in YouTube videos, your books, etc. Until other factors are addressed, diets and all these manipulative approaches to the relationship of our food will be skewed.

    Keep up the amazing work. I’m truly inspired to get certified in this work as another useful, practical tool I can apply and practice in my life as well as share with clients after BodyTalk sessions.

    I’m now learning how important it is to have a nutritional awareness that can support the energetic and consciousness work I do with people.

    Thank you for following your passion and creating a career out of it, it’s refreshing buddy.

    • Hi Nathan,
      Thank you for your encouragement. Glad you enjoyed this post.
      I’m too a big fan of Gabor Mate’s work: brilliant man doing amazing work in the world.
      How cool that your body wisdom is speaking so clearly to you and good for you on following its lead.

      We look forward to having you study with us in the future!

      Best,
      Marc David

  • Nathan

    Healing* the shame that binds you

  • trisha

    I’m past menopause now, but used to suffer horrific PMS back in the day. I remember one month when i had the most overwhelming desire for chocolate cake and coffee just before my period. My head was saying this would be the worst possible thing i could do, but the craving was so strong i finally gave in. To my surprise, i had a totally “normal” cycle that month–i felt emotionally balanced with no further cravings and with no mood swings at all!

    So, of course, i figured i had the answer: coffee and chocolate cake just before my period–which is what i did the following month–and which resulted in my usual PMS crazies, and then some!! I realized that i wasn’t responding to a craving, but to what i believed would be good for me What an awakening!

    20 years later, i feel i can finally tell the difference between my body telling me what it needs and my “head” thinking it knows! Listened to last week’s teleseminar and… MY GOD!! …What i would have given to have had this information available back then! Bless you for your wisdom, and for the many women who will be helped by your work!

    • Hi Trisha,
      What a great story! Good for you for learning to listen to your own profound body wisdom. It rarely steers us wrong. Like so many other things, when we find one thing works the first time we logically extrapolate that it’s THE thing, but, as you discovered, it was THE thing for THAT moment. Being flexible and willing to listen in at each moment is key.

      Warmly,
      Marc

  • Kevin

    Wow this has opened up some pandoras boxes.I crave going to particular restaurants when I go home and also realize that they suit my desire for culture and belief that in those cultures food revolves around intimate family gatherings that I feel was lacking. I also based my long term relationships on this disreguarding the obviousness of us not belonging together. The dispersive has been my sabotage as I try otherwise to live a healthy life I find the monotony and not feeling good enough brings the cravings to just couch potato and graze. I fought off that craving Iin grocery store yesterday and today Ive been depressed and hardly eaten. Wow who knew

  • Hi Kevin,

    It sounds as though this was a thought-provoking read for you! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your response and insights. These sound like some fantastic areas for further exploration.

    Warm regards,
    Marc

  • Ames

    Hi, this was a really interesting article, thank you!

    I actually experienced a strange craving just yesterday. I am on holiday in Bali & during the afternoon, after a morning of shopping & being out in the heat, I found myself craving some sort of milk drink – like a smoothie, milkshake or a Big M. The banana smoothie was particularly tempting. I’m not sure why I was craving milk in hot weather, but I ended up having a banana smoothie with my dinner & it was the best thing ever. It hit the spot. Exactly what I wanted! I had to stop myself from sculling it! Out of the 3 cravings I would say this possibly fits in with the supportive one… What are your thoughts?

  • So glad that you enjoyed this article and thanks for sharing your story! Cravings can arise for all sorts of reasons. Sounds like you were having a busy day in the heat and needed something that was cooling and nourishing to your system. Ultimately, our cravings are meant to be listened to and learned from. I’m glad to hear that you listened to your craving and were able to notice the benefits of giving your body what it was asking for. If it felt supportive in your system in that moment that’s all that matters. Sounds like you’re cultivating some great awareness and tuning in to your body. Keep listening to your body and your cravings as they will be your ultimate guide. Best, Marc

  • I have been an on-again, off-again vegetarian for years. Initially I chose not to eat meat nor fish protein after I read “Eat Right for Your Blood Type” by Dr. Peter D’Adamo. I’m A+ and according to that theory my body does better with a plant-based diet. So I started experimenting with quinoa, millet, amaranth and legumes, while still eating eggs, cheese, etc. Through the years I found during the cold weather months I craved meat and fish, and other “warming” spices and beverages. Currently I do eat fish protein, though not daily. This makes sense, especially in Ayurveda as described by Dr. John Douillard in his 3-Season Diet book. My vegetarianism became more about not eating animals, regardless if they were humanely and healthfully raised. Yet every now and then I do struggle with craving my favorite meat, Chinese or BBQ pork and ribs! Probably stems from my childhood since we NY non-Kosher Jews frequented Chinatown and my mother made awesome BBQ spareribs (she passed away 7 years ago). I find I feel fuller with fish or meat protein, a feeling I seem to need especially in the winter months and when stressed. I allow for this craving a couple times of year. Yet to assuage my guilt I say the following Buddhist prayer I learned from Lama Tsultrim Allione (at Tara Mandala Buddhist Retreat Center): “I receive this sustenance gratefully, appreciating all forms of life who have offered themselves for my benefit. I eat and drink with awareness, in the experience of One Taste, recognizing my body is a sacred mandala. My my actions be beneficial and relieve suffering and may all beings, without one exception, have happiness and the causes of happiness.” Works for me! And now as a student getting certified through Marc’s certification program, I am learning even more tools to help clients (and myself) with their cravings, seeing them as an invitation to learn something about themselves, or as the saying goes “cravings aren’t the problem, they are the solution!”

    • Hi Susan, thank you so much for sharing your story! I’m so glad to hear that you’re listening to your body and finding practices that work for you. Thanks for being part of our community. Warmly, Marc

  • Jing_ShenKai

    Definitely dispersive.

  • Thanks for sharing your experience, Tommie! Warmly, Marc

  • Ice cream was my comfort food, ever since I had my tonsils out at age 6 (boy, did that ice cream feel good on my very sore throat!). For years, I would eat ice cream whenever I needed comfort (even for intestinal distress, and ice cream never made me feel better for that!). I learned that it was best to not have ice cream in the house and that’s how I managed the craving for at least 20 years.

    Then I went to visit my mom (92 at the time) who informed me that she had an ice cream cone every night – and I needed to make it for her! I opened the freezer and there were 6 different cartons, including my favorite- mint chocolate chip. The first night I had one scoop, The second night I had two scoops. I knew I was in trouble.

    The third night I taught a class on SourceTapping (tapping to eliminate cravings) and I did it for myself – tapping on my desire for ice cream and the craving went down from a 10 (highest) to a 1 (almost no desire). The next night I prepared my mom’s ice cream cone and I didn’t even want to lick the spoon. This totally amazes me.

    It’s been two years now. I have had ice cream twice since then and I didn’t really enjoy it so much. I can’t believe it. Tapping doesn’t always work that fast…I am so very grateful. http://www.SourceTapping.com

    • Thanks for sharing Meryl, so great to hear you are managing your cravings using tapping techniques! Warmly, Marc.

  • Wayne Diotte

    SEVEN WAYS of approaching our food consumption. 1. Mechanical: grab a bite to eat/little thinking/fast/shortsighted. 2. Sensory: focus on taste, texture, hot, cold etc. engaging the senses/slightly more thinking. 3. Sentimental: connection to past/tradition/tastes from parents cooking, emotions are engaged when choosing, some vegetarians.

    3. Sentimental: connection to past/tradition/tastes from parents cooking, emotions are engaged when choosing, some vegetarians. 4. Intellectual: guided by modern nutritional science. Focus on the right amount of carbs, fats, protein, minerals, micronutrients etc. more complex thinking regarding choices. Not accessible worldwide. 5. Sociological approach to choosing food: consideration of your choices on the greater local and worldwide community when choosing foods.

    6. Ideological orientation when choosing food: dietary codes as presented by virtually all world religions… The efficacy and importance of these dietary codes are mostly ignored, forgotten or misunderstood. 7. Eating freely with the focus on creating individual and collective capacity to live our human dreams and aspirations in peace, health and freedom.

    “‪#‎toyourgreatlife‬: IT IS a salutation, A greeting, a kind wish, a hope, a heartfelt outreach or even a prayer for you and with you… That you may be inspired to BE one with your true nature; living moment to moment your great life potential.” WD

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to share your insights, Wayne. Great stuff! I hope you enjoyed the blog. Warmly, Marc

  • Brooke Garro

    Dude! I love this article! Giving me a whole new approach to the cravings that always trouble my work out progress. If you got to the point of tears, then shit maybe that’s what I gotta do too

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Brooke! I’m so happy to hear that this article was helpful for you. Wishing you the very best! Warmly, Marc

  • So glad that you enjoyed this article, Katey! Thanks for sharing a bit about your own experience with cravings. As many factors can go into your cravings, I wouldn’t be able to give accurate personalized advice in this forum. I encourage you to consider working one-on-one with a Certified Eating Psychology Coach. You can check out our directory of coaches here: http://tinyurl.com/IPE-directory Wishing you all the best! Warmly, Marc

  • Brittany Hoover

    I know it’s been like a million years since this was posted, but I want to thank you for the article. I like to see results of others’ experiments on their responses to yearnings, as you call it, which I think is an excellent descriptor.

    I got a bit confused when you said that the body yearns for more of itself and that just like the mind’s cravings can be warped, so can those of the body. Instead of separating body and mind, maybe these demented cravings are sparked in the body as a drug to numb when our psychological (spiritual, heart, whatever) cravings are unfulfilled? Or maybe not, I’m just curious if you could expand on that. (Basically, “behind every human act…is a yearning for more: more life, more depth of experience” and when our minds don’t get this in the way that they really need – love, belonging or something – they search for it substantially with foodies.)

    “Life itself is a yearning.” Loved this insight. I will go forward with my experiments with this in mind.

    • Hi Brittany, Marc here! Thank you so much for your comment. I think you are also right that some cravings are inspired by an instinct to numb or flee from difficult feelings. There are also certain substances the body can crave, such as lots of sugar, that ignite an immediate feeling of pleasure. The body yearns for pleasure and so it yearns to have the feeling of pleasure it got from eating lots of sugar. This yearning for pleasure becomes distorted by the rush of sugar or alcohol or drugs. That kind of pleasure is always temporary and is often followed by the body feeling very low soon after. I hope this helps better elaborate. I appreciate you stopping by!

  • Nadine

    So I am a 17 year old student and of course, my body has cravings! I am honestly the one to give in at any point when I feel necessary and this article has got me thinking that the next time I have a strong craving, I should analyze why and where I’m at.
    I do very often crave sweets and salts in a sort of back and forth notion and it gets quite annoying. But I (unfortunately) give in most of the time and feel quite satisfied. I have my go to foods and drinks and find I don’t change my habits very much with my cravings in mind.
    Honestly though, finding this article was one part curiosity (because of my own cravings) and because I am writing a paper for my university psychology class about drives (sex and hunger). So I’d just like to thank you for helping me out as my paper is due in less than 24 hours!

    • Hi Nadine! Thank you for your comment and for taking the time to read the article. We’re so glad it was helpful to you. You ask a lot of interesting questions about what might be going on with your cravings. That’s the best place to start, to just be very curious and notice when they happen and what might be going on. We appreciate you sharing and hope you’ll keep following the blog!

      Warm regards,
      The IPE Team

About The Author
Marc David
Founder

Marc David is the Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, a leading visionary, teacher and consultant in Nutritional Psychology, and the author of the classic and best-selling works Nourishing Wisdom and The Slow Down Diet. His work has been featured on CNN, NBC and numerous media outlets. His books have been translated into over 10 languages, and his approach appeals to a wide audience of eaters who are looking for fresh, inspiring and innovative messages about food, body and soul. He lectures internationally, and has held senior consulting positions at Canyon Ranch Resorts, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, the Johnson & Johnson Corporation, and the Disney Company. Marc is also the co-founder of the Institute for Conscious Sexuality and Relationship.