Natalie Southwick
September 17, 2015 1:49 pm

“I must be pregnant,” I say to my roommate roughly once a week, usually while shoulder-deep in the fridge.

My concern about the state of my uterus doesn’t actually have anything to do with my current romantic partner status, or lack thereof — it’s just a bad joke, a way to blame hormones for my intense craving for chocolate, cheese, tortilla chips, or whatever I happen to be jonesing for at the moment.

Now, though, science has come to the rescue, with an explanation for my — and your — food cravings. A few knowledgeable nutrition experts have identified some of the most common types of food cravings and explained what our bodies are actually trying to tell us when we think they’re begging for bagels or Cherry Garcia (and no, it’s not just that your body is carb- or cherry ice cream-deficient) and why we want a giant plate of fries after an all-nighter.

While food cravings don’t always have a deeper meaning, they can sometimes offer clues about nutritional deficiencies or other health issues, weight-loss expert Joseph Colella, M.D., told Marie Claire. Sometimes a craving is nothing more than what it seems, but learning what your body could be trying to say can help you identify what might be missing from or overrepresented in your diet.

Colella outlined a few of the most common cravings and the issues that sometimes correspond with them.

  • Candy – You’re getting your period (hormonal level changes can make you crave sugar); you’ve been eating too many processed carbs that are causing your blood sugar levels to spike and crash; or you’re over-stressed.
  • Carbs (bagels, pasta, bread) – You actually want sugar. Colella explained that your body actually treats sugary treats and starchy foods the same way, once you start to digest.
  • Salty food (chips, pretzels, crackers) – You’re dehydrated (thirst can sometimes feel like hunger instead); you’re stressed; or you’ve been eating too much soft food and need some crunchy contrast.
  • Meat – You’re not getting enough protein (this is especially common among vegetarians or people who do a lot of weight- or resistance-training); or you may have an iron or vitamin B deficiency.
  • Fried food (french fries, onion rings) – You’re likely sleep-deprived, since deep-fried foods activate the reward center of your brain and leave you feeling full, satisfied and (temporarily) more energetic.
  • Cheese – You actually want sugar (natural milk sugars are a real thing!); you’re deficient in calcium or vitamin D; or you aren’t eating enough fat and need to correct that with a nice big slice of pepper jack.
  • Chocolate – You’re getting your period or you’re pregnant (file this one under “once in a while stereotypes are actually true”); you’re stressed or in a bad mood and want to give yourself “permission” to use chocolate therapy to feel better; or you’re on a diet that’s too restrictive.

It’s worth keeping in mind, of course, that everyone has different body chemistry, and our bodies deal with certain deficiencies or imbalances in all kinds of different ways. Just because craving cheese could indicate a vitamin D deficiency doesn’t mean you should go outside to tan every time you want some string cheese — besides, science says that cheese is good for us! This is especially important to remember with processed foods, which we know are often engineered to trigger certain reward centers in our brains, making us more likely to crave them or just not be able to stop snacking.

Still, knowing that a craving for a big, juicy burger could be resolved by upping your protein intake can help you stay healthy and more aware of your body’s needs, so you can stop placing all the blame on your reproductive organs all the time.

[Image: Universal Pictures]

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