Knowing what to eat and developing internal authority requires that we become more sensitive to our bodies and skillful in interpreting its signals, including food cravings.

Nature gave us food cravings to help us identify what we should eat. But sometimes our cravings get mixed up and we crave what isn’t good for us, which can drive us nuts.

Because some cravings are inaccurate, most of us have come to the conclusion that all cravings are wrong and should be discredited and ignored. But we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss our cravings because all cravings—even the inaccurate ones—carry valuable information.

Cravings are messages from our bodies. Some are accurate to our needs, while others aren’t. Cravings that aren’t accurate point to a deeper yet hidden need or desire, which is important to be aware of.

We can divide cravings into two types:

  • Direct cravings

    Direct cravings come from a physical need, when our bodies require the food or something within it to function properly.

  • Indirect cravings

    Indirect cravings don’t come from a nutritional need but from an underlying need, desire or belief that caused the mixed signal.

Decode cravings

We have direct cravings when we’re in tune with our bodies and accurately detect their needs.

It’s important to realize that not all cravings are wrong. Cravings are often correct or carry some truth. But because we’re given a narrow concept of how everyone should eat, we often don’t take our bodies’ signals seriously.

We think we need to stick to the rules instead of trusting in ourselves, which can lead to some unwise choices. Remember the low-fat diet craze when everyone thought a craving for avocados was bad?

Sometimes a craving is direct but not the best choice. For example, you may crave potato chips because your body needs sodium, but the chips may not be the ideal source of sodium for you.

Indirect cravings indicate some emotional, mental or physical deficiency or imbalance. For example, you might have an indirect craving for sugar because you’re not getting enough sleep. The true need is for sleep, but your body reaches for sugar for a boost of energy to compensate for the lack of sleep.

A craving might be due to a habit. If you eat a cookie every day at 3 p.m., then your brain will create a link between 3 p.m. and cookies. So every day you’re triggered to want a cookie at that time.

We may also want to eat to satisfy emotional needs, as food gives us feelings of calm, reward and enjoyment. For example, you might notice you’re eating more than usual, but you don’t realize it’s because you’re feeling disgruntled at work on an unconscious level. To resolve the cravings, you’ll need to resolve your work situation and how you feel about it.

Think of an indirect craving as a warning light in a car. It’s a helpful indicator that alerts us to when something is going wrong “under the hood.” We then use these indicators to become better drivers of our vehicles.

Once we interpret the craving and identify the true nutritional or emotional need, we can satisfy it in a healthier way. For example, if you realize you’re eating due to boredom, then you can pursue a new hobby that interests you.

The simple act of becoming aware of our true need or desire can be enough to stop the craving. For example, recognizing that you’re eating because of loneliness can be enough to stop the desire to eat. In the next article, we’ll talk more about the physical and psychological causes of cravings.

By learning how to interpret our cravings, we can let our bodies guide us to what they need. But if we suppress our cravings, we won’t be able to access healthy cravings. And if we suppress our indirect cravings, we won’t get the opportunity to learn from them and resolve the underlying causes. By trying to get rid of cravings, we throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Next time you have a craving, investigate what your body might be asking for by researching the nutritional and healing properties within the food. You may also want to consult with a nutrition specialist to help you identify the cause.

Embrace cravings

We can’t learn by silencing our bodies or disconnecting from them, but only by listening and connecting to them more closely. It’s essential we don’t see our cravings as bad, but seek to hear what they’re trying to tell us. We need to embrace our cravings and not discredit them. We need to strengthen the bond with our bodies and improve the lines of communication.

Once we have the mentality that cravings are good, we free ourselves from the struggle with them. We stop fearing and fighting with cravings and learn how to work with them. We use cravings to help us grow stronger and wiser in our food choice. Cravings become our allies instead of our enemies.

So the next question is how to tell the difference between direct and indirect cravings. The answer: intuition and experience.

We need to observe our bodies more closely to clue us into whether or not we should follow the craving. If we crave something that our experience tells us won’t make us feel good, such as alcohol, then the craving is likely indirect. We also need to develop a keen intuition so we can distinguish between the feeling of a direct craving and an indirect one.

With this strong internal authority, you can determine the nutrition that’s uniquely right for you.

Next Article: How to change behavior: Change how we crave to change how we behave »