Every food corresponds to a certain mood. When your cravings are out of control, it’s because you want to feel more energetic, happier, or more relaxed. Your cravings are for the food that will produce the desired effect. Hunger and cravings are two very different things: if you were just hungry for a bowl of ice cream, you’d stop eating it at the first sign of satiation instead of finishing off the bowl, having another, and then maybe two more spoonfuls right from the carton. Or maybe you would’ve opted for something else.
Every food contains minerals, amino acids, textures, smells and other mood- and energy-affecting properties. Some are stimulants, some are depressants, and some activate the pleasure centre in our brains. Many mood-altering or “psychoactive” properties of food are identical to those found in prescription medications for depression, anxiety and asthma! For example, the feel-good chemical in chocolate is phenylethylamine (PEA). This is also the main ingredeint in Ecstasy and MDMA. Actually, it’s found in such high amounts in raw cacao that people have “cacao parties” and get buzzed off of this chemical, naturally (I’m not kidding, you can Google it). Tyramine and pyrazine, found in foods like nuts, coffee, pickled foods, sour cream, and aged cheese are the main ingredients in antidepressants and asthma bronchodilators. There are also reasons behind craving certain textures (crunchy, soft and creamy, and chewy). Two people that crave the same food, but with different textures, would have two very different issues. (More on food texture cravings here.)
Chocolate: Hungry for Love
The chemical I mentioned before, PEA, is the chemical that the brain creates when we’re feeling romantic love. “Chocoholism” is way of seeking love, intimacy and romance.
Dairy for Antidepressants
Tyramine (found in higher levels in cheese) is a stimulant. Choline (found in milk) has a soothing effect. L-tryptophan (also found largely in milk) combined with carbohydrates stimulates the production of serotonin, creating a happy sensation. This combination is found in ice cream, pizza, creamy sauces, and a long list of other common foods.
Salty Snacks for Stress
Well, actually for stress, anger, and anxiety. Craving salty foods is a sign of adrenal weakness. Your adrenals manage your stress response. Often salty snacks are also crunchy - the crunch gives your jaw a physical outlet for stress (people usually hold anger in by clenching their jaw).
Spices for Excitement
Chances are if you like to spice up your food, you like the rest your life to follow suit. Feeling stuck, bored or generally dull might make your body convert this frustration into cravings for spicy foods. Bernard Lyman, a psychologist, researcher and author writes that “sensation seekers [are people who] seem to need extra excitement and often enjoy taking risks.” Sensation seekers have been correlated with cravings for spicy, crunchy or sour foods with strong cravings for novelty and change.
Breads, Rice and Pasta for Comfort
Comforting and calming. Usually craved in times when you need a friend to talk to or some way to express your feelings.
Fat for Fear
These kinds of cravings indicate a fear of feeling empty, being alone, of facing the truth of taking responsibility…basically, a feeling of fear in general.
Everyone is different. Your cravings could also be very physiological, so take a second to check in with yourself and see how you're feeling. Are you hungry, or are you emotional?