Is it Hunger or a Craving?

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Craving 1080X675 1 | Is It Hunger Or A Craving?

What do I do about my sweet tooth?

But I need coffee to function…

What do I snack on when a craving strikes?

Eating goes far beyond hunger—especially when our body cues take over.

So what do YOU do when a craving strikes?—When your body is telling you, “Feed me!” and you’re confused:

Should you honor your body’s cues and listen to its wants and needs?

Or should you try to deny it—pretending it didn’t happen (and hope it goes away)?

You’ve tried both before and ended up in a predicament either way”

Scenario 1: The 3 p.m. “lull.” A craving for something crunchy enters your mind all of a sudden. Even though you ate a fairly decent sized chicken salad at lunch, you kind of want something to munch on—and you know if you don’t eat something, then come 5 or 6 p.m. all hell will break loose once you get home to eat dinner.

What do you do?

Exhibit A: You concede to the craving to munch and crunch. Even though your stomach is not growling, you’re a little bored sitting at your desk and need something to spice things up. You reach for some Chex Mix, a granola bar or plantain chips to hit   the spot. Ahhh…much better (at least for the moment). After the fact, you kick yourself, wishing you hadn’t eaten one too many chips. But, oh well, maybe tomorrow will be a better day.

Exhibit B: You fight off the craving with all your might. “Shoulding” yourself. I shouldn’t do it. It’s not what I need. I should just eat real food, I should just eat real food, I should just eat real food—no snacking. Come 5 or 6 p.m. though, while making dinner, you can’t help yourself. You’re hungry (like now) and you eat whatever’s in your eye sight while whipping up dinner.

Scenario 2: The post-dinner sweet tooth. Like clockwork it happens every time. Dinner is finished and your brain triggers your tastebuds for something sweet. You’ve been that way ever since you were a kid. However, now that you’re more aware of “eating healthy” you feel guilty for wanting something sweet—but for some reason, it’s like you need it.

What do you do?

Exhibit A: You give in. Whatever. By this time of the night—like every night—your will  power from fighting off your sweet tooth all day long is gone. Ice cream. Chocolate. Fruit. Something sweet puh-lease. Even though you know it’s  a craving, it feels too strong to fight off.

Exhibit B: You deny your craving. But now you feel like a super restrictive diet Nazi with   yourself. You try to distract yourself and back away from the kitchen, but NOT getting  what you want leaves you feeling frustrated like a baby who is constipated with a  furrowed brow. It just irks you the wrong way and you can’t stop thinking about something sweet. You’re able to stave off the craving today. But tomorrow…it comes back. Twice as strong.

Scenario 3: Craving _____ (nuts, cheese, ice cream, sweet potatoes, coffee, diet coke etc.) even though you feel bloated, stomach cramps, constipated or tired every time you eat it. You like “it.” Whatever it is. Your almond butter. Your cheddar cheese. Halo Top or Ben & Jerry’s. Your morning latte. It’s part of your daily eating routine, and even though you suspect that that food is making you feel constipated, bloated or lethargic, you can’t help it. It just tastes good and it’s comforting.

What do you do?

Exhibit A: Ignore the negative feelings and just eat it. So yeah, you feel constipated, stomach cramps, bloated or tired. You suspect your symptoms are triggered by the food, but really are they? I mean how could your favorite food(s) really cause you to not feel well? Whatever. Maybe tomorrow you’ll change.

Exhibit B: Do Something Different. Just this once. Instead of nuts, you try Tigernuts. Instead of your usual large sweet potato, you try some butternut squash. Instead of cheese, you try…well, a little less cheese. Instead of Halo Top one night, you try to go without. The thing is—you still think about that one food you like so much, even though you recognize…Hm…I actually feel l little better without it. Could it be?

Cravings for certain foods seem inevitable.

(Fun fact: Did you know our gut bugs often times crave foods we are intolerant too? If you have some bacterial overgrowth or an imbalanced gut flora with more “bad” bacteria than good, your “bad bacteria” feast off foods we are intolerant too and will signal to your brain for you to “feed” them with the very foods that you crave, but don’t make you feel well).

Why does our brain hijack our body and make us all confused around what we really want or what our body really needs?

Is listening to a craving “intuitive eating?”

Or are cravings bad? Should you try to deny them at all cost?

Aye! Aye! Aye!


Cravings 101

Cravings are a mixed bag, and they can actually be both “intuitive” and “mental” or emotional.

Here’s the difference:

Intuitive Craving: A cellular hunger, deficiency or body signal cueing you “I am missing something here.” (i.e. “I need some iron from red meat,” “I need some magnesium from chocolate,” “I need some healthy fats for energy—I am dipping.”)


Mental or Emotional: Your mindset or emotions are driving the show because your mind and heart tell you that you’ll feel better (or less bored, less sad, less uncomfortable, more satisfied) if you just have X (“If you just have coffee, you’ll have more energy;” “If you just have something sweet, your tastebuds will be satisfied.

Cravings are NOT a bad thing.

The only time they become “not a good thing” is when they control you.

The difference in a healthy craving vs. a “craving gone wrong” is when those cravings take over.

When they hijack your feelings, thoughts and emotions—and those feelings, thoughts and emotions don’t go away until that craving is satisfied. And, often times, even after that craving is satisfied, you are still left thinking about that food, or that craving.

Sure, you got your sugar fix now—but you’re already thinking about the next time you can eat sugar.

Or sure, you got your caffeine boost this morning, but you ALREADY KNOW that come 2 or 3 p.m. this afternoon, you’ll need another hit to keep alive.

Or sure, you got your nut fix (and you’re a little bloated because of it), but you’re already thinking about the snack you’ll pack the next day—and it’s most likely nuts.

In other words: Your food cravings last longer than the moment you eat them themselves. And they are fairly constant—the same cravings keep coming up.

An intuitive craving, on the other hand, is more in the moment.

An intuitive craving for chocolate (magnesium) for instance may strike around your period. You may  not understand why, but by listening to your intuitive craving, you eat some chocolate…and you’re satisfied. But you’re not necessarily thinking about the next time you can eat some chocolate.

Like riding a wave, you let the waves of cravings come and go. You listen to them. But then you’re good.

You’re not left thinking, planning or salivating for the next time you “can have it.” You’re not feeling guilty for “giving in” to it. You’re not left overthinking how you can “make up for it” in your workout or restrict a little from your next meal.

You’re satisfied. You’re golden. And you continue riding. Until the next wave comes, when maybe your body tugs at you:

“I want some refreshing watermelon!”

“You know what—nuts really don’t sound good today, I felt pretty bloated when I at them.”

“A piece of pizza sounds delicious, but after a few bites, I feel pretty greasy. I think I am good at that.”

No judgement. No more thought than just that—food is food, and you let your body lead in nourishing you—versus your mind and emotions.

The bottom line: Cravings are NOT a  bad thing. When you do a gut check: Does my body want it, or do I “neeeeeed” it, and is this a healthy (mindset) for me? will help you decipher how to proceed.


Good question.

The answer is up to you decide.

Often times, the incessant constant cravings for the same things come up because:

a.) We are intolerant to the foods we crave (and our gut bugs feast off them)

b.) We are missing other essential nutrients in our diet (or not eating enough during the day). This causes our blood sugar to drop and our body cue us to reach for our craving.

c.) We keep doing the same habits and rituals around the foods that we crave and eat  (like watching TV every night and needing popcorn every night when we do that activity).

d.) We have unaddressed emotions that we are not talking about or in check with  (loneliness, poor self-esteem, bored in our lives, etc.)

Check in with yourself—do any of those fit for you?


The best way to conquer a craving?

Two things:

#1 Do Something Different

If we don’t do something different in our lives—whatever it is—nothing different (cravings included) will change.

Mix it up.

Instead of sitting on the couch for instance to eat your usual bag of popcorn and wine, sit on a yoga ball to watch TV or stretch on the floor—and chances this new trigger will make you at least think before the same habit takes over.

With sweets, instead of completely denying your craving—reach for a protein or fat based snack below, and portion it out on a plate or away from the container.

Lastly, think in the POSITIVE (not the negative): “It’s not bad to have a craving;” “My cravings do not control me;” or “I can nourish my body with an abundance of fresh foods.”

(When we think in the affirmative—rather than the negative, we quit “wanting what we can’t have” as badly).

#2 Eat Balance

In addition, focus on ensuring you ARE eating enough and balanced meals throughout the day—including the essential components every human body needs (like a plant needs water, you need carbs—especially veggies, fats, proteins and water).

If your basic needs are NOT being met (especially getting enough of each of these), then of course you’re going to crave SOMETHING for energy and satisfaction—(and typically a quick source of energy and satisfaction, like sugar, coffee or a crunchy salty snack).

To reset your cravings, aim for three balanced meals per day.

For the average moderately active woman (lifestyle movement + 3-5 days of exercise during the week) this looks like at least:

  • 5-6 oz. of protein (1-2 hand sizes)
  • Veggies (half your plate, especially leafy greens)
  • 1-2 healthy fat sources with each meal (coconut oil, coconut butter, ghee, grass-fed butter, 1/2 avocado, handful nuts or seeds, olive oil, olives, avocado oil)

Plus,Half your bodyweight in ounces of water each day.

Plus,1-2 starchy veggies (sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, squashes, etc.) and 1-2 fresh fruits per day (carbs are your friends) as well.

As for snacks, if you do need snacks throughout the day-great! Reach for a protein or fat at most snacks as the base of your snacks to help stave off blood sugar drops.

It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

#3 Check In

If a craving for a snack or sugar STILL strikes…Check in.

Cravings are NOT bad.

A gut-check-in can point your towards whether it is a want (mental, emotional, low blood sugar, gut bug craving) or legit body need.

Respond accordingly

Low Blood Sugar, Mental or Emotional Sugar Craving Busters

If you notice that craving is probably because you were missing something from your balanced eating today or that it’s, reach for something with some fat or protein to help meet your body’s energy and munching “needs” as you reset:

(Each of these snacks contains some healthy fat or protein to help balance blood sugar and curb cravings; as for fruit, keep to 1-2 servings per day if you do eat it and often eating it alone can be best for digestion, although not always necessary—especially if in a smoothie, or paired with a little bit of healthy fat—like coconut butter or nutbutter)


  • Cinnamon Tea (Try Tazo) or Teecino Herbal Coffee with (optional): 1 tbsp. MCT oil or grass-fed butter
  • Tuna or Chicken Salad with 1-2 spoonfuls of Avocado Oil Mayo
  • Turkey or Ham Lettuce Wrap with Guacamole
  • Beef or Turkey Jerky or Epic Bar
  • Leftover Protein
  • 1-2 Deviled Eggs with Avocado Mayo or Guacamole inside
  • Nitrate-Free Salami or Smoked Salmon + Cucumbers
  • Turkey or Ham Rollups around Pickles, Bell-peppers or other veggie
  • Bone Broth + Optional 1 tbsp. Grass-fed Butter
  • Olives


  • Fresh Watermelon or Melon
  • Cherries -Handful
  • Frozen Berries-Handful
  • Green Juice + Optional: Closed fistful of seeds
  • Goat’s Milk Yogurt or Grass-fed Plain Greek Yogurt or Coconut Yogurt
  • Protein Chocolate “Frosty” (Equip Foods Chocolate Powder + Unsweetened coconut or almond milk + ice + optional nut butter)


  • Guacamole (1/3 cup) + Handful Plantain Chips
  • 1-2 Spoonfuls of Coconut Butter + 1/2 Green Apple or Green-Tipped Banana
  • Celery Sticks + Sun-Butter + Raisins
  • Baby Carrots + Paleo Ranch
  • Closed Fistful Macadamia Nuts
  • Kale Chips or Kelp Chips


  • Homemade 3-Ingredient Coconut Ice Cream (coconut milk + probiotic powder + stevia or a fresh fruit to sweeten)
  • Chia Seed Pudding (homemade)
  • Avocado “Mouse” (homemade)
  • 80-100% Dark Chocolate Square
  • Baked Cinnamon Apple with Coconut Oil
  • Grilled Peaches drizzled with Coconut Oil or topped with Coconut Cream
  • 1-2 Spoonfuls of Coconut Butter
  • “Energy” Balls (1 tbsp. coconut butter or nut-butter + dark chocolate chips + 1 tbsp. coconut flakes, unsweetened)
  • Homemade Coconut Flour Zucchini, apple or banana muffins
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