Why We Eat: Cravings

CravingsLast week I picked up the theme of hunger with an intention to visit all the angles of the instinct – the physiology behind it first – but also the outer reaches of hunger’s emotional and social sway. The fact is, I can’t think of an instinct (other than sex) that influences our evolution more or perhaps a more complex motivation. It’s one of those areas in which you can’t always separate biology from emotion. (The more you learn about the human animal, I think, the more apparent the melding of these two fields/forces becomes.) Enter cravings. Beyond the general experience of hunger (Feed me now!) are the urges toward particular foods (Need THIS now!). What exactly goes on here? What’s the real impetus behind our cravings, and what’s the ultimate pushback we can offer on the way to derailment?

For many, cravings bring to mind the proverbial pregnancy tales. Back in the day, my wife and her friends would compare their pregnancy cravings with as much laughter as zeal. One woman knew she was pregnant each time simply by the ravenous craving for a hamburger from a certain restaurant. “I’ve never felt such an insistent pull toward a specific food,” she explained at dinner one night. “Come hell or high water, I was going to get my hands on that burger if it was the last thing I did.” Another friend went through several clementines a day for her entire second trimester. The cravings ran the gamut from steak to spices. (An interesting trend that beef was such a common hit, I always thought…)

Common thinking for years allowed for the idea that cravings in some cases were responses to nutritional deficiencies however subtle or dramatic. The tide seems to have shifted with most experts and studies pointing more or less exclusively to psychological and social influence. While it may not be popular opinion, I’ll admit I still leave room for the role of nutritional need as something of a factor at least in certain cases, pregnancy being one. Maybe I’m just taken in by the gratifying sight of someone enjoying a fabulous steak – its hefty iron dose aside. I do wonder, however, if those who eat a poor diet are inclined to eat more because the body knows it’s still lacking. Unfortunately, the research doesn’t drive down that road far enough at this point.

An aside… On the extreme side of craving, we see the instance of pica, in which people (particularly pregnant women) crave non-food items. While clearly there’s not much evolutionary sense in eating some of the odd items people do today who have pica (many of them things Grok and his kin had never heard of), the dirt and clay craving may not be as insane as we moderns would assume.

All this said, I think by far our experience of cravings today have to do with the power of suggestion (e.g. marketing influences) and the chemical reward that comes with certain foods. (Ah, the power of glucose…) Let’s home in on that element of craving for today.

Research has shown time and again (including MRI imaging) that the brain areas activated by cravings are the same as those implicated with drug and alcohol addiction, including the hippocampus, caudate and insula – areas that collectively tap into our memory of experience, the reward system that gives us our anticipated pleasure and the emotional association we’ll carry forward about that food (PDF).

It becomes a process of continual reinforcement (if/when we participate) as people eat what they crave, which again elicits the reward and further imbeds that reward for eating a particular food (PDF). We eat the food, and our reward circuits are going haywire all while our cognitive control mechanisms become dampened. As with alcohol and drugs, the more we eat these foods, the more the hormone receptors responsible for that rewarding sensation can become dulled. Our response? We eat more of the same/similar food to get the same reward.

While we all have our favorite foods (the result of complex memory, cultural habituation and emotional association), sugar and other high carbohydrate content food act most readily on the brain. Sugar has been likened to cocaine, and research has observed its associated neurochemical changes and the eerily matching patterns of bingeing, withdrawal, craving and cross-desensitization.

The biological fact is, we’re playing with the same fire and neuronal circuitry, and – for some of us – fighting a similarly rough battle to wrestle free of the hormonal circus (or – it’s not an overstatement for some people – hell) that takes over.

When we acknowledge the power of cravings, it’s natural to ask what our best defenses are in these situations. While our brains’ reward systems generally work the same, our responses (and perhaps even sensitivity) to cravings differ widely. I think it’s useful to consider what triggers us to begin with. Can we cut off a craving at the pass and spare ourselves an internal battle?

Research suggests all manner of strategies that seeks to manipulate our environments and exposures. When study subjects worked at an organized desk, they were more likely to make a healthy food choice at the end of the research session compared to those who worked in a cluttered environment (PDF). On the other hand, while an orderly space might encourage healthier eating overall, a seeming opposite input might help us fend off a craving once it sets in. One study shows that bombarding ourselves with visual stimuli can co-opt our brain’s bandwidth, so to speak, and reduce the mental fixation. Some research shows we shouldn’t overtax our capacity for self-control in a day even though other studies suggest self-discipline is a muscle we need to build and can continually strengthen. (I think there’s truth in both camps.) Likewise, we can apparently use a non-food smell like jasmine to “compete” for the brain’s attention and divert it from food cravings. On a simpler note, exercise, research also shows, can dull our brain’s reaction to food images.

Beyond the tricks, of course, are the common sense and maybe more holistic approaches to addressing cravings. Since I know exercise can offer its own endorphin hit, I can work out when I know I’m feeling an emotional slump or am tempted more than usual by triggering foods. Likewise, because I know sleep deprivation and stress skew hormones related to hunger and cravings, I can give my body the quantity and quality of sleep it needs, minimize exposure to stressful situations and foster emotional and physical resilience in myself. The better we take care of ourselves in general (and I don’t just mean the better we discipline and push ourselves to perform all the “shoulds”: I should eat Primally, I should exercise and move each day, I should go to bed at 10:00, etc.), I think the less vulnerable we are to the lowest common denominator of personal rewards. It’s about filling our broader needs.

When we’re stressed or agitated or feel “hooked” by the thought of a food that isn’t a reasonable response to legitimate hunger, it’s a smart thing to ask, “What do I need to do to take care of myself right now?”. Maybe my answer to that question is to get up from my desk and go for a walk. Maybe it’s to call a friend or family member. Maybe it’s to take a nap or spend some time pursuing a leisure activity instead of work.

Along a similar vein, research shows that mindfulness practice can help us “stay” with the uncomfortable feelings that often urge us to eat – particularly to eat those foods that trip our reward circuits in powerful ways. While research shows that mindful eating can help binge eaters, for example, view their taste preferences with more compassion and reduce binge behavior, mindfulness has also been studied as a way to resist cravings by those with substance abuse issues. Sarah Bowen, a University of Washington researcher, has developed a program called Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP), which showed better long term results than conventional treatment models. The method teaches people to become “aware” of the emotional and physical sensations of craving, meet the experience “with compassion” and then learn to “tolerate craving and negative emotion” that commonly triggers substance use. She stresses that the underlying power of mindfulness is applicable to anyone because she views substance abuse as “another example of that too-human automatic drive to move toward pleasure and away from pain.” Applying mindfulness modality to substance abuse, she says, helps people “disengage from” the “automatic” behavior.

Given that food is an abused substance for so many people (whether occasionally or chronically/clinically), can mindfulness offer the most effective response to food craving? Can it tap into a sense of choice and responsibility in ways that make healthier eating behavior more realistic for some people? My feeling is yes, and other research (PDF) appears to suggest as much. Not only does it address underlying tendencies, but it jibes with common human behavior. It makes Primal sense. Getting real about how the human mind operates and learning to harness those innate tendencies can be considerably more effective than denying them (akin to that carnival game in which you’re always trying to smack down the spring loaded pieces that keep popping up from the many holes).

In the end, the best approach to behavior change is usually a combination of factors. Why not change our environments and exposures when we can? Do we really need to invite ourselves to temptation when we can sidestep the incidence altogether some days? Taking care of ourselves should be on the daily docket anyway, right? If we’re not doing it already, why the heck not? The fact is, the more responsibility I take for my life and health, the more I realize how much time and commitment I need to make to myself. (I have the choice to bristle against it if I so desire, but no good that comes of that grievance. I have to drop the righteousness and anxiety about not having time for myself.  With time and practice, you learn to make yourself a priority without the rest of your life falling to pieces. Maybe that’s a post in itself.) It’s amazing, however, what we can unhook ourselves from when we get this self-care thing right. Finally, getting honest about what we’re really stuffing or pushing down or distracting ourselves from when we eat is critical. Releasing ourselves from the expectation and sensation of craving, for many of us, requires understanding what we’d rather not experience in its place.

Thanks for reading, everyone. What’s been your experience with craving? Where does the science make personal sense to you, and what feedback would you add? Have a great end to the week.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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55 thoughts on “Why We Eat: Cravings”

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  1. I actually did a post on beating your sweet tooth a couple weeks back. What I found works best for me is to methodically take sweet foods out of your diet until your palate adjusts.

    I started by cutting out sodas and fruit juices.
    Next I cut out junk foods, especially sweet candies.
    Of course, no artificial sweeteners.
    Finally cut out fruits for a while.

    After a while, my cravings for sweets subsided and it takes less to satisfy any cravings I do get.

    On a side note I get ravenous cravings for burgers from time to time. Glad I’m a guy or I might be worried that I’m pregnant! lol

  2. All it took to wean myself from sugar (and most other carbs) forever was to have my big toe cut off because of a diabetic complication. I don’t recommend it as a solution for everyone, but it sure worked for me.

  3. After being on Primal for about four years, most of my cravings ARE for nutrients. I am convinced of that.

    Actually, my cravings are few and not related to social influence, advertising, etc., e.g. I hate liver but I get cravings for it. It really feels like my body is saying, “So, hold your nose. I need some liver.”

    Often my body seems to be demanding a certain kind of fruit, never a sweet one. (I have no cravings for sugar. I don’t like sweet foods.) Very often, I crave vegetables, especially salad. I don’t particularly like most of the stuff I put in salads, i.e. the bitter veg. I add olive oil and vinegar, not creamy ranch.

    No doubt the average American’s cravings are social-psychological or sugar addiction. But not mine, IMHO.

    1. I agree. I get very strong cravings for brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and sometimes spinach. Smoked salmon sometimes as well. I just go with it. If I were craving sugar that would be different, but I hardly ever do.

      1. Yup, my only cravings are Big Ass Salads (even before becoming Primal). If I’m gone for a few days or miss a day or two of them, I’m usually fantasizing and drooling in anticipation.

      2. I periodically crave sauteed spinach. During a brief failed stint as a vegetarian, I craved red meat. I even dreamed about it. There’s a difference between craving food that provides a nutrient the body might be lacking and the addictive cravings of sweets, which the body does not need.

    2. I noticed that I always crave citrus, (anything fruit, candy, juice doesn’t matter as long as taste like citrus), a few days before I get sick. So now I learned to listen to my body and take some vitamin c when these cravings hit.

  4. Love all your posts that incorporate mindfulness, Mark. Paying attention to our own thought processes can be an extremely rewarding activity. Keep up the good work!

  5. I find it so much easier to beat my cravings if I am in a “fit state” of mind. Meaning that I’ve exercised sometime in the past 24-48 hour.

    I don’t know what it is. I used to eat so much junk before I got into fitness. It was easy to give in to a bag of junk nearly everyday during those times. Now it’s way too easy. I put the junk aside and I choose healthy food without any 2nd thoughts.

    Cravings can cause chaos for one who is trying to achieve fitness-related goals though!

  6. I love this post. I’ve found that hormones and emotions make up probably 98% of my food cravings. (There’s just no way my body is biologically craving the nutrients it could gain from a pizza or bag of sour patch kids, and yet…)

    1. Exactly. I get cravings for ice cream (and give in more than I would like to admit) and pizza but I also get cravings for a good salad, steak sauteed in coconut oil, specific veggies and a peach, berries, cherries, etc. My cravings for sweets are definitely triggered by emotion (nostalgia or the feeling that I deserve/earned it) and then persist when I give in. I think of my sugar cravings much like being an addict. Once I give in, it takes a good week-month to break the cycle.

  7. If I don’t eat low carb and do IF then I experience terrible cravings. Of course I do look pregnant so maybe I borrowed a few cravings 🙂

  8. “Releasing ourselves from the expectation and sensation of craving, for many of us, requires understanding what we’d rather not experience in its place.”

    This made it very easy for me to give up sweet “treats.” So which part of cake is the treat — the flour that gives me a stomach ache, the dairy which gives me a sinus headache (or worse) or the sugar that puts me into a drugged sleep?

    These days (3 years into my paleo journey) I just go with my cravings because they are for nutritious things. When I stop to think about why I am craving a particular food, I realize it’s because my diet has been low in that for several days.

  9. This is a helpful post! I’ve had issues with addictive eating patterns, and done many of the things people have posted here: gradually weaned myself off of sweet things (sugar and sweeteners, fruit, artificial sweeteners). I also have gradually removed carbs, which is healthy for me as someone who is prediabetic. Now, with a support group, Overeaters Anonymous, I’m still sometimes tempted to overeat and snack when I don’t need to, but I’m more able to eat for nourishment, accept my feelings, and look to people and my Higher Power for the comfort I need.

    It’s been a long, slow, gradual process of growth and change, and I’m still growing and changing, and will be for life! This blog has been so helpful in correcting my assumptions about food–now, I know I’m fat adapted, can physiologically go longer without food. Also, now I know that some fasting here and there is good for me. I need to structure of 3 meals a day, so my version of fasting is having an early dinner (~5:30 or 6) so that my nighttime fasting period is longer.

  10. Rather than cravings toward things with nutrients I’m missing, it’s more like because I tend to eat the same things over and over again for a really long time, at some point I start to feel more hungry. Not a craving for something in particular, I just don’t feel satisfied and get hungry quicker. If I move on to a different set of foods, then I don’t feel as hungry for a while, until the cycle begins again.

    1. nice option for those who want to eat clay – and it is also a natural way to DETOX the body because it physically draws out gunk and acts like a magnet. However – I think the brand you linked is WAY overpriced. just my humble opinion, but nice share.

  11. I crave collard greens a lot. Not cooked with ham. Just plain boiled collards. I’ll eat five cups (cooked) at a time.
    I also got a huge steak craving a few days ago. I ate a pound of steak one day and the. Another pound the next day. Plus loads of veggies with it. Craving some broccoli right now actually. 🙂
    I’m so little, I don’t know where all this food goes.

  12. When I was pregnant all I wanted to eat in my first trimester was canned tomatoes and canned spaghetti. I had never eaten canned spaghetti since, maybe, my teenage years when camping or something, so I don’t know where that came from. Canned tomatoes… often cold, right out of the can. Mmm….

    My doctor – who was very progressive for the times (27 years ago) said the only thing she could think that might be causing these cravings was the increasing blood volume that comes with pregnancy and my body needing more salt to facilitate that process. Cool, eh?

    On another note; I’ve been eating Primal for 8 months now. I was amazed how increasing my fat intake seems to have eliminated my desire for sugar. I have always eaten non-processed, whole foods and never had much of a sweet tooth, but now I find roasted pecans a satisfying sweet treat. Put a ripe banana in my food and now it tastes like there’s a tablespoon of sugar been added.

    Nothing, however, has diminished my desire for a glass or two (or more) of wine most nights. I’m conscious of the health implications though, and that, for me, is half the battle.

  13. I am definitely addicted to sugar, etc. When I first went paleo I suffered through nearly 8 weeks of behavior akin to a recovering drug addict, but I stuck with it. Insulin resistance makes you persistent. Even now that I’ve been off of it I still get insane urges for pizza and other junk. What I have learned is that for me, I have to have a similar recipe with things I can have and I just cannot have the crap in my house. I don’t bother with fake bread (never tastes good and is a pain to make) but I do put meat sauce on a spaghetti squash with cheese and veggies. The flavor profile is much the same and I no longer fixate on the thought of pizza. I do that with everything- desserts included, which are very fruit and greek yogurt centric now.

    I’ve only been doing paleo for about a year now and the most difficult part of it is feeling like you can’t eat like everyone else and that’s how most of my friends and extended family treat it. Oddly enough, my solutions on similar taste experience but no grain/legume end up being more popular if I bring it to a get together. People seem to think they taste better too.

    Overall, I liked this post in particular because the answer isn’t one thing. I know (and have known for a long time) when I am eating for emotional reasons because if I am just eating for hunger that’s only about twice a day and never involves staring down my refrigerator. Mindfulness is effective but only so far- environment and feeling like I have options are just as important. Short story long, this was an awesome post.

  14. I’ve been posting in my MDA journal for nearly 5 years about my battle to beat cravings. I think I may finally have won, and I have learned a LOT along the way. Such as:

    1) For me, cravings have little or nothing to do with emotions. I have high self-esteem, have no history of depression, and don’t feel sad a lot, nor do I seek to stifle emotions with food … unless I’m *already* craving.

    2) AMINO ACIDS. This is the key to all of the science. The connection with Reward Deficiency Syndrome, alcohol, & opiates like heroin & morphine is all through neurotransmitter depletion, as described in The Mood Cure & The Diet Cure by Julia Ross. The cause is wide-ranging, but the solution is amino acids. That means:

    3) PROTEIN. Anyone with cravings for sweet foods & too many non-vegetable carbohydrates should be sure to get a full serving (4oz) of protein for breakfast, lunch, & dinner. Never, ever skip a meal until you’re craving-free for at least a year. Try making breakfast 6oz protein. It will help, guaranteed. Also make sure you’re getting enough saturated fats.

    4) If you need more help, as I did, read Ross’ books and start supplementing with individual amino acids. I needed even more than what she recommended, and can say with certainty that taking DPA, 5-HTP, & a mixed essential amino complex has saved my life.

    5) If you need even MORE help (because eventually even the success from all the protein and AA’s wore off), consider a 10-day IV amino acid treatment at an alcohol & drug treatment center. I did. It worked. Cravings are gone. The AA’s finally work, and I think I may even be able to start tapering off of them soon. I will never, however, taper off of my protein intake!

    My cravings were so strong that all the will power, therapy, & good intentions in the world had no effect. I would actually have a change in thought patterns from “Eat only nourishing foods” to “Get sugar at all costs,” like I had been possessed, then as soon as I got my fix, the thoughts would change and I’d spend the next week beating my head against a wall.

    But once the underlying nutritional deficiency was corrected, my cravings have been so non-existent that no real will power at all is needed. I just keep eating my (100%) paleo diet and don’t get battered by the constant thoughts that would come every 10 seconds to “eat sweets eat sweets eat sweets do whatever you can get them now”.

    I think my 15 years of extremely low-fat (& thus, low-meat, thus, low-protein) eating combined with a family history of endorphin depletion (shown in many dead alcoholics) and low pancreatic enzymes (which led to poor absorption of what I *did* eat) led me to this depletion, and finally, after some extreme measures, I may have beaten it. Most people will never need to go as far as I did, and will have success merely by increasing protein to 3 servings per day.

    1. Interesting. Dark chocolate and ice cream are my big weaknesses, and I still have a bit of a sweet tooth. An MDA post about a week ago, reminded me that when I’m running on less sleep (which is far too often, and I am working to fix that) that I need to up my protein intake. I have done so this week, and I’ve found that I’m eating less chocolate, and have not touched ice cream in several days. And I’m not getting any more sleep than I did last week, so sleep isn’t the issue.

    2. Thanks for sharing, Mamagrok. I too struggle with near constant sugar cravings (and I am grateful to the writer of the blog post above for calling those cravings hell, because that is exactly right). After many years of thinking I was just a weak-willed fool, based on what I read in low-carb books and blogs (and yes, paleo blogs too), I finally started putting the pieces together and realized that those sugar cravings are a symptom of something wrong. I’ve attempted various supplements from the Mood Cure without much success (although a friend of mine said her sugar cravings were reduced by tryptophan … no such luck with me).

      A few weeks ago I just gave in all day to the sugar cravings and ate a whole lot of a homemade treat that I had sweetened with honey. The next day my mood was incredibly positive. Obviously there is some deficiency I need to address!

      1. Angel_D, I had to experiment a LOT with the AA’s. I know people who took one dose of 5-HTP and cravings were gone forever, others who took a bit of 5-HTP daily and theirs were gone forever from the first day. L-glut cures it for others. For me, L-glut did nothing, and even the full recommended amount of l-glut, l-tryp, 5-HTP (I took it in the day and l-tryp at night), l-tyr, DPA, DLPA, & mixed aminos was not enough, although I could tell it started to work. I had to increase and increase (with a doctor’s guidance), and after two week sof that, started to tell the difference. But after several months, it seemed that whatever was draining my endorphins/etc. was doing so faster than I was replenishing them. Again, most people will never have that problem, but I did, so that’s when I went looking to see if anyone offered IV aa’s in a clinical setting, and amazingly, the very next day, I got an email from a clinic offering that. It was my miracle.

        My point is, don’t give up. If you think your symptoms point to AA’s, keep experimenting, and if protein &/or AA’s don’t help you, don’t give up. You will find this!

        I also did OA, but it addressed solely the spiritual & emotional aspects of cravings & bingeing, which were already fully addressed in me. It did not help at all.

  15. I have found that a good way to handle cravings is to make a set of rules for yourself. IN GENERAL, I find that if I am not eating sweets, pastries, and breads, I do not crave them. But when the occasional craving hits, I back off to my old rule (before primal) of “If you want to eat something naughty, you have to cook it yourself!”
    This slows me down, and sometimes blows the craving away. If I go through with making the desired treat, it usually is going to be healthier than if I had bought it in a store, with artificial flavors, preservatives, etc. And in many cases, it will be tastier! (Of course I am a retired cook and baker…) OR, if the thing I am craving is within 5 miles, I will allow myself to have it if I ride my bike to get it!
    I also will allow myself a treat on the rare occasions when we eat out, or if someone cooks something just for me/us. And one indulgence does not a habit make. But if I eat sweet things 2 days in a row, I know I will begin craving them again. This knowledge keeps me pretty honest.
    I think we all have to see what works for ourselves. Each of us is subtly different. What works for one will not work for all.

    1. Marge, I made rules a decade ago, but they only worked for mild cravings. (I also spent years bingeing on only paleo whole food homemade sweets, because my body didn’t care the source; it just wanted SWEET.) I suppose that may be all someone ever needs who has only mild cravings. My cravings were more like a possession. The rules had no chance against them, but when they disappeared, I no longer needed rules at all, because well, right now, I don’t even want sweets.

      fredt, the missing factor for me that fixed the physical/brain cause of the cravings was amino acids, whether in meat, supplements, or an IV. I tried many, many other things, but the only thing that ever worked was AA’s. (Everything else, including “rules,” was just a way to deal with the cravings. Only AAs could eliminate them.)

      James – I also notice that sugar-caused inflammation increases soreness in my piercings.

  16. There is a small percent (~ >1%, <2% ) of the population that have strong cravings with no apparent physical or emotional cause. We always struggle with our weight. Low carb / real food is better for weight control and mineral/vitamin shortages, but it has no effect on these cravings. Food addiction like behavior can be treated with removal of the addiction foods. Correcting our dealing with emotions or stress will fix maladaptive behavior with food. Environmental adjustment can reduce impulse and temptation issues. Attitude changes also fix attitude/social learning issues. These issues are often termed cravings and can be fixed by removing the cause.

    But for some of us, cravings remain, and the major issue with our weight. There is much chatter about cravings, and the easily fixed causes, but nothing that corrects these physical/unconscious brain caused cravings with no clear cause.

  17. When I am dining out, and an establishment offers the flourless chocolate torte, I’m hooked. However, I also journal about diet, and with it I was able to target the root cause of an infection around an ear piercing. The infection doesn’t happen often, but now I can trace it back to consuming a refined sugar product (like the torte) just prior. Inflammation? That was enough for me to cut out the sugar.

  18. While very underweight, I often craved broccoli, spinach and liver pattis was my favourite food! (though people had a hard time understanding why….) Now I see it was my iron that was so low….

    Now I seldom have cravings. Dark, dark chocolate, sometimes. And potatos. Oh, I love mashed potatoes with butter! But that is ok! Somehow I need them, and for gaining weight, I feel they are essential for me from time to time. Also white basmati rice, espacially after running. It must be that I need those carbs somehow?

    You just have to listen to your body! Counting micronutrients is the most easy way to loose grip on what your body wants. It canät be that every day is the sam, that you need the same amount of protein, fats etc…..

    Cravings after bad things? Think about the reason for them. Cravings for good things, listen too your body!

  19. Great post, it took me a while to get through as I became distracted by the excellent links which also took a while to digest. Then I went back and read just the bold type. Fantastic! I’m good at sticking to the primal lifestyle until that third alcoholic beverage. Then all bets are off. When I deny the alcohol demon it’s space in my body, the sugar demon comes knocking to fill the empty calorie void. Overcoming any addiction is the spiritual excorcism of mindless behavior. The demons are everywhere! One must be mindful to keep them in check.

  20. What I’m finding with my cravings is when I remember to get my resistant starch drink in (2 tbsp potato starch, 2 tbsp plantain flour, 2 tsp psyllium husk, 1 tsp modified citrus pectin, 1 scoop each of 3 different greens formations, plus various probiotics and soil based organisms), my cravings are nonexistent.

    Last week I didn’t get my drink four of five work days, and it showed. I mowed down every sweet I could get my paws on. This week I’ve been back on it daily since Saturday, I’m barely hungry, let alone craving anything.

    However, someone above mentioned mashed potatoes… Mmmm, mashed potatoes, onions and butter sounds good. If I cook and cool extra, more resistant starch for tomorrow.

  21. I experienced the most intense cravings of my life while hospitalized in Vietnam with malaria. It eats up your red bloods cels and severly weakens you. It’s impossible to keep anything in your stomach. I would wake up in the mornings and dragged myself to the mess hall, took a few sips of coffee and went outside and puked. My “normal” weight after severals months of roaming the jungle was 140 (150 back in the states) and it rapidly went to 120 with malaria. I became obsessed with food and started cooking meals in my mind. My most memorable craving was for steak and I must have grilled dozens of them a day in my mind. To show how desperate I became, I even started wishing for C-rations, anything that would remain in my stomach. Eventually I recovered and was sent back to the jungle and my wish for C-reations was fulfilled. The steak had to wait for my return to the world.

  22. This is just a really great, rich post. Yes please to the self-care follow up post!

  23. when pregnant – steak was the number one craving – nothing like a few huge bites of a charred medium rare butterflied filet mignon – mmmm – thx for another great post

  24. one more thing to add about cravings – just in case anyone is skimming the comments for tips too – (which I sometimes do here because the comments are packed with helpful stuff).

    Anyhow, for a while I started craving ICE. I was enjoying it – looked it up and read all about pica and this and that. anyhow, it turned out that I was anemic, which was due to an underlying “multiplistic intestinal parasite” infection, which I only learned about after getting a skin infection while visiting Florida. Long story short, many people in our country think that parasite infections are a “third world problem” when it is very alive and very real in this country too. And BTW, I LOVE LOVE LOVED your helminth article/post a while back –

    anyhow, some astute parasitologists believe that many chronic conditions have underlying undetectable parasite infections – and not just worms like hookworms and tapes – but different strains of fungi, bacteria, protozoans that do not show up in tests. Also, we may not know enough about illness that is associated with undetected internal myiais (i.e. a midge fly laying a gall in the tissue).

    anyhow, in closing, just wanted to note that the ice craving I had (where my mottos was “Ice is food”) it was associated to anemia, which was caused by an underlying parasite infection that was pulling my nutrients and leaving toxins in for me to fight off.

    I suggest that every person striving for wellness should do some type of internal cleansing on a regular basis. I am still new to this blog, but I am sure there is lots of info on this topic at Marks Daily Apple – because all health stems form the gut!

    We exfoliate our skin, floss our gums, loofah our hells – but then never roto-rooter the internal pipes at all!#! – And so our gut needs to be cleaned not just for parasites, but because of natural buildup over the years form normal accumulation.
    best wishes to all.

    1. The anemia-parasite connection is fascinating. I have my own ice craving story but I’m new at this and ended up posting it before I realized I could post it as a reply to your post.

      1. wow Mary – thanks for coming back up to add a reply to this comment because it allowed me to get an email response – or I never would have read the other one you left – 🙂
        and wow – it sounds like you have been through a great deal.

        And I am still learning so much myself – but I agree with many experts that all disease has a microbial root cause – and also a huge fungal cause. And the bottom line is that the standard american diet is just so horrid – that it allows build-up up of hundreds of kinds of yeast in the body – as some have mold! and so going primal can help only so much – but a person will need to eradicate the yeast – and any protozoans and other parasites – in order to get balance in the gut.

        and is takes time to do this – it could take a couple of years – especially because it took years to build up – and so with die off and with attacking so many different unique things – it takes time.

        and in one of my Mark’s previous posts on parasites – I recall him falling about how everyone has parasites – but it is when the load gets too heavy – or when the parasites are pathogenic when they become a problem.

        anyhow, when you mentioned gaining the 20 lbs – that is often an indicator of the yeast/fungi layers inside – makes people swell – retain stuff – and gain. Body yeast is an understudied and overlooked cause of disease. If I could go back 20 years I would study parasitology – but instead I will just keep learning tidbits because of what I was afflicted with.

        It takes detective work to get healthy – because you have unique circumstances and unique genetics and all that – but chances are you started off with parasites that your grandparents had – and then others were added along the way.

        thanks again for sharing – 🙂

        1. Thanks for the reply Healthywings,
          I’m sure there’s a parasite load, but the main cause of my anemia was excessive menstruation. It’s been a problem all my post-puberty life, but I just now found a Dr. who would find a treatment that didn’t involve surgery! With a combination of getting that under control and the iron infusions, it’s been an amazing difference. Now I’m wondering how much damage has been done/immune system overwhelmed from the constant state of anemia/starvation. I’ve already begun to lose a little weight, just from not being so danged hungry all the time. But I’ve had a case of athlete’s foot (just on one foot, figure that one!) since I was 15 yrs old that I’ve never gotten rid of, just keep at bay most of the time. Whenever I get “run down” it pops into full bloom. Strange “coincidence” is that it’s always concurrent with a sinus “infection.” I’ve thought for years that the sinus issues might be fungal. Frustrating to be dealing with, but fascinating to contemplate in light of all this info!
          I feel the need to do an extensive cleanse!

        2. Hi – well thanks for replying. And to me, the athlete’s foot is a huge indication that you are harboring certain fungi in the body – which also pulls from your immune ststem and makes you unable to absorb iron…. and guess what the best thing for killing certain fungi is? clay! try some aztec clay – or better year, bentonite clay *from Sonne’s) is in liquid form and can be taken internally. But please check out clay because even the most stubborn of fungus and microbes can;t stand up to the physical properties and it acts like a magnet as it goes through the body. Just be sure to take it with fiber and give it time. It could take months or years to fully cleanse instead.

          and after healing and researching my own condition, which led to me MDA (yes!) – well I am even more convinced that some things will not go away with out clay – but especially certain molds and yeast strains.

          also – heavy metals ate introduce to the body in the womb – and well, a toxic internal body is reversible and once you clean that gut – the immune system can work and you also absorb nutrients again and just get stronger and stronger. 🙂

  25. Other than a few times I was mildly craving vegetables because I didn’t eat any for too long, I’ve never really had to deal with cravings. But now, after I finally eat primal, it’s gone crazy! I guess I’m happy that it’s not everyday, but almost every night I’m craving something salted. I feel completely sick of eating sweet stuff and I just want to eat something NOT sweet. I looked up for snack recipes here but I didn’t really find a solution yet… I just never knew a craving could be so powerful! I really need to find nuts I can eat without any problems.

  26. Hi Primal peeps, my name is Ha, and I’ve abused my relationship with food for years… So I for one would L-U-R-V-E to see a self-care article because understanding this is another solid contribution towards a life change. I was recently diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, and that my v good doctor tells me causes me to be Auto-Immune, and believes maybe it’s something I’ve also carried from birth but have made worse with food. What??! I am not obese and I exercise regularly!! Wow so the X-Syndrome wasn’t just an urban myth, who – knew?! As the shock passes I am gearing myself for the battle ahead, so all systems go, please arm me with the right knowledge as I keep working towards going Paleo (can’t go Primal body says ‘You really shouldn’t milk the cow… See? I told you so’). Thanks Mark I seriously ‘heart’ your site!!!

  27. At the moment I’m trying to establish and maintain ketosis on a regular basis. A number of sites oriented towards bio-hacking have discussed the role of the gut biome and food cravings. How the different species of bacteria in the gut influence the host (us) to eat certain foods to the benefit of the specific bacteria species even to our detriment. It is proposed that the bacteria manipulate our food preferences through the release of chemicals that positively or negatively impact our sense of well being.

    Co-incidentally there was a YouTube video from DNews that came out about it yesterday. I found it interesting.


    If the thesis of the biohackers is correct then it certainly creates opportunities for a re-orientation of individual tastes towards a more healthful diet based on evolutionary genetics by replacing an individual’s gut biome with one optimized to increase the individual’s health instead of the bacteria’s.

    1. After discovering fermentation evangelist Sandor Katz I started adding tons of homemade fermented foods – sauerkraut, beet kvass, milk kefir, natto – to my diet and 20 pounds of baby weight (although 5 years post partum I’m not sure you can still call it that) melted off effortlessly. After shifting my gut microbiome no longer did it feel like a million little voices were crying out for sugar and processed food – their food of choice. I could finally trust what my body wanted – lots of gut soothing saturated fat. I now have a sour tooth instead of a sweet tooth. I am keto-adapted and can fast for a day without suffering. A bonus – I haven’t had a sinus infection since – previously a monthly occurrence.

      Your gut biome controls EVERYTHING – after all, its population outnumber our actual cells 10 to 1.

  28. Great article– I stay primal but every now and then I go on a carboholic binge, It doesn’t make me feel worse physically– but my conscience pays the rice.

    Should one give into cravings on occasions? I say if it’s truly occassional and not just any day that ends in “DAY”!

  29. I’m guilty of having a cluttered work area, high amount of stress and the sleep deprivation. This may all be the reason why I ate the same meal in one week at different times. There were also time when I really don’t feel hungry at all but my mind is urging me to get something I’m craving for.

    Maybe for now, I just have to make do with getting enough sleep and doing this ‘mind over matter’ thing that I just have to divert my attention so I won’t think about my cravings. I really want to eat healthy, however, my cravings get the better of me. Will try my best to pull away from temptation!

  30. Great article Mark. I’m sad to say, even after knowing about paleo for 18 months now, I still haven’t been able to stay paleo for more than 2-3 days at a time due to intense carb cravings. My situation is a little uncommon in that I suffer from extreme OCD, anxiety and panic attacks. I’ve read a lot about these conditions, and I know that those suffering from these disorders have compromised motivation/reward systems. Dopamine plays a massive role in it, and I fear sometimes that I’ll never be able to get on the paleo wagon and stay on it long enough to see the benefits.

    The ironic thing is I know that primal/paleo would improve my brain health massively (I’m a strong advocate of Emily Deans work regarding this). Still, I keep telling myself one day I’ll be able to stick it long enough, that’s how I keep going.

  31. Speaking of cravings: I have an interesting story about aversions. I am currently 33 weeks pregnant and totally off my usual strict paleo/primal regime. I’ve done my best but I’ve been so relentlessly nauseated, and feel hungry so rarely, that I just eat whatever I can stomach. I can’t remember what it felt like to have a real appetite (and I am the sort of person who usually eats meat 3x/day, strictly no grains, and I do NOT tolerate sugar). It has been so utterly fascinating and mystifying to me why my body has done such an extreme switcheroo diet-wise from non-pregnancy to pregnancy. I was also nauseated my first pregnancy but it disappeared shortly into the first trimester. This time, it has persisted almost to the end. The really weird thing is that high-carb meals and sweet things (even fruit if eaten alone) tend to make the nausea a lot worse, and yet I can stomach those okay initially. Not eating also makes it worse. The things that calm the nausea: protein foods, meats, etc. – are exactly what send me straight to the throw-up bucket. It’s been the oddest, weirdest, most confounding metabolic experience that I’ve ever had — that exactly what makes me feel better is what makes me gag, and exactly what I feel I can stomach worsens the nausea once I’ve eaten it. So I just somehow stomach what I can and slog through it as best I can. I can’t imagine how this re-wiring of my metabolic brain is helping my baby (or me!). Any ideas to crack this mystery appreciated! (Also, I do crave chocolate and cocoa, peanut butter, bananas, and homemade yogurt, those are the only things that seem to calm my stomach – I make a smoothie with some or all of these things every day). WEIRDNESS!

  32. One word for you: nuts. Since going primal, I have developed a massive dependency on nuts and nut and seed butters. Cashews are the usual culprit — going through a jar of cashew butter during the day is not a problem at all. I suppose, as far as cravings go, I could do much worse, but I hate the mental weakness it makes me experience. It also facilitates undesirable meal habits, because I simply eat carrots/celery with cashew butter 3 times a day and want nothing else.

    Comments/suggestions? I’ve tried replacing nuts with full fat yogurt and avocados/olives, but that never seems to last.

    1. Well I also love nuts and have found that they can be habit forming – so I try to watch how much I consume – but those raw nuts are so amazing, eh? Also, be sure to make sure you whew your nuts very well – which I am sure you know.

      anyhow, wanted to reply to your comment because you asked for suggestions – and Mark’s recent post about protein made me think of your comment – because I was going to tell you that your cravings for nuts is likely because you are hungry – or lacking certain nutrients – especially may mean that you are missing the right proteins.

      and when the protein post came out I thought of this cravings post…. so be sure to check it out and also make sure that you are getting enough of the mix of dense and potent foods because it is likely that your body is missing certain things and the craving for those nuts is one way it is telling you of the imbalance.

      peace –


  33. I’ve never had real cravings for any particular food, but I’ve craved ice on a daily basis for the past 29 years (since my first child was born); I’ve known it’s from anemia but taking iron supplements and eating liver never cured it so I gave up. The last few years the ice craving had intensified and I’d developed a continual, gnawing hunger – a feeling of emptiness – so intense that it took extreme self control not to give in to it. Since I went Primal two years ago it’s gotten worse and I’ve gained 20 lbs. Finally gave up and went to a dr a couple months ago. She put me on IV iron infusions. The third day after the first infusion I noticed I hadn’t had any desire for ice in several hours. It’s been six weeks now and I haven’t eaten a single ice cube in all this time. Friends and family are amazed. The hunger has also subsided somewhat, though not completely.
    Going Primal did not cause the worsening symptoms or weight gain, the timing was just coincidental. I won’t go into the rest because this was just an anecdote r/t cravings.

    1. Hi Mary – I replied up top – and thx for sharing a similar ice craving story. It sound sot me like you cannot absorb nutrients – which is huge sign of needed to intestinally cleanse – 🙂