What Your Food Cravings REALLY Mean

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Whether you’re knocking out reps of kettlebell swings, going for a morning run, or sitting on your couch watching seven straight episodes of Master of None, one thing is certain: you’re never going to lose weight if you keep shoving donuts in your mouth hole.

Even if you are a gym rat, it’s not uncommon to want diet-destroyers like chips, candy, and ice-cold beers. Those things are delicious! Still, caving to your cravings all the time can lead to consequences like weighing 400lb. If you know the source of your cravings -- what your body actually needs when it's telling you to eat something glazed in chocolate -- you can start making smarter choices (though that donut might really be worth it).

What are you craving?


A cheeseburger craving could be a sign you need protein. This can signal that you’ve burned through your carbohydrates, and your body is tapping into protein for fuel. Red meat is also high in iron, so if you find yourself in constant need of meat, it's probably worth finding out if you're anemic.

To satisfy your craving without the saturated fat found in burgers, try a leaner meat, like turkey, and skip the cheese on the sandwich.

Flickr/Calvin C


If you’re looking for candy, take that as a sure sign your body wants instant energy right now.

“It’s the first thing [your body] burned through, so it’s the first thing it looks to replace,” says Jodi Geigle, coach-director at Fitmo and board-certified nutrition and wellness professional.

Instead of reaching for a pack of rainbow-colored Skittles, grab fresh fruit or make yourself a fruit-based smoothie. This ensures that you're getting other nutrients, like fiber, with your sugar, as opposed to the empty calories you find in candy.


A hankering for salty foods, like a snack-size bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, can mean your body is in need of water.

Chips don’t have a ton of nutrition to balance out all that salt, which you probably don’t need unless you just ran a marathon. If water doesn’t satisfy the craving, try popcorn for a crunchy snack with fiber, or have veggies with an oil-based dip, like a vinaigrette.

Geigle suggests a pinch of salt in your water bottle to replace electrolytes. She also likes coconut water, which is a natural source of electrolytes, including sodium and potassium.

Flickr/Jennifer yin


“A milkshake craving isn’t all that bad,” says Lanette Kovachi, corporate dietician for Subway. Milk is protein and carbs -- exactly what you need post-workout, so this could just be a sign that you're depleted from CRUSHING IT. The problem is that ice cream is high in saturated fat, not to mention all the added sugar. Kovachi recommends blending your own high-protein, nutrient-rich Greek yogurt smoothie with berries, and maybe a little honey for sweetness.


If you’re craving carbs, you might need fuel, which could just be a sign that you're not getting enough protein and healthy fats to make you feel satiated. You could also be stressed; turns out that stress-eating is no joke.

Donuts and coffee shop baked goods don’t provide much nutrition, since they're usually mostly white flour and sugar. Instead, try a whole grain bagel or bread topped with peanut butter or hummus to get carbs and protein.

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If you crave beer after exerting yourself, you are far from the only one, with many people drinking more on days that they work out. Hydration might play a role here, but it may just be that, after your brain gets a hit of endorphins from exercise, you want to keep the good vibes going with an adult beverage.

Make sure you're hydrated before you start pounding booze, and that should help regulate your intake. Also, congratulate yourself for wanting a beer, because maybe it means you're feeling good!

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What you should do about your cravings

You definitely shouldn't skip happy hour with your team after a game, but you also don’t want to consume more calories than you just burned.

After any kind of physical exertion, “It’s so important to hydrate right away,” Kovachi advises. “And have a snack of protein and complex carbs within an hour.”

Protein helps replenish muscles and satisfies you, so you don’t have those cravings next time. Still, there’s nothing wrong with having a cheeseburger or milkshake every once in a while.

“Eat a balanced whole foods meal after (your workout),” Geigle said. “Then you can enjoy that indulgence instead of just grabbing it because you’re starving.”

You heard her. Go ahead and have that milkshake or beer, if you still want it.

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Candace Nelson is a freelance writer who currently wants a milkshake and cheeseburger. Read more at candacenelson.net.