CRAZY Cravings: How do cookies, pizza, etc. know your name??

Let’s play pretend…  Imagine that you had a great week of eating well, exercising, and feeling good.  It’s Friday night – dinner out and possibly a movie are in the cards.  Your intentions are good.  You’re going to keep it clean and if anything, maybe have a drink with dinner.  At the restaurant everything on the menu looks great and even though your plan was grilled steak and broccoli the cheeseburger and fries special looks a little too good to pass up.  In fact you’re pretty sure you can hear the Heinz ketchup bottle on the table screaming at you – “ORDER THE FRIES”.  It’s just one meal so what the heck, you spring for burger and fries and throw in a milkshake for good measure.   Now that was GOOD – we’re talking the stuff dreams are made of – and now you are STUFFED.  Off to the theatre to catch the 9:00 pm show.  You walk in, and even though you are uncomfortably full you can’t help but be tempted by the scent of buttery popcorn.  In fact, you actually feel like you NEED some…  And so the weekend continues.  Sunday night rolls around and you basically feel awful.  The weekend tasted great, but now you are dealing with a massive “food hangover” and more guilt than a death-row inmate.  Why did this happen?  How did the cravings that you so vigilantly fought off all week manage to run you over like a freight train?  Why do you feel like you want/NEED certain foods?  How did the cookies, ice cream, pizza, potato chips, beer, etc. find out your name and why can’t they stop calling it??

Cravings – we all have them.  If someone tells you that they NEVER crave anything they are lying like a rug…  There is good news though; the longer we fight off/avoid certain foods – sugar, carbohydrates, overly salty foods, etc. and the healthier we become – the fewer and less powerful the cravings will be. But at some point, for one reason or another, everyone is tempted.  And why have you never once (or VERY rarely) had a sudden craving for a big plate of broccoli (unless maybe it’s covered with cheese…)?  There are actually three classes of craving triggers.  Yep, three – because just one wouldn’t be enough…  So which of the three triggers are pulling you toward your cravings most often??

#1.) Biological Triggers

These are the signals that your body sends you and usually mean that something is out of balance.  For example, if your serotonin or blood sugar levels get low or if you are in a state of adrenal fatigue it is likely that you will experience more and stronger cravings.  Additionally, if you are dehydrated, short on sleep or lacking a certain nutrient you are more likely to hear the OREO’s calling your name. Here are a few specific examples from moderate to extreme:

Bread, bagels, pasta, cookies – if you are craving sugary, starchy food it may mean that your blood sugar and/or serotonin levels are low.

Candy, sweet stuff – how did you sleep last night??  Your body probably needs sleep more than it needs sugar…

Chocolate – try some magnesium.  If it’s truly a biological craving, you might be lacking in this nutrient!

Ice, chalk, paper, or dirt – craving non-food items (yes, this does happen) signals extreme nutrient deficiencies.  The name for this condition is pica.

#2.) Emotional Triggers

Do you eat when you’re stressed, upset, happy, sad, feeling guilty or maybe, all of the above???  If you answered yes then you are an emotional eater.  Uncovering the reason that the Reese’s reach out to you is important in fending off these cravings.  Here are a few things to consider:

Are you stressed out?  Stress cravings can occur up to 24 hours post stress response!!  So even if you feel calm and collected when the cookies call stress could still be the culprit in your craving.

Feeling guilty?  This one is a biggie!!  So, you had the fries and now you’re thinking, I blew it and figure you might as well just keep going and eat all of the foods that you usually don’t indulge in.

Eating by association:  When you were growing up did your parents give you a certain food when you were sad, upset, sick, hurt, or as a reward?  Do you associate certain foods with happiness and/or celebrations?  These feelings may be triggers for your feedings…

#3.) External Triggers

Finally and most commonly are the ‘external’ triggers.  These range from obvious to obscure:  walking into a movie theater and smelling popcorn, seeing a commercial on TV for a juicy cheeseburger or a picture of an ice cream sundae in a magazine, looking at the clock and realizing that it’s noon, hearing the ding of the microwave, watching others eat, and the list goes on.  There are SO many cues for us to eat and they just keep multiplying!!

TV, internet, magazine ads, billboards, restaurant signs and fronts – these are all MAJOR cues that we are exposed to nearly every second of every day. We are so ‘connected’ these days that exposure to the media and its messages is a fact of life.

Eating by the clock – we are trained from a young age that we need to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Often we have times associated with these meals and whether we are hungry or not, we eat.  This happens with snacks too – think back to grade school.  What did you do when you got home every day??

Smells, sounds and the behavior of others – the scent of fresh baked bread, French fries, or popcorn, hearing the microwave ding or people crunching/chewing, and seeing others eat are all things that make us feel hungry or leave us wanting a certain food.

Now that you know the possible reasons why certain foods seem to be on a first name basis with you it’s your job to identify your major triggers and be aware of the role these foods are playing in your life.  Above all things food should not rule your life.  It is there to provide the energy and nutrients we need to live, it should be enjoyed but should not be your only enjoyment.  Next up we’ll talk about methods for dealing with cravings because they shouldn’t make you CRAZY!!!


Categories: Announcements, General, Paleo Diet Basics


Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation

Have you heard about the Paleo diet and were curious about how to get started? Or maybe you’ve been trying Paleo for a while but have questions or aren’t sure what the right exercise program is for you? Or maybe you just want a 30-day meal plan and shopping list to make things easier? Then Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation is for you.


  1. says

    Yep, all very tough things to fight off in today’s world. I try not to get too hung up on slipping off the wagon every now and then but it does take some serious strength to be good while outside of the house.

  2. A M says

    I’ve also read and personally experienced that intestinal flora and permeability also influence appetite and food preference. Intestinal dysbiosis may set the stage for pronounced and frequent, if not incessant, cravings for simple and complex carbohydrates. As intestinal permeability allows inappropriate substances (e.g., incompletely digested foods, casein, gluten, intestinal flora metabolites) to enter the blood stream, an immune response is often precipitated. People with this condition often crave and feel addicted to the very foods that their bodies can not effectively digest. A compromised digestive system may not allow for the adequate extraction and/or absorption of deficient nutrients, leading to an endless cycle of increasing nutritional deficiency, cravings and toxicity.

    • says

      A M,

      Did you have any literature available regarding the link between intestinal permeability and craving the foods that cause it? I’ve experienced this personally, I know eating bagels, pizza and beer will destroy my insides and lead to a week of feeling crappy but I can’t help but break down and give in once in a while. I’m definitely interested in reading more about this topic!

      Thanks for getting the wheels turning this morning Amy! 😉

      • Amy Kubal says

        You’re welcome!! And every once and a while it’s okay to have something ‘non-compliant’ – life is too short to not enjoy a few guilty pleasures. The key is knowing your limits – once and a while, is not the same as once every day, every meal, etc. and dose is important. A slice or two of pizza and a beer = smart indulgence, an entire pizza and a 12 pack – not so much! :) If you’ve got celiac, or some major autoimmune/health issues going on, try to keep ‘indulgences’ as clean as possible – think high quality, gluten free and again, small doses. Satisfaction not pants splitting…

      • A M says

        Concise and specific references, I don’t have. As I have been working through Crohn’s Disease for the past couple of years, I have under my belt hundreds of hours of reading from a wide range of sources. However, the only comprehensive and detailed reference with which I am aware is “Gut and Psychology Syndrome” by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. In this moment, I don’t recall any of the other comparable books about Leaky Gut Syndrome. Best.

        • CDR says


          Can I ask …has Paleo helped your Crohn’s. My wife has had numerous manifestations of Crohns over the years. I read the tim Ferris article that led to Robb Wolf about 12 months ago. It interested me, so I figured I would try Paleo 30 day trial myself. My health was generally very good, apart from mild asthma, continuous sniffling and hay fever, and an emerging but still manageable beer belly. The results for me were stunning. I dropped 11kg with a little help from limited (far from obsessive) strength training at the gym, my asthma disappeared, and my hay fever and sniffling disappeared. I mean *disappeared*. I had no idea I would get these benefits.

          So now I’m 90% Paleo and feeling a million dollars with a 32″ waist. My wife doesn’t want to go down the same path, I think she feels she gets pleasure out of her indulgences, has enough on her mind as it is, without needing to deprive herself of cake and treats. Which actually makes for a certain trickiness. I’m convinced she is horrendously gluten intolerant, dyspepsia, inflammation, raynauds, fluid on knees, and all the other celiac nightmares…(but no negative biospy). She’s had her gall bladder removed, which Robb’s book covers ….suggesting big alarm bells. she is chronically anameic these days as well

          I wish I could get her to go full Paleo for 30 days but its hard.

          • A M says

            For many years, like your wife, the “symptoms” of the SAD were manageable. I had to hit a wall before I committed to a long-term dietary overhaul. I’ve been bed-ridden for 3-4 years and was just diagnosed with Crohn’s in Jan’11. I’ve been consistently following the GAPS diet, which is much more restrictive than the general Primal diet, for over 3 months. Crohn’s is an autoimmune condition, and simply cutting out offending foods didn’t provide much relief. Supplementation with hydrochloric acid, Vit D3, digestive enzymes, bone broths and fresh green vegetable juices helped immensely. Our conditioned thinking want us to belief that one size fits all, but even people with common conditions/symptoms may have varied responses to any protocol. The greatest gift of this experience has been a greater sensitivity to that which is required for my body, in its current condition. I don’t necessarily expect or hope that what seems to work perfectly for someone else will help my situation. I am not attached to the idea that the Primal or GAPS diets will work for everyone. Some core lessons that I’ve found through this experience are a) the primary function of food may not be to provide pleasure, b) there may be not be a single diet that is ideal for everyone, c) let your personal experience may be the only barometer of what works for you, and d) I can be at peace regardless of my current health situation. Best.

    • musajen says

      I heard something similar in a podcast a few years ago with Nora Gedgaudes. She had a guest on her show where they discussed food sensitivities, specifically gluten sensitivities (Podcast was called “Living the Gluten Free Lifestyle).

      My main take away from it was the recommendation to pay attention to feeds you think you “can’t live without” (I’m giving bacon a free pass though!) because you may have a sensitivity. They attributed the desire for these foods to the body liking the chemical responses required to deal with the offending foods (oversimplification on my part).

      Fascinating stuff though and it was a great podcast.

    • Amy B. says

      I’ve seen in many places that chocolate cravings can actually indicate a magnesium deficiency. (Julia Ross in The Mood Cure, and James Wilson in his Adrenal Fatigue book.)

      With all the things that magnesium does in the body, and the fact that stress depletes it, I suspect that *most* people are walking around with lower than optimal magnesium levels.

  3. says

    I’m guilty of all 3 at times, but physiological triggers are normally my strongest. I try to overcome that by making sure I’m drinking enough water, eating low glycemic carbohydrates, eating enough calories, and planning and cooking my meals in advance so that I have something ready to eat. Otherwise, I just grab a convenience food.

  4. Linda says

    I so agree, the longer you avoid eating those tempting foods, the less you have the craving. It took at least 18 months of 95% Paleo eating before I could walk through the bakery section at the grocery store without craving cookies, muffins & so on. Now, I can even resist the smell of fresh baked bread (one of my former downfalls).

    Also, check out this story about willpower – contrary to some studies, this story claims that the more you use it, the stronger it becomes.

    • Amy Kubal says

      So true Linda – it’s like a drug. The more you ‘use’ the more you need to get the same high. So the best thing to do is – ‘Just say NO!’ :)

      • Amy B. says

        Yeah…as difficult as it can sometimes be to “just say NO,” it’s a lot easier to say no and abstain completely than to just have one piece. At least, for me. There are certain foods for which I simply don’t have an “off” switch, so it’s easier not to turn it on in the first place. I wish I had more self control than that but the fact is, when it comes to certain foods, I *can’t* just have a taste and walk away. It’s one taste, and then before I know it, the whole bag/box. As soon as I get that taste sensation in my mouth, it’s game over. So while it’s hard to walk away, it’s easier to do that than to step on the brakes after the fact.

    • Jenn says

      My husband and I ate out at a steak house recently, and they brought bread to the table without asking. It smelled out of this world – great. He decided to indulge. I asked if it tasted as good as it smelled. He said no – it tasted more like cardboard than any sort of treat he’d ever had before. He only ate one slice. :)

    • Chris Q says

      Willpower is an amazing thing. I have been cigarette free for over 2 years just by using willpower. I stopped smoking while on a deployment to Afghanistan, cold turkey. Not on of my best moments at the time, but I stuck with it and after 30 days felt unbelievably awesome. I still very occasionally get cravings, but most of the time I smell a smoker and say to myself “man they smell like an ashtray.”
      As far as junk foods it is a constant battle for me. I can make it almost a week without ice cream and then I cave in. But for breads and pastas I can go months before I cave for those cravings. Usually it is just giving in to the willpower department. But I figure if I can stop smoking then this should be no problem. One step… or better yet one meal at a time is the best option.

  5. says

    Great article! I have tried to be much more mindful of what foods are my “trigger foods” and why – it is helping to simply be more aware than I was in the past. I am trying to avoid those specific foods this holiday season (so that I don’t spiral into out-of-control eating…)although it is a challenge! One step at a time, right? :)

  6. Jennifer says

    Man there must be something wrong with me – I DO crave things like broccoli and carrots! 😀 Or at least I used to before I started eating better. I definately agree it was a lack of nutrients that caused the cravings.

  7. Laurial says

    I get weird cravings for broccoli/red meat…found out last week that I’m slightly anemic. Good to know.

    I also can not say no to chocolate if it’s in front of me. I’m also magnesium deficient–didn’t know the two were related. I’m going to increase my magnesium immediately : )

    The question now is: What do you do if your serotonin level is low?

    • Amy Kubal says

      Usually, they give you some anti-depressants. But get your diet, training and lifestyle on track and that may do the trick!

  8. says

    I always felt it was easier to give up just about anything but sugar until I found this article:

    “According to a new research study, refined sugar is far more addictive than cocaine — one of the most addictive and harmful substances currently known.

    An astonishing 94 percent of rats who were allowed to choose mutually-exclusively between sugar water and cocaine, chose sugar. Even rats who were addicted to cocaine quickly switched their preference to sugar, once it was offered as a choice. The rats were also more willing to work for sugar than for cocaine.

    The researchers speculate that the sweet receptors (two protein receptors located on the tongue), which evolved in ancestral times when the diet was very low in sugar, have not adapted to modern times’ high-sugar consumption.

    Therefore, the abnormally high stimulation of these receptors by our sugar-rich diets generates excessive reward signals in the brain, which have the potential to override normal self-control mechanisms, and thus lead to addiction.

    Additionally, their research found that there’s also a cross-tolerance and a cross-dependence between sugars and addictive drugs. As an example, animals with a long history of sugar consumption actually became tolerant (desensitized) to the analgesic effects of morphine.”

  9. DirectM says

    If you have been living straight up paleo you know the carbs you crave cause crashes. In my most recent case I almost passed out within 45 minutes of eating a burger and potato salad…that was two months ago. Mind you, that was not a case of craving, it was a case of “what the hell…why not”.

  10. Claire says

    Oh my gosh. This is the most helpful article I have ever read. I always wondered why I couldn’t walk past a bowl of chocolate and not take 3 or 4 pieces… and then come back again and take 5 or 6 pieces. I know I probably have a magnesium deficiency (pretty much everybody in my family does), but I never would have connected that to chocolate. Thank you so much!

  11. Simon Edmundson says

    Set the reminders on my iPhone to go off every time I walk into one of the local shops. It reads, “Resist temptation and eat clean”…..seems to be working because it makes me think twice about makng a bad decision.

  12. Guenda says

    Good morning,
    I have read your book in italian.. You often write that it’s possible to fimd the bibliography of your work online.. Can you please give me the link to it?i can’t find it! Thank you!

  13. says

    I loved this article and would like to share it with the readers of my blog. I am a bit new to this blogging stuff. What is the proper way to do this? May I copy it (including of course your bio at the end)? Or should I just tell my readers about it and include a link to your web site?
    I just know they have the same problem with cookies that I do.
    Thank you for your response.

    • Amy Kubal says

      Hi Fay! And thank you so much!! You can definitely link the article on your blog!! That would be the best way to do it! Thank you for sharing it!! :)

  14. Megan says

    I take Natural Calm every night before I go to bed so I don’t think I’m deficient in magnesium but I still crave chocolate…but I stick to 100% cocoa. Should I consider taking more magnesium? is the 100% ok?

    • Amy Kubal says

      Megan, I crave chocolate sometimes too – you can try upping the dose, but that might not be the cause. It’s just one of the many causes!!

  15. Chris says

    I’m still relatively new to the urges ever completely go away to the point where iniquitous foods become gross? Maybe at least unappealing? No such luck I’m sure. Mom’s fresh baked cookies will forever be calling my name…

    • Amy Kubal says

      Chris, some stuff will go away – I don’t every crave pasta or bread anymore – ice cream on the other hand… 😉

  16. Missy says

    I can’t resist chocolate. I’m sure I’m Mg deficient too, so will try Natural calm at night. Thanks for the info! I dove into some chocolate last night, so great timing!

  17. says

    Just wanted to say a big thankyou for this article. After starting Paleo a few months back my biggest problem was going out with my non-paleo friends and doing what we always did. I had to learn that when everyone else was eating pizza and drinking excessively, I no longer had to. I made the conscious decision to take control of my health and part of that process was learning that I didn’t need those things.

    “Just say no” was my motto for so long and sometimes I still struggle with this – but the more you say no, the less people ask (and sometimes they will even choose the healthier option with you :-p)

    And with regards to magnesium. After getting my levels under control, I realise how important it is as part of your diet not only to control cravings. I now sleep better, no longer have muscle cramps and generaly feel more relaxed. A diet high in magnesium has no many fantastic benefits that everybody should know about.

    This article really hit the nail on the head!!

  18. Jenny Stamm says

    Can “natural” sweeteners such as stevia produce cravings? Stevia is supposedly a low-glycemic
    plant– is it advisable to avoid like synthetic sweetners which are so toxic? Thanks!

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