A food craving is an intense desire to eat, usually a specific food. The desire can seem uncontrollable, and you might not feel satisfied until eating that particular food.

A food craving is an intense desire to eat, usually a specific food. The desire can seem uncontrollable, and you might not feel satisfied until eating that particular food. Cravings are different than hunger pangs. Cravings come from your brain, not your stomach, and can be much harder to resist.

Food cravings may signal a real need. Your body might issue a craving in response to the lack of a particular nutrient or a lack of energy in general. Factors that can trigger food cravings include fatigue, stress, changes in sleep routines, emotional needs, fluctuating hormone levels or simply not eating enough.

Do you recognize any of these food cravings?

Dairy products, including cheese and ice cream, are high in protein and tryptophan, which aids in the production of melatonin, which helps you to feel more relaxed. You might notice this craving when feeling tense.

Sweets are often craved when you are hungry, tired or stressed. They can give you an energy boost to compensate for a restricted diet, fluctuating blood sugar or lack of sleep. But keep in mind that the more sweets you eat, the more you will crave them.

A craving for salty foods might mean you are slightly dehydrated. If you want salty and crunchy, you might be trying to relieve stress.

Carbs are usually the craving when you need comforting. Pasta, breads and potatoes boost serotonin and make you feel better when you are down in the dumps or extra tired.

Chocolate cravings could be your body’s way of asking for magnesium. But chocolate is also a mood-booster when you are sad, lonely or stressed.

If your food cravings are frequent and causing you to gain weight, there are some things you can do to make them more manageable.

Make sure you are getting adequate nutrition with enough calories to avoid hunger. Your diet should include all food groups to provide all the nutrients you need.

Reduce stress levels. Feeling stressed promotes emotional eating and cravings, especially for comfort foods and sweets. Try to figure out what your stressors are and work on ways to reduce that stress. Exercise is one way to decrease stress, improve mood and reduce cravings.

Drink plenty of water. Hunger and thirst can produce very similar sensations in the brain. Make sure to stay well-hydrated throughout the day. Try drinking a full glass of water when a craving first hits.

Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can contribute to hormonal imbalances and overeating. Our bodies are looking for energy when we are tired, so that often leads to craving carbs and sweets.

Adequate protein can help with decreasing cravings. Aim to get 25 percent of your calories from lean protein sources. Protein not only helps fill you up but also stimulates the production of a naturally occurring appetite suppressant.

Chewing gum can help reduce both sweet and salty cravings. Gum can satisfy the craving for a sweet treat at the end of a meal.

Completely avoiding the food you crave can make the craving worse. Instead, try to control the portion or try a similar but more healthful substitution. Instead of chips, try nuts or popcorn. If it’s chocolate you crave, try a small amount of dark chocolate.

Is it bad to give in to your food cravings? Not necessarily. Sometimes it’s better to honor your craving and eat what you really want. Trying to satisfy a craving by eating other foods often doesn’t work. Trusting your body and giving yourself permission to eat these foods can make cravings less frequent and less intense. Restricted eating and keeping certain foods off limits seems to increase food cravings.