Sometimes you crave something sweet when you’re feeling particularly stressed. Sometimes you’re in the mood for a salty snack or want a cold and creamy treat. These cravings are normal, but other times, obsessing about certain foods may mean your body is trying to tell you something.
Talk to your doctor about these, or any other, intense and unexplained cravings:
1. Craving: Water
May Signal: Diabetes
Sure, you could just be a little dehydrated and need a tall glass or two of water. But if you’re feeling thirsty all day every day, it may be a warning sign for diabetes—particularly if you’re also urinating more frequently. When you have diabetes, excess sugar builds up in your blood, forcing your kidneys to work harder to filter and absorb it. If the kidneys can’t keep up, the extra sugar is sent out of your body through urine. The more your pee, the more water your body craves.
2. Craving: Salt
May Signal: Addison’s disease
This is a condition where the glands that are located just above your kidneys—called adrenal glands—don’t produce enough of certain hormones. These adrenal hormones regulate blood pressure, balance minerals in your body and help your body respond to stress. Chronic fatigue, feeling weakness in your muscles and less hunger are some signs of Addison’s disease; so is a new, persistent and extreme craving for salty foods. If you experience any of these symptoms, see your doctor—left untreated, the condition could cause your blood pressure to drop too low.
3. Craving: Ice
May Signal: Anemia
Though scientists don’t totally understand why, ice-eating (called pagophagia) is common in people who are iron deficient. We’re not talking about chewing the half-melted ice at the bottom of your glass. In some extreme cases, people with iron deficiency anemia consume multiple trays and bags of ice every day. One study suggests that gnawing on ice increases blood flow to the brain, which can provide a quick pick-me-up for those who lack iron. Fatigue is the most common symptom of iron-deficiency anemia.
4. Craving: Dirt
May Signal: Pica
Paper, soap and chalk also make the list of odd cravings that indicate the eating disorder pica, which is a constant desire to eat these and other non-food items. Pica can affect anyone, but it’s seen more often in young children than adults and may be associated with a mental disorder, like autism or schizophrenia. Pica can also occur during pregnancy; in some cases, it may be a lack of certain nutrients, like iron or zinc, that may trigger the unusual craving. Continually eating these nonfood items can lead to poisoning, intestinal problems or infections.
5. Craving: Everything?
May Signal: You’re Dehydrated
Those tummy rumbles may just be your body’s way of saying drink up. Before you grab a snack, sip on a tall glass of water and wait a little while to see if your cravings pass. Plus, keeping your body well-hydrated can help you manage your appetite and weight. One study found the people who upped their water intake by even just one extra cup a day consumed fewer calories, as well as less fat, sugar and sodium.