What are We Actually Craving, in Cravings?

David Foster, L.Ac.
3 min readDec 20, 2023

Why do many women crave chocolate or dairy more while on their menses? Why do men generally crave beer more than women? Why do some people crave sweets more at night, or wake up in the morning feeling everything from ravenous to having no appetite at all? And how do these tendencies influence future tendencies within our bodies?

Western medicine has no clue — “some people are just like that,” they shrug, or my personal favorite: “That’s normal (as you get older).” Without an intricate understanding of the paradigm of internal (Chinese) medicine, unique preferences and/or habits can be difficult to explain, hence impossible to change.

“I just have a sweet tooth,” people say, which is an expression. What if your will power was not entirely psychological, but partially a result of the state of your internal organs, making it much harder for you to resist temptation than others?

Dryness is an epidemic. It stands to reason in a society that over-prioritizes the yang, masculine energy. While yin is represented by rest, stoppage, sleep, coolness and moisture, yang is work, working out, going out, staying out late, everything out; burning it at all ends, not to mention excessive caffeinated diuretics and overly seasoned or spicy foods.

In Chinese Medical terms stress “depletes the healthy body fluids,” as do NSAIDS, most meds, skipping breakfast, poor sleep, overwork, over-working out, or excessive masturbation. Unfortunately, these are not fluids that can be supplemented through hydration. While it’s great to hydrate, from our perspective this loss is of metabolic/organ fluids that can be restored only through proper rest, herbal medicine, and diet, namely eggs and red meat.

In the meantime, whether consciously or not, we are all craving the ultimate yin. Think breastfeeding: An opportunity to stop everything, be comforted and nuzzled by some soft, fatty, support structure, nourished by its sweet, thick, delicious juice. Since few of us have that opportunity, we opt instead for ice cream or cheese, boba tea, or some delectable hazy IPA — anything thick, sweet, and nurturing in lieu of the adult version of nursing, which might be an early bedtime after a relaxing day. Imagine that. Do we deserve such a thing?

“Nighttime belongs to the blood,” is an expression in Classical Medicine that refers to our healthy body fluids being in charge of evening operations, whereas cellular energy and sympathetic manage the day hours. When a symptom, such as sweet cravings, is worse at night, it further confirms fluid deficiency as part of its etiology. What many women are craving during their cycle, is frankly, more blood. Most don’t have the opportunity to necessarily get more rest, eat more red meat or go to sleep earlier (though if you do, you should!). Instead, they reach for sweets and/or dairy to temporarily satiate the desire to supplement yin. Unfortunately, in doing so this creates more dampness in the microbiome, which makes it harder for the organs to then convert future foods into healthy nutrients, which causes more cravings, and so on. Healthier options for sticky, yin-nourishing substances might be nut butters, smoothies, non-dairy yogurts, or baked apples with some honey.

“Yin-nourishing herbs” are damp. I always think of the foxglove root, one of the most herbs in our pharmacopeia, which looks, but does NOT at all taste like a chocolate brownie. It is rare to meet a patient, man or woman, who does not need some amount of foxglove to supplement lost fluids; although it is even more rare to meet someone whose gut is ready for it. Foxglove is thick and heavy, like boba tea or breastmilk, so if someone has weak digestion, loose stools, acid reflux, etc. it is probably not ideal for them. It is important in our “moments of weakness” to access at least enough will power to reach for healthier alternatives enough of the time, so as to protect our gut health — so that one day our herbalist will give us the green light to truly nourish our yin organ fluids with brilliant substances like foxglove.

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David Foster, L.Ac.

Acupuncturist and Chinese medicine in NYC, special focuses in neurological, psychiatric, orthopedic, and autoimmune conditions. Hip Hop Head, '88-'98