We all have them–food cravings that is. But have you ever wondered why you are craving a certain food, and if it is actually a sign of something else?In order to decipher why you are craving that salty or sweet snack, we first need to decide if there were external triggers present that would have led you to want that certain food. Some possible external triggers are:

  • Have you seen an ad for or read an article about that certain food? The power of suggestion and seeing the food presented in a positive light can lead to a craving for that food.
  • Did you see or smell the food you’re craving lately? For example, walking by a bakery and smelling the aroma of fresh baked goods on your way to work could prime you for a craving later on.
  • Even sounds-like the beeping of the microwave, a co-worker crunching on chips, or the sound of popping open a drink can lead to a craving if you associate those sounds with foods you enjoy.

MORE FROM SELF: How to Finally Stop Stress EatingIf you determine that the craving does not stem from an external trigger, decide if it stems from an emotional trigger. Some examples of emotional triggers are:

  • Stress-if you tend to reach for a certain type of food whenever you feel stressed, you are actually training yourself to crave this food when under stress. Studies suggest that these cravings can occur up to 24 hours after the stress-response system is activated.
  • When you were a child, did your parents feed you a certain type of food when you were sick, hurt, or upset? If so, you may experience cravings for these comfort foods even as an adult.
  • We often don’t think of positive emotions when it comes to emotional eating, but celebratory eating and craving certain “reward” foods can also be the result of an emotional trigger.
  • Last, but not least, are you feeling guilt or shame? Do you feel like you failed following another diet? If so, this may trigger cravings for certain “forbidden foods” that you were trying to restrict.

MORE FROM SELF: How the Skinny Stay SlimAnd if your craving does not seem to be brought on by an external or emotional trigger, it is possible that it was brought on by a biological trigger. Some examples of biological triggers are below.

  • Has it been more than 4 hours since your last meal? If so, you maybe experiencing a craving for something sugary or starchy due to a drop in blood sugar?
  • Being physically tired-if you didn’t get enough sleep last night that can increase your cravings for something sweet.
  • Do you have an intense craving for ice? If so, this could be a sign of pica, a phenomenon that happens when people have iron-deficiency anemia.
  • If you are craving chocolate, that could be a sign that your need magnesium. So nosh on some nuts and seeds, which are a good source of magnesium instead.
  • Have you been drinking plenty of water? If not, your body maybe mistaking your thirst signal for a hunger signal. With any craving that you experience, start by drinking some water and waiting 10 minutes and you may find that your craving subsides on it’s own.

After deciphering why you are craving a certain food, you will be much better equipped to handle the craving and prevent cravings in the future. It can be as simple as getting more sleep, taking a different route to work so as not to pass the bakery or drinking more water!MORE FROM SELF: 14 Ways to Snack SmarterFor daily nutrition tips follow SELF on Facebook and Twitter.Get SELF on your iPad!