Pregnancy cravings are weird. It's not just pickles and ice cream (or in my case, Shake Shack and Italian ice), that women want. Women the world over experience strong food cravings while making a human. But what does it mean if you crave chocolate while you're pregnant? Has your sweet tooth just turned into a monster during pregnancy?
When I was younger, I remember a particularly engaging episode of The Fresh Prince when Aunt Viv was pregnant with little Nicky, and was craving a specific food. Poor Geoffrey was forced to move heaven and earth to get it for the cranky Vivian, and the whole family got involved. I only ever experienced one craving that was this intense during my pregnancies, and it was for popovers with strawberry butter from the no longer operating Popover Cafe in Upper Manhattan. The restaurant was open late, and one night when I was about seven months pregnant with my son, I absolutely required this popover. I hadn't had one in a really long time, and the ABC affiliate here in New York City did a story on it that evening. Suddenly, they were consuming my every thought. But, dang it if I hadn't already taken off my bra and makeup — I begged my husband to drive into Manhattan from our home in Brooklyn at midnight to get me one.
Spoiler alert: no popovers were purchased that evening, and I may still bring it up to this day. "Remember when I wanted those popovers?"
What about the craving, though? Was it a nutritional need? Yeah, not really. There's nothing nutritional about pure fat and sugar doused in the most delectable of jammy butters oozing with the smug satisfaction of knowing it's available at 3 a.m. I just wanted it, and dang it, I was creating the miracle of life within my body, so I should have it. Is it different for something that purportedly has as many benefits as chocolate is claimed to have? What does it mean if you crave chocolate while you're pregnant?
Apparently, as is the case for most decadent pregnancy cravings, it's not about nutrition. According to a study published in Frontiers of Psychology, it's more about the idea of what cravings should be in pregnancy, and the forbidden nature of specific foods that drive the craving. Chocolate is particularly decadent and alluring with all sorts of sensual connotations attached to it, and that makes some women wild for it when they're pregnant. As it turns out, this craving for chocolate is also local. The study found that worldwide, pregnant women in North America report intense pregnancy cravings more than anywhere else in the world, and that chocolate is the number one food craving among North American pregnant women. This suggests that cravings are, at least in part, the result of a culture that continually tells women that they should be craving foods during pregnancy, and that the perpetuation of the craving has more to do with validating the idea that cravings are an essential part of pregnancy than they really are.
A second study related to the first in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics showed mostly the same results — intense cravings for specific foods during pregnancy are likely not based in nutritional need, but instead in the expectation of cravings and peer influence.
Wild, right? Brains are hard-wired to expect a craving to occur, so they produce the urge based on the long-learned cues placed into your subconscious suggestion over your lifetime. It's not that the craving is false — it's very real. You really want that chocolate, but it's likely a mental exercise and not physiological need that is being worked out. I can tell you with all certainty that I really craved Shake Shack when I was pregnant. Desperately. But also, looking back, I was pregnant with my first when Shake Shack had just become a phenomenon. Everyone craved it, not just pregnant women. (Though I saw many waiting in line for their wonderful burgers and fries.) I can see how the popular and hard-to-get nature of Shake Shack may have played into my cravings.
Our bodies and brains are complex things, and according to the health journal Appetite, these cravings only become a problem when they start really adding up to weight and health issues. As long as that doesn't become an issue, I think you can, and should, totally send your partner out for New York Super Fudge Chunk at 1 a.m., because you're worth it.