The Science Behind Why Some Vegans Crave Meat (and how to reduce them)

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It’s pretty common for vegans to crave meat.

Especially if they’re new vegans.

You eat something regularly all your life, and then all of a sudden it’s gone. That disrupts a lot of old habits and expectations that your brain has.

Meat cravings are more common in those who really liked it.

I was never a huge fan (I mean, it was okay), so that probably explains why I’ve never had meat cravings since going vegan.

Regardless, if this is something you’re struggling with, I’m here to try and help.

I’ve spent a few hours reviewing relevant journal articles, and will go over the 8 main reasons you may be craving meat, and what you can do to reduce them.

Reason #1 – You’re Missing Nutrients

This is what most people think of first.

You’ll hear things like, “You’re body is craving it because it needs it!”

In reality, it’s possible, but very unlikely.

The majority of current research essentially says that cravings are all in your head. It’s a psychological issue, not physiological.

If you do think this is the cause of your issues, you solve them by looking at what meat has that plants don’t, and that the body can’t make itself. It’s possible that you’re not getting sufficient quantities in your vegan diet.

There are 3 nutrients in particular that are most commonly lacking in a meat-free diet:

Reason #2 – You’re Exposed to Meat a Lot

One of the most interesting things I learned was that the strength of cravings is linked to how vividly they image foods, meat in this case (Source).

Basically, how often you think of meat, and how much of your focus is addressed to picturing it, will affect your cravings.

The solution is to try and take your mind off of it.

In an experiment, people craving foods were shown a flickering pattern of dots on a screen (almost like static). Their cravings went down after this.

The conclusion of the researchers was clear:

well as a reduction in their cravings.

Engaging in a simple visual task seems to hold real promise as a method for curbing food cravings.

The basic idea is to pull away some of your attention by distracting your mind.

You could do this by:

  • Listening to music.
  • Watching videos (of static if you want to be sure this works).
  • Do basic math problems.
  • Go do another hobby you enjoy.

Finally, if you’re always in social settings where people are eating meat, that’s going to make cravings far more likely and intense. I know it might suck, but consider avoiding any particularly meat-filled social events like barbeques.

Reason #3 – Dieting Increases Cravings

Not too surprisingly, studies show that the more you restrict food in general, the more likely you are to crave it (Source).

If you restrict certain “problem foods,” then cravings for those foods will go up.

If you happen to be dieting and a relatively new vegan, it’s likely the cause of your meat cravings.

So what can you do?

The researchers found that the most effective way to continue dieting while restricting certain foods was intermittent fasting.

This is something I do because I like it for other reasons, but it makes eating less way easier.

After a few days, your body gets used to not eating for long periods of time, and all of a sudden you rarely get hungry.

It sounds a bit crazy, but it’s incredibly effective for dieting and it’s also sustainable over the long term. It’s what people were forced to do before we had a stable food supply.

If you’d like to learn more, here’s a great beginners guide to intermittent fasting.

Reason #4 – You’re Missing the Salt and Fats

high fat nuts

This is more about texture and taste than nutrition.

A typical vegan diet has much less salt and fat in it than an omnivorous diet.

Salt is an easy one, just add more to your meals.

But to get more fat, you’ll want to start eating vegan foods that are high in fat. This means mainly focusing on:

  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Cooking oils (not too much though!)
  • Seeds (hemp, chia, sunflower, etc.)
  • Avocados

Try to focus on eating more of these for a few days and see if cravings subside. If so, you just have a strong preference for fatty foods that should be included on a regular basis.

Reason #5 – Stress Intensifies Cravings

Everyone has heard of stress eating.

You get stressed, and your body seeks the easiest source of enjoyment to combat it.

As one researcher said:

Food cravings arise to satisfy emotional needs, such as calming stress and reducing anxiety

Unfortunately, you can’t just not be stressed. Humans get stressed, it’s a part of life.

But, you can work on reducing your stress by doing things like:

  • Meditating
  • Yoga
  • Exercising more.
  • Journal.
  • Take breaks from work.

There are plenty of books on stress relief that you can read for more detailed guidance.

Reason #6 – You Miss a Particular Flavor or Texture

beyond burgers

Are you craving meat in general, or a specific type of meat or meal?

This is an important distinction.

If it’s the latter, the solutions are fairly simple:

  • Craving a specific meat? Find a vegan meat replacement. It might not be perfect, but should tide over cravings.
  • Craving a specific meal? You have 2 options. First, you can look for a veganized version of that meal (I promise it exists). Or two, use the spices you’d usually use in the original meal in some other vegan meal.

A lot of the times you crave the taste of the seasoning, and not the actual meat itself.

Reason #7 – You’re a New Ethical Vegan

Why did I specify “new” vegan?

Not only have you recently gone through a big change, but the logic still likely hasn’t sunk in.

You’ve gone however many years of your life thinking there was no big issue with eating meat, and now you’ve logically/emotionally decided that it’s wrong.

But when you think of eating meat, it doesn’t necessarily bring up those sad thoughts and feelings that made you become vegan.

It takes a bit of repetition over weeks or months before you automatically have almost a disgust reaction when you think of meat.

Reason #8 – You’re Bored of Vegan Food

If you’re a vegan who doesn’t like to cook, you’ll quickly get bored of vegan food.

But there is so much awesome vegan food out there, you just have to spend a bit of time looking for recipes.

Personally, I have much more variety and better tasting meals now as a vegan than I did before. Mainly because I was forced into trying new recipes and ingredients I wasn’t used to.

Here are a few of my favorite vegan recipe sites that you might enjoy:

Try to develop a genuine interest in cooking and trying new foods out.

Conclusion

Food cravings have been studied quite a bit, but there are many individual factors that mean it’s impossible to reliably pin down one specific cause.

Hopefully you recognized that one or more of these possible factors could be triggering your meat cravings and can now solve it.

Going vegan is more difficult for some than others, so don’t feel that you’re alone. Reach out for support in vegan forums and communities on social media, and people will be happy to try and help you get through your difficulties.

If you come up with any creative solutions that I haven’t mentioned, please do share them with others in your situation in the comments below.

About the author

Dale C.

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. Chemical engineer turned semi-professional soccer player and freelance writer. Trying to do my small part in making the world better by writing about the wonderful world of veganism.

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