A food craving is a frequent and intense desire to eat a particular type of food. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if it is sabotaging the best intentions to eat healthily and maintain a healthy body weight, then they can be a problem. Food cravings are estimated to account for about 10 per cent of the normal variance in eating behaviour and weight gain, so they present an attractive area to look at to help change behaviour.

A recent review of scientific studies that explored food cravings validated the role that food cravings play in influencing eating behaviour. The positive finding of the review for those with a constant ‘sweet tooth craving’ was how food cravings can be minimised.

Surprisingly, losing weight can help reduce food cravings. Easier said than done, but once a person can lose a small amount of weight and maintain it, it becomes easier to stick to the healthy eating habits that work best for that person and succumb less to cravings.

Physical activity can also lessen food cravings and there is some evidence that resistance training exercise can also help reduce how much food is eaten. Prescription weight-loss drugs can also help lessen food cravings and this could be one of the mechanisms that they work.

Bariatric weight loss surgery is incredibly effective in reducing weight and one of the ‘side-effects’ of this treatment is a reduction in food cravings especially for high-fat foods, foods high in sugar and fast food.

Food cravings are not consistent for everyone and it seems there may be differences based on demographic and socioeconomic factors, but research into this area is minimal so far.

Implications

Food cravings are a real thing, but because they are a conditioned response, it is possible to ‘unlearn’ them. It may not be easy, but by sticking to a plan and slowly reducing the frequency that the craved food is eaten, it is possible to have more control over what and when certain foods are eaten.

Last Reviewed: 11/02/2020

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.



References

For reference: Myers CA et al. Food cravings and body weight: a conditioning response. Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity 2018;25:298-302.