What are We Really Craving When We Crave?

10 Jun

Many classify themselves as somebody who craves chocolate, or crunchy-salty foods (such as potato chips and French fries), or both and we classify these as a “carb-craver” or “carb-lover”.

However, it might not be as cut-and-dry as what I thought. A study published in the 2007 December issue of the International Journal of Obesity, stated that people with food cravings want calories, not chocolate, crunchy-salty cravings, or carbs per se. The craved foods do have carbohydrate, but they also contain fat, are low in protein and fiber. The most identifiable thing about the foods people crave is that they are highly dense in calories, almost twice as high as their habitual diet. Fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates, but they are lower in calories per unit volume versus chocolate and salty snacks.

Therefore, the carbohydrate addiction that so many people might believe that they are suffering from may be relabeled as “calorie addiction”. Various diet plans, such as the Zone, Atkins, or The Carb Addicts Diet make various claims of how to rid yourself of these cravings, but perhaps this study is suggesting you can try a certain diet plan, and if the plan does not match your lifestyle, you may still have to make further adjustments.

This was a 6-month study of 32 healthy, overweight women, aged 20-42 years old that were randomly assigned to an energy restricted diet with a high- or low-glycemic load. A high-glycemic load diet is one that will result in a higher amount of blood sugar than a low-glycemic load. Various foods have a glycemic index and it is the amount of a particular food multiplied by its glycemic index that equals its glycemic load.

Participants completed food craving questionnaires assessing the type of foods craved, the frequency and strength of cravings, and how often cravings led to eating the desired food.

Ninety-one per cent of study participants reported having food cravings initially. After 6-months of the eating regimes, ninety-four percent of the participants had food cravings.

The subjects who lost a greater percentage of weight still craved higher energy-dense foods at month 6 of energy restriction, but also reported giving in to food cravings less frequently.

The researchers believe that if individuals understand that they can expect cravings while dieting and that those cravings will be for calorie-dense foods, it might help in their weight management. One thing to do is to substitute foods that taste similar but have fewer calories, since the craving can be satisfied by related tastes.

The authors conclude that cravings for energy-dense foods are common. Although they caution that additional long-term studies are needed to confirm their findings, they write that their results “…suggest that people attempting to lose weight and maintain weight loss may benefit from advice to accept that food cravings may not decrease in frequency.” Controlling the frequency of giving in to cravings, rather than suppressing them, they say, may be an important area of emphasis in future weight control programs.

Therefore, there are strategies available that can curb a person’s appetite and craving. For some these are weekly indulgence meals, in which an individual eats whatever they want for one meal (not one day!). For others, a daily chocolate protein bar is enough to satisfy a chocolate craving. It varies for the individual.

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