Monday, January 25, 2021

The Psychology of Food Cravings

May 28, 2010 by  
Filed under Body Image

Why do we get intense desires to eat certain foods? For me, its strawberry pop-tarts — hands down. How about you?

Although food cravings are a common experience, researchers have only recently begun studying how food cravings emerge. Psychological scientists Eva Kemps and Marika Tiggemann of Flinders University, Australia, review the latest research on food cravings and how they may be controlled in the current issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

We’ve all experienced hunger (where eating anything will suffice), but what makes food cravings different from hunger is how specific they are. We don’t just want to eat something; instead, we want barbecue potato chips or cookie dough ice cream.

Many of us experience food cravings from time to time, but for certain individuals, these cravings can pose serious health risks. For example, food cravings have been shown to elicit binge-eating episodes, which can lead to obesity and eating disorders. In addition, giving in to food cravings can trigger feelings of guilt and shame.

Where do food cravings come from? Many research studies suggest that mental imagery may be a key component of food cravings – when people crave a specific food, they have vivid images of that food. Results of one study showed that the strength of participants’ cravings was linked to how vividly they imagined the food. Mental imagery (imagining food or anything else) takes up cognitive resources, or brain power. Studies have shown that when subjects are imagining something, they have a hard time completing various cognitive tasks. In one experiment, volunteers who were craving chocolate recalled fewer words and took longer to solve math problems than volunteers who were not craving chocolate. These links between food cravings and mental imagery, along with the findings that mental imagery takes up cognitive resources, may help to explain why food cravings can be so disruptive: As we are imagining a specific food, much of our brain power is focused on that food, and we have a hard time with other tasks.

New research findings suggest that that this relationship may work in the opposite direction as well: It may be possible to use cognitive tasks to reduce food cravings. The results of one experiment revealed that volunteers who had been craving a food reported reduced food cravings after they formed images of common sights (for example, they were asked to imagine the appearance of a rainbow) or smells (they were asked to imagine the smell of eucalyptus). In another experiment, volunteers who were craving a food watched a flickering pattern of black and white dots on a monitor (similar to an untuned television set). After viewing the pattern, they reported a decrease in the vividness of their craved-food images as well as a reduction in their cravings. According the researchers, these findings indicate that “engaging in a simple visual task seems to hold real promise as a method for curbing food cravings.” The authors suggest that “real-world implementations could incorporate the dynamic visual noise display into existing accessible technologies, such as the smart phone and other mobile, hand-held computing devices.” They conclude that these experimental approaches may extend beyond food cravings and have implications for reducing cravings of other substances such as drugs and alcohol.


Source: Barbara Isanski, Association for Psychological Science



3 Responses to “The Psychology of Food Cravings”
  1. I crave weird things these days. I believe it’s the intuitive eating that has sent my cravings all strange. Where back in my starvation days I craved the very generic potatoes, pasta, chocolate and ice-cream, all of which I was not allowed to have.

    These days, when no food is taboo, I crave really specific things like beetroot, honey carrots, ginger ale, balsamic vinegar, lemon calamari, cinnamon sugar, cranberries. The cravings are just as violent, but much shorter lived and very specific. Most times I can meet the cravings, unless it’s something I just can’t find.

    I think my body is trying to tell me it wants a certain nutrient when it slaps me around with these cravings. So long as I meet that nutrient need, the craving doesn’t stick around.

  2. MB says:

    It’s a toss up between chocolate covered pretzels and hot fresh bread.


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    […] work.  For me, I crave cereal.  But where does this overwhelming desire for one food come from?  We are the Real Deal looks at the research to help you understanding those cravings. [Link] Results of one study showed […]

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