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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Food cravings and energy regulation: the characteristics of craved foods and their relationship with hunger and weight change during 6 months of caloric restriction

Authors
item Gilhooly, Cheryl - TUFTS-HNRCA
item Das, Sai Krupa - TUFTS-HNRCA
item Golden, Julie - FDA
item Mccroy, Megan - BASTYR UNIVERSITY
item Dallal, Gerard - TUFTS-HNRCA
item Saltzman, Edward - TUFTS-HNRCA
item Kramer, F. Matthew - U.S. ARMY
item Roberts, Susan

Submitted to: International Journal of Obesity
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: May 25, 2007
Publication Date: June 26, 2007
Citation: Gilhooly, C.H., Das, S., Golden, J.K., Mccroy, M.A., Dallal, G.E., Saltzman, E., Kramer, F., Roberts, S. 2007. Food cravings and energy regulation: the characteristics of craved foods and their relationship with hunger and weight change during 6 months of caloric restriction. International Journal of Obesity. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0803672.

Interpretive Summary: Problem Statement Food cravings, typically defined as "an intense desire to eat a specific food" have been reported to be very common. However, the extent to which food cravings play a role in the etiology of obesity, and whether successful weight loss requires reduction in the frequency of experiencing food cravings, remains uncertain As part of a larger caloric restriction (CR) study, we assessed the longitudinal changes in food cravings in response to 24 weeks of caloric restriction with provided low and high glycemic load diets We also examined the nutritional characteristics of craved foods compared to the composition of the habitual diet, factors associated with baseline food cravings, and changes in food cravings with CR and weight loss. Research accomplishment(s) Characteristics of craved foods and changes in food cravings were examined during 24 weeks of caloric restriction in overweight women randomized to high or low glycemic load diets. The results of this study suggest that cravings for energy dense foods are common in this sample. Results also support that the portion size of craved foods consumed, but not frequency of experiencing and giving in to cravings, is a significant predictor of lifetime maximum BMI. In addition, we found that subjects who had more success with weight loss had cravings for increased energy dense foods compared to subjects with less weight loss, but also had a reduced frequency of giving in to cravings. These findings, combined with previous research, suggest that food cravings are a typical component of human eating behavior and that conscious control of portion size and frequency of giving in to cravings, rather than suppression of food cravings, may be important areas of emphasis in weight control programs. Research contribution This study was part of the NIA-funded CALERIE trials and we believe is an important and exciting addition to the food craving literature. To our knowledge this is the first study that has attempted to link reported craving with actual consumption, and because food was provided for 24 weeks, it allows a greater degree of confidence in the reported relationships between food cravings and other variables than is normally possible in studies of this kind.

Technical Abstract: Objective: To examine the characteristics of craved foods and changes in food cravings in a long-term caloric restriction (CR) intervention in overweight women randomized to high or low glycemic load diets. Design: A randomized controlled trial of high or low glycemic load diets provided for 6 months at 10% or 30% energy restriction relative to baseline energy needs. Subjects: Thirty-two healthy, overweight (BMI 25-30 kg/m2) women aged 20-42 years. Measurements: Self-reported food cravings and dietary intake, body weight and fatness, height, weight history and measures of eating behavior including hunger. Results: Cravings were reported for the previous 3 months by 91% of subjects at baseline and 94% after 6 months of CR. Foods craved at baseline were more than twice as high in energy density as the habitual diet (3.7 +/- 1.5 vs. 1.7 +/- 0.3 kcal/g; p<0.001), and on average were about 50% lower in protein (p<0.001), 30% lower in fiber (p<0.001) and 30% higher in fat (p=0.002). There were no statistically significant changes in the nutritional characteristics of craved foods after 6 months of CR, and there was no effect of diet type during CR on any craving variable. There was a statistically significant relationship between the reported portion size of craved food consumed at baseline and lifetime adult BMI (r = 0.49, p = 0.005). Additionally, there was a significant association between hunger and craving frequency at baseline, and this relationship as well as the relationships between hunger, craving strength and percentage of time cravings are given in to became stronger after 6 months of CR. In multiple regression models, subjects who lost a greater percentage of their baseline weight during CR craved higher energy dense foods at month 6 of CR compared to subjects who had less weight loss, but the subjects who lost more weight also reported giving in to their food cravings less frequently (adjusted R2=0.31, p=0.009). Conclusion: Food cravings were common in this sample of women, and high energy density and fat content and low dietary protein and fiber content were all defining characteristics of the craved items. The changing relationships between craving variables and hunger from baseline to 6 months of CR suggests that the relative influence of hunger and non-hunger factors on the frequency of cravings may be related to energy balance status. Since portion size of craved foods and the frequency of giving in to a desire to eat craved foods were important predictors of lifetime high BMI and success in weight loss in this population, these factors appear to be important areas for focus in lifestyle modification programs for long-term weight loss.

Last Modified: 9/10/2014
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