However, many dieters think of food cravings as a weakness, but 91 percent of participants in a calorie-restriction study experienced food cravings at the start. And even more had cravings six months after dieting, nutritionists at Boston’s Tufts University say.
In fact, accepting food cravings and keeping them in check may be an important component of weight management, explains Susan Roberts, an energy metabolism expert at the university’s Human Nutrition Research Center.
Allowing yourself to have the foods you crave, but matching those cravings to healthy sources, may be one of the most important keys to successful weight control. Some of the most commonly craved foods among are those with high sugar plus fat, such as chocolate, and salty snacks, such as chips and French fries.
For example, a craving for chocolate may signal a need for magnesium, which can be obtained from raw nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits. Cravings for oil snacks and fatty foods may be a sign that you need more calcium from turnip greens, broccoli, kale, and raw cheese.
Women experience greater sense of cravings than men and are more frequently on diets or restricting their diets. They also have more unstable weight, feel more frequently too heavy and want more frequently to lose weight.
Mood is also related to food cravings but in a different way according to gender. A majority of female cravers experienced a more (depressed) mood state during the day, and a negative mood--such as annoyance, boredom, and depression--preceded the craving episodes. In contrast, men more commonly indulged in food craving in association with a feeling of happiness.
What biological factors may be at play to cause women to crave food more than men do?
"The gender difference observed could be due to a higher degree of weight concern in women. Social pressure for thinness--more pronounced in women--may (cause them to) more frequently restrict their diet and to follow a diet to lose weight. As these practices are associated with food cravings, they could be one explanation,"' said Lionel Lafay, from the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in France.
Another possible explanation could be that women experience a different relationship between food and mood. However, the relationships between food and mood are very complex, as is their underlying biological and psychological determination, Lafay noted.
For example, Lafay said, food craving does not appear to be a simple product of the need for calories and energy.
People who report being hungry often crave salty foods more frequently.
Food craving may be related to a 'desire' and not to a 'need', which indicates a psychological factor requires satisfying. However, for those individuals who have deficiencies in specific nutrients, the following chart summarizes the craving, the nutrient the body requires, and the food sources that effectively satisfy the food craving.
"You crave what you eat, so if you switch what you're eating, you can weaken your old cravings and strengthen new ones," says Marcia Pelchat, PhD, of the Monell Center.
Research shows that even after 5 days you will find that your body will yearn for your trigger foods far less, and after two weeks the cravings are nearly gone.
On a physical level, your blood sugar will begin to balance out, so your body won't be crying out for foods that it falsely thinks will balance things out. On an emotional level, you will know that it is possible to live without those foods, and you will most likely notice some improvement in your wellbeing, which will keep you motivated.
Natasha Longo has a master's degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.