How to Minimize Cravings

January 13, 2024
2 mins read

FIGHTING OFF THE CRAVINGSBy Nutrition ExpertThe term “craving” hardly does justice to that overwhelming feeling that
you just can’t go on without a taste of your favourite food.Must… have… chocolate. Must… eat… ice cream. Can’t… stop… eating pizza.Cravings
are a fact of life: almost everyone has, at some time, been seized by a
strong and specific urge to eat. While men go for salt/fat combinations
like crisps and tortilla chips, women tend to crave sugar/fat
combinations – and, no surprises here, chocolate is number one on the
cravings list.It seems like there’s nothing to do but either fight off the cravings
and obsess about ice cream all day, or give in to them. Mostly, we give
in, telling ourselves that it’s all down to biology and there’s really
nothing we can do about it.But
in humans, hunger and eating are strongly influenced by context. That
seems to be true of cravings, too. Even though the desire feels
deep-down and basic, habit and conditioning seem to have a lot to do
with it.Research at University College, London shows that the yearn for tasty treats may, indeed, be an acquired habit.
 Jay
Gottfried and colleagues at University College London, trained
volunteers to crave vanilla ice cream and peanut butter at the sight of
computer images. While smelling the odours, volunteers showed
heightened activity in areas of the brain called the amygdala and the
orbitofrontal cortex – part of the brain’s reward circuit.However,
after the subjects had been allowed to eat their fill of the foods, the
smells became less enticing to them and the images did not produce a
hunger response.Psychologist
Leigh Gibson, at UCLs Health Behaviour Unit, studies appetite and food
choice. Gibson rounded up several dozen student volunteers to find out
whether people could be “trained” out of their cravings. The students
in the study ate half a bar of milk chocolate twice a day for two
weeks. Half ate their chocolate ration 15 minutes after finishing a
meal; the other half waited at least two hours after a meal before
having the sweet. The students filled out a diary rating the strength
of their cravings and the appeal of the chocolate by answering
questions like: “If any amount of chocolate was available, how much
would you want to eat right now?” Volunteers included both people who
loved chocolate and those who were indifferent to it.After
two weeks, the volunteers who had been eating the chocolate on an empty
stomach reported that their yearn for chocolate was stronger. By
contrast, the students who had been eating the chocolate on a full
stomach said their cravings were much weaker. That was true for both
cravers and non-cravers.What’s
more, people who’d been eating the chocolate when full actually said
that it now seemed a bit less pleasant to the taste. It seems that by
eating the sweet when they weren’t hungry, the volunteers had trained
themselves to like it less.“I
do believe that one should be able to retrain one’s appetite, or reduce
one’s craving, for particular foods by eating them only when not
hungry,” says Gibson. “However, this may only apply to foods that are
relatively energy rich.” He tried a similar experiment with dried fruit
bars and got very different results, suggesting that lower-calorie
foods may not have the same effects.But
Gibson points out that most commonly craved foods – ice cream, pizza,
cake – are also very rich and energy-dense. “It’s a lot easier to walk
past the greengrocers or fruit stall without being tempted than to walk
past the confectionery counter or cake shop, isn’t it?”The wonderful implication: cravings for rich, fatty foods might be conquerable. You don’t have to be a slave to your appetite!The
bottom line, he says, is that it’s a good idea not to eat foods you are
trying to avoid or eat less of when you are very hungry. “The trick is
to eat frequently enough to avoid strong hunger,
but without eating too many calories in total.” Easier said than done,
he admits – but his finding may explain why people who “graze,” or eat
small amounts throughout the day, are often healthier and slimmer.

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