Worldwide the obesity epidemic is rampant. Weight loss industries have evolved to help individuals partake on a healthy diet that controls caloric intake.
However, the urge or craving for high calorie foods, and the subsequent tendency to break a diet and succumb to the food longings often reverse whatever weight loss has occurred.
The recidivism is often discouraging and leaves an individual without hope of future weight management.
Researchers have now discovered that accepting food cravings may be an important component of weight management.
The findings come from the first six-month phase of a calorie-restriction study conducted at Tufts University.
“Cravings are really normal; almost everyone has them,” says corresponding author Susan Roberts, PhD, director of the USDA HNRCA’s Energy Metabolism Laboratory.
At the start of the study, 91 percent of the participants reported having food cravings, which are defined as an intense desire to eat a specific food.
“Most people feel guilty about having food cravings,” says Roberts, “but the results of this study indicate that they are so normal that nobody needs to feel they are unusual in this respect.”
In addition, the results indicate that cravings don’t go away during dieting.
“In fact, 94 percent of the study participants reported cravings after six months of dieting. However,”Roberts says, “participants who lost a greater percentage of body weight gave in to their cravings less frequently. Allowing yourself to have the foods you crave, but doing so less frequently may be one of the most important keys to successful weight control,” she adds.
Roberts and colleagues observed that successful weight loss was related not only to how often people gave in to their cravings, but also to the types of foods they craved.
“Participants with a higher percentage of weight loss actually craved foods with higher energy (calorie) density, compared with those who lost a lower percentage of body weight,” says Roberts, who is also a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.
“Energy-dense foods, such as chocolate and some salty snacks, are those that pack the most calories per unit of volume,” explains Cheryl Gilhooly, PhD, MPH, research dietitian and first author of the study, “as compared to less energy-dense foods like fruits and vegetables, which have fewer calories per unit of volume.”
“These findings suggest,” says Roberts, “that cravings are for calories, not carbohydrate, as is widely assumed. What is commonly called carbohydrate addiction should probably be relabeled as calorie addiction,” she added.
Some of the most commonly craved foods among study participants were foods that have high sugar plus fat, such as chocolate, and salty snacks, such as chips and French fries. “The craved foods do have carbohydrate, but they also have fat, and some protein, too. The most identifiable thing about the foods people crave is that they are highly dense in calories,” Roberts deduces.
“This is the first study of long-term changes in food cravings in a calorie-restriction program,” Roberts says.
“If individuals understand that they can expect cravings 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.”
Roberts and colleagues 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.
Source: Tufts University