Conquer Your Food Cravings
Find the best, research-proven ways to keep chocolate and cookies and chips from wrecking your diet.
By Denise Foley
You're going along, minding your own business, when it hits — an intense,
out-of-the-blue desire for a candy bar or a cupcake or a bag of Fritos. If, at
that moment, a Girl Scout were to come to your door, she could earn her cookie
badge right on the spot. Hellooo, Thin Mints!
Almost all women experience that powerful "gotta have it" feeling at some
time. The object of desire is most often chocolate, studies say, and we crave
it with the same fervor with which Catherine longs for Heathcliff (or, perhaps
more aptly, Dracula lusts for blood). It's a brain thing: Ask people to imagine
their favorite foods, as scientists using MRI technology did, and chocolate and
chips light up some of the same brain regions as the most powerful addictive
drugs, reports lead researcher Marcia Levin Pelchat, Ph.D., a sensory
psychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center and the University of
Pennsylvania School of Medicine. While you're probably not going to drive to
the bad part of town to score some 70-percent-cacao chocolate, you might OD —
er, eat too much — once you lay your hands on it.
Sadly for dieters, this science is still in its infancy, which is why the
advice on how to beat cravings tends to fall into two camps: Some experts favor
giving in (at least in moderation), while others say, "Sorry, you've gotta give
it up." There's support for both. For example, research has shown that animals
deprived of the sugary treats they'd come to enjoy will crave them even more
for at least a month. But other studies suggest that many of us simply can't
stop — one good yearn deserves another (and another). In research from the
National Institute on Drug Abuse, when rats were given loads of high-fat
pellets, then deprived of the treats, they gave up pushing the lever that had
delivered them. But when the researchers later dropped some of the pellets into
the rats' cages, the animals became driven to get more, pressing the lever over
and over. One taste of that extra-special pellet seemed to flick on some "want
more" switch in their brains.