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Cravings: Why They Strike, How to Curb Them

Why you’ve just gotta have certain foods -- and how to regain control

You Are What You Eat

Gender also plays a big role. In Wansink’s research, men were more likely to crave pizza, pasta, and soup over cakes and cookies. Why? Hot, savory foods reminded them of attention from their mothers or wives.

Women associated those foods with preparation and cleanup, so they tended to want hassle-free snacks, such as candy, cookies, ice cream, and chocolate.

Good Mood, Bad Mood

Certain emotions, including stress, sadness, and boredom, can promote cravings, Pelchat says. "A bad mood can become a conditioned cue for eating. Just like walking by the doughnut shop, being in a bad mood becomes a cue that elicits going over to the refrigerator."

But happy moods might be even more likely culprits. In Wansink’s survey of about 1,000 Americans, 86% craved comfort foods when they were happy, and 74% had cravings when they wanted to celebrate or reward themselves. Only 52% had cravings when they were bored and 39% when they were sad or lonely.

The happy eaters wanted to maintain their upbeat mood, Wansink explains: "I want to do something to extend my happy feeling or my happy experience,” he says. They tended to prefer "more meal-like, healthier foods," while people in sad moods were much more likely to seek out ice cream, cookies, or potato chips.

Taming Your Desires

In his book, Wansink writes about models who attempt to crush their cravings by carrying around a candy wrapper just to sniff it, or by taking one bite from a candy bar and then spitting it out. He says not to waste your time with these methods. Instead, try these tips:

Eat the Food You Crave Less Often. You may have heard that having a little bit of what you crave is a good way to break the craving. But continually eating the food you crave only strengthens the habit. "The more you eat sweets, the more you reinforce the cravings for sweets," Pelchat says.

So should you go cold turkey? Not exactly, Wansink says. Feeling deprived of a favorite food often backfires, and you end up eating too much. "You can indulge in it, but just do it less frequently," he says.

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