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The Facts About Food Cravings

7 ways to deal with those irresistible urges

Don't Blame the Carbs

I don't know how many times I've heard people say that it's those awful, terrible carbohydrate foods they tend to crave. When I ask them what "carb" foods they are talking about, they usually name:

  • Potato chips
  • French fries
  • Chocolate
  • Rich ice cream
  • Chocolate chip cookies
  • Macaroni and cheese

Here's the thing: When you crave these foods, you're not just craving carbs, you're craving fat, too! According to Drewnowski, cravings that are spurred by emotions are typically for foods containing fat, sugar, or both.

Take a nutritional look at the top foods people say they crave and you'll see that almost every food contains more calories from fat than from carbohydrates.

 % calories
from fat
% calories
from carbs
Chocolate chip cookie50%46%
Macaroni and cheese46%37%
Milk chocolate candy bar51%46%
Dove chocolate ice cream bar57%42%
Fast-food french fries44%50%
Potato chips56%40%

7 Tips About Food Cravings

1. Out of sight is usually not out of mind

"Dietary restrictions definitely make cravings worse," warns Drewnowski. Does this mean it's best to give in to food cravings? That probably depends on your level of control once you begin eating. If you're able to satisfy a chocolate craving with a few chocolate kisses or a fun-size Snickers bar, Drewnowski says, "Go for it."

But if you are someone whose cravings get out of control (that is, you end up eating half a gallon of ice cream, a bag of chocolate chips, or a box of cookies), it gets more complicated. If this describes you, your best bet may be to have only portion-controlled amounts of your desired food on hand. Buy a single slice of pie or cake instead of a whole one; buy one chocolate-chip cookie instead of baking a batch; or treat yourself to a scoop of ice cream instead of a pint or half-gallon.

2. Make lower-calorie choices when possible

Will lower-calorie craving choices be as satisfying as the real deal? This depends on how great tasting the alternate food or beverages are. If you make lower-calorie, lower-fat brownies that taste just as yummy as regular brownies, they'll probably satisfy your fudge brownie craving. If you crave soda and you drink a glass of half diet soda and half real soda, chances are it will do the trick.

When Barbara Rolls, PhD, and colleagues from Pennsylvania State University fed 24 young women at their university laboratory, they found:

  • Women who ate lower-calorie, slightly smaller dishes were no hungrier than those who ate regular dishes.
  • Dieters liked the taste of the lower-calorie dishes just as much as that of the regular dishes.

3. Our environment is toxic

Everywhere we turn, our environment seems to be screaming at us to eat more fast food and junk food. "Unhealthy food is highly accessible, it's convenient, it's engineered to taste good, it's heavily promoted, and it's inexpensive. If you wanted to engineer a good food environment, you'd have the reverse of all that," says Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders.

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