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Weight Loss & Diet Plans

The Facts About Food Cravings

7 ways to deal with those irresistible urges
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It's in Our Genes, Too

Getting fat is an evolutionary advantage embedded in our genes, according to a recent American Psychological Society Observer article.

Humans have been able to survive times of famine and hardship throughout history due largely to our ability to store excess calories, consumed during times of plenty, as body fat. At some level, our bodies may be programmed to crave foods high in calories.

Also, several studies have suggested that eating a diet lacking in variety can lead to more food cravings. But let's not overlook the obvious: It also doesn't hurt that the foods we typically crave taste so good and that we usually have many enjoyable memories associated with them. That history can be plenty powerful.

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 cookie 50% 46%
Macaroni and cheese 46% 37%
Milk chocolate candy bar 51% 46%
Dove chocolate ice cream bar 57% 42%
Fast-food french fries 44% 50%
Potato chips 56% 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.

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