Food craving, the intense desire to eat certain foods, can sabotage efforts to maintain healthy eating habits and body weight, no matter the time of year.
However, an examination of 28 current peer-reviewed scientific studies largely substantiates findings that changes in diet, prescription medications, physical activity and bariatric surgery reduce craving, said Candice Myers, PhD, assistant professor - research at LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
"Craving influences what people eat and their body weight, but there are some components of our behavior and diet that we do have control over," Myers said. "Being mindful of these desires gives us more control of them." Myers was the lead author of "Food Cravings and Body Weight: a Conditioning Response."
For example, one proven way to reduce the longing for a certain food is to eat it less frequently. In other words, it's better to remove something from your diet than to try to eat smaller helpings of it.
"The upside of craving is that it is a conditioned response that you can unlearn," said John Apolzan, PhD, director of Pennington Biomedical's Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism Laboratory. "It's not easy, but it can be done."
Other takeaways from their review included that:
Losing weight reduces food craving.
Beware exercise can increase cravings.
Cravings account for as much as 11 percent of eating behavior and weight gain, more than genetics currently explains.
Many obesity drugs -- phentermine, lorcaserin, semaglitude and liraglitude among others -- reduce craving.
Different demographic and socioeconomic groups may have different responses to food cravings. But little is known about these potential differences, and more investigation is needed.
"Food craving is an important piece of the weight-loss puzzle. It doesn't explain weight gain 100 percent," Myers said. "A number of other factors, including genetics and eating behavior, are also involved."
The study was supported in part by U54 GM104940 from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health, which funds the Louisiana Clinical and Translational Science Center (C.A.M.), and Nutrition Obesity Research Center Grant # P30DK072476 titled 'Nutrition and Metabolic Health through the Lifespan' sponsored by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. It is a campus of Louisiana State University and conducts basic, clinical and population research. The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes approximately 58 faculty and more than 18 postdoctoral fellows who comprise a network of 40 laboratories supported by lab technicians, nurses, dietitians, and support personnel, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Pennington Biomedical's more than 450 employees perform research activities in state-of-the-art facilities on the 222-acre campus located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.