Food cravings and energy regulation: the characteristics of craved foods and their relationship with eating behaviors and weight change during 6 months of dietary energy restriction

Int J Obes (Lond). 2007 Dec;31(12):1849-58. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0803672. Epub 2007 Jun 26.


Objective: To examine characteristics of craved foods in relation to dietary energy restriction (ER) with high (HG) and low glycemic load (LG) diets.

Design: Assessments of food cravings before and during a randomized controlled trial of HG and LG diets provided for 6 months.

Subjects: Thirty-two healthy, overweight women aged 20-42 years.

Measurements: Self-reported food cravings and dietary intake, body weight, weight history and measures of eating behaviors.

Results: Foods craved at baseline were more than twice as high in energy density as the habitual diet (3.7+/-1.5 vs 1.7+/-0.3 kcal/g; P<0.001), and on average were lower in protein (P<0.001) and fiber (P<0.001) and higher in fat (P=0.002). There were no statistically significant changes in nutritional characteristics of craved foods after 6 months of ER. There was a significant relationship between reported portion size of craved food consumed at baseline and lifetime high body mass index (r=0.49, P=0.005). Additionally, there was a significant association between susceptibility to hunger and craving frequency at baseline, and there were significant relationships between hunger score, craving frequency, strength and percentage of time that cravings are given in to after 6 months of ER. In multiple regression models, subjects who lost a greater percentage of weight craved higher energy-dense foods at month 6 of ER, but also reported giving in to food cravings less frequently (adjusted R (2)=0.31, P=0.009).

Conclusion: High energy density and fat content, and low protein and fiber contents were identifying characteristics of craved foods. The relationships between craving variables and hunger score suggest that the relative influence of hunger susceptibility on cravings may be important before and especially after ER. Portion size of craved foods and frequency of giving in to food cravings appear to be important areas for focus in lifestyle modification programs for long-term weight loss.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Appetite / physiology*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Diet, Reducing*
  • Energy Intake / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Female
  • Food Preferences / physiology
  • Food Preferences / psychology*
  • Glycemic Index / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Regression Analysis
  • Satiation / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Weight Loss / physiology