It is not how much you crave but what you do with it that counts: behavioural responses to food craving during weight management

Eur J Clin Nutr. 2017 May;71(5):625-630. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2016.235. Epub 2016 Dec 14.


Background/objectives: The relationship between food craving and dieting is mixed and uncertain, with little evidence during active weight management. Accordingly, the frequency and nature of food cravings were investigated in people attending a commercial weight management programme.

Subjects/methods: An online survey was completed by 2932 participants (97% female, mean age=43.0 years, mean body mass index=31.6 kg/m2). Assessments included the Control of Eating Questionnaire, measuring the frequency, intensity, specificity and behaviour following food cravings. Others included body weight, dietary restraint, perceived success of dieting and mood. Forty-two per cent of the sample completed a second survey 7 weeks later.

Results: Cross-sectional analysis showed those currently dieting to lose weight (55% of sample) had significantly fewer, less intense and more resisted food cravings than those watching what they ate so as not to gain weight (35% of sample). Cravings were fewer for chocolate and other sweet foods. Longitudinally, food cravings decreased over the period of weight loss (2.0 kg). Fewer foods were craved and the cravings were less intense, easier to resist and to control. Eating in response to food cravings was a significant predictor of weight change.

Conclusions: People with obesity and recent experience of resisting eating in response to food cravings lost more weight over the next 7 weeks. Feeling in control of eating was also associated with greater weight loss. This suggests it is the behaviour that follows food cravings rather than simply their frequency or intensity that contributes to successful weight management. This has implications for interventions to help address food cravings.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • Craving / physiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet, Reducing
  • Eating / psychology*
  • Female
  • Food Preferences / psychology
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Obesity / therapy
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Weight Loss*
  • Young Adult