Research: Frequency, not amount lowers cravings

Research DefinitionResearch Definition

The frequency of foods consumption can lower cravings.

Hungry and craving.

Hungry and craving.

We all crave certain foods, and the craving of these foods can be near to impossible to avoid consumption.  Whenever I think of craving, I think of Homer Simpson and donuts – mmm, donuts.  A food craving is simply an intense desire for a specific food, and they differ from person to person.  Food cravings are thought to be the result of social conditioning with the consumption of certain foods.  One person may crave salty foods, and another may want something sweet.  This desire can seem uncontrollable, and the hunger may not be satisfied until they get that particular food.  The question has always been how do we limit cravings?  

In my career as a physician, I regularly recommend that patients that stop denying themselves the foods they enjoy or desire because doing so will increase cravings and there is research to back this up, but there is also limited research to show how to combat cravings.  Food cravings can be a significant roadblock for people trying to maintain a healthy weight or consume a healthful diet.  A recent study tacked this exact question[1].  The researchers hypothesized that changes in the frequency of consuming certain foods would be associated with changes in cravings for those foods.  In a two-year weight loss trial called the POUNDS Lost study, participants were randomized to one of four energy-restricted diets which had an energy deficit of 750 kcal per day and varied in macronutrient content. The researchers used the Food Craving Inventory or FCI to measure cravings at baseline (beginning), 6, and 24 months. They also measured food intake at those same time points.  The researchers also analyzed the Calories of food consumed on food intake assessments from foods on the FCI.  The subjects of the study were 429 participants who were overweight and obese.  The researchers found that there was no association between change from baseline amount of Calories consumed and food carvings.   They did find that the change to a lower level of food frequency did induce cravings.  

The bottom line:  Luckily, this study indicates one step to take to handle cravings.  This study reveals that reducing the frequency of consuming craved foods is positively associated with cravings for those food items, but changing the amount or the total number of calories consumed does not appear to alter cravings. These results support the conditioning model of food cravings and provide guidance on how to reduce food cravings.  I would recommend that you continue to eat the foods that you enjoy and crave but that you will lower the number of calories that you consume.


J. Apolzan et al., “Frequency of Consuming Foods Predicts Changes in Cravings for Those Foods During Weight Loss: The POUNDS Lost Study.,” Obesity (Silver Spring), vol. 25, no. 8, pp. 1343–1348, Aug. 2017. [PubMed]
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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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