All About Food Cravings

From the outside of a person, a temptation (and there are thousands of them) will trigger a craving. As if that weren’t troublesome enough, all too often a craving arises spontaneously from inside. But why? We all know that emotions have a lot to do with it. Chemistry apparently also plays a part.

Researcher Adrian Meule is interested in obesity, bulimia nervosa (BN), and binge eating disorder (BED), and has found that patients suffering from all three conditions:

… experience behavioral symptoms and neurochemical changes that are highly comparable to other addictive behaviors… In recent years, neuroendocrine pathways have been identified that are involved in both drug- and food-seeking behaviors. Specifically, appetite-regulating peptides like ghrelin, neuropeptide Y, orexin, or leptin have also been associated with craving for alcohol…or tobacco… On a neurochemical level, reduced striatal D2 receptor availability has been found in obese patients similar to patients with substance use.

In other words, the case for food addiction just got stronger. Meule also uncovered a strange detail. While increased drug use is observed in BN or BED patients, this is not so in patients afflicted with anorexia nervosa.

Dr. Pretlow equates food cravings to withdrawal symptoms. His 2011 article in Eating Disorders, about the addictive potential of highly pleasurable (or hyperpalatable, or more-ish) foods, described the reactions of children and teens who shared their experiences via the Weigh2Rock website:

In a poll that asked, ‘When you try to eat less, how do you feel?,’ 46% of respondents (n=134) indicated that they experienced ‘intense cravings…’ Of posts which related struggling when trying to lose weight, 56% specifically described incessant urges or cravings for certain foods.

Dr. Pretlow recommends dropping one problem food at a time (a project which the “W8 Loss 2 Go” iPhone app was created to help with).

How long does it take to lose a craving? It depends on the person and the substance. Zoe Harcombe tells us that wheat cravings go away after only five days of abstinence. Back in the 1980s, Dr. Douglas Hunt made a claim for only four days, and explained his reasoning in the book No More Cravings:

There is no mystery about why the cravings stop after four days. It takes four days for yeast and wheat foods to be completely eliminated from the stomach and intestines. So long as even a small amount of these foods remains in the digestive tract, the cravings will continue.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “How Prevalent is ‘Food Addiction’?,”, 11/03/11
Source: “Addiction to Highly Pleasurable Food as a Cause of the Childhood Obesity Epidemic: A Qualitative Internet Study,” Eating Disorders, 06/21/11
Image by, used under its Creative Commons license.

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