Women and Cravings: A Study

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Cravings. Those intense and hard to ignore desires for a specific food.

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If you are a woman, odds are you have cravings on a regular basis.

In society, cravings for food come with negative connotations; many feel that cravings are something to avoid, be scared of, and deny at all costs. Sometimes cravings are a red flag that make women feel vulnerable or uncomfortable.

Why is this so?

Is it because many of us still separate food into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ categories or that we have that ‘all or none’ mindset when it comes to indulgences? Are we deep down scared of foods that we feel are bad for us?

A recent study conducted at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University researched women’s cravings and weight-loss.

The study looked at 32 overweight women 20-42 years of age who were assigned to one of two weight-loss diets. Participants completed food craving questionnaires that measured the foods craved, the frequency and strength of cravings, and how often cravings led to eating the desired food.

Here is what they found:

  • 94% of dieters reported having food cravings
  • Participants who had lost the most weight, craved higher-calorie foods, as compared to participants who lost a lower percentage of weight. These cravings for energy dense foods are foods that pack the most calories per unit of volume.

The authors give the following advice for dieters with cravings:

1) Realize that cravings are normal and common!

“Most people feel guilty about having food cravings,” says Roberts, “but the results of this study indicate that they are so normal that nobody needs to feel they are unusual in this respect.”

2) Substitute similar tasting foods that are lower in calories!

“If individuals understand that they can expect cravings and that those cravings will be for calorie-dense foods, it might help in their weight management. One thing to do is to substitute foods that taste similar but have fewer calories, since the craving can be satisfied by related tastes.”

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I found this study interesting, especially the part that found that people who had lost the most weight had the highest cravings for higher-calorie foods.

I believe there is an evolutionary mechanism behind this, in that it is natural for one’s body to try to get you to eat higher calorie foods because it may think that it is being starved or at risk for survival.

I took an Evolutionary Psychology class in university (my all time favourite course!) and we learned a lot about dieting and why many diets can fail- when your body feels so deprived, it sends urgent signals for you to eat (and LOTS of it) so it doesn’t lose any more weight. This is also why binges occur- your body is simply responding to evolutionary signals in times of stress!

I also think that cravings are natural even when you are not trying to lose weight. And that is exactly what these researchers found- 91% of individuals not trying to lose weight reported having cravings.

I think it is important to look at cravings in a new light and not be so afraid of them. Sometimes cravings are simply your body telling you that you aren’t getting enough calories. Or sometimes it is hormonal (oh women, can’t we ever relate to this!), and sometimes it is simply out of boredom or stress.

Regardless, of why they occur, I think we need to recognize that our body is talking to us. Rather than ignoring or suppressing urges for a certain food, I think we at least deserve to listen to our body and ask ourselves why we might be having that intense craving. Is it ‘that time of the month’, did we forget to eat lunch, are we stressed about work? And of course there will always be times when you want a food just because you want it, and who the heck cares WHY! ;) Sometimes it is just fun to eat something because you want it and for no other reason and no other analysis. I know I do it quite often myself. It sure beats having binges like I used to!

Someone asked me last night whether I am hungry when I have dessert or if I have it just because. And the truth is, there is no easy answer to that question! The past few days I have been craving sweets a lot (hormones!!!) and so I have been having a few extra treats than maybe I normally would. I try not to stress about this because I know over the course of a month it all balances itself out anyways. Other times, I am still hungry after dinner and want something sweet to end the day. It really depends! Other times I just crave something and eat it even when I’m not really hungry. I think that is ok and totally normal to happen on occasion.

The guilt that many of us women have with food is already bad enough. If we can start embracing what our body is telling us, instead of internalizing more guilt and shame, I think we will be much better off. No one is perfect and we shouldn’t expect ourselves to have a ‘flawless’ diet because I don’t think it exists!

Today’s questions:

  • What is your take on cravings? Do you get them often? When are you most likely to get them?
  • Do you find you get more cravings when you are in ‘weight-loss mode’?

I can’t wait to hear your thoughts- I find this topic to be very interesting!

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenn June 28, 2009

I do get cravings, but I’ve noticed since I began eating more whole and diverse foods and eliminating the white sugar that my cravings have really subsided. Though, I do have an intense craving for a Glo’reo right now. May have to order me some of those puppies this week. ;)

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Danielle June 28, 2009

I do get cravings, but i notice that when i lay off the sugar, they are almost non-existent! Regardless of that, I definitely get cravings any time I am in weight loss mode, and thats the main reason why I’m trying to get out of “diet mode” and LISTEN to my body. Great post!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) June 28, 2009

I also have found now that I eat more whole foods I get less cravings than when I used to eat ‘low calorie’ crap!

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Katherine June 28, 2009

I totally agree the cravings are signs from our body…it is trying to tell us something. For example chocolate cravings can either just be because we want a sweet treat or we could be craving magnesium rich food…I think it is important to listen to our bodies and make wise choices based on what it is telling us. If we look at it as a negative thing then we end up feeling guilty and who wants to feel guilty? Guilt just serves as a catalyst for more health problems.

Kat

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Sam June 28, 2009

I definitely get more cravings when I’m trying to lose weight. I think if you restrict or forbid a certain food, you just end up wanting it more. This has led to a binge-eating problem for me, which I’m still struggling to overcome.

At the moment I’m trying to listen to my cravings more. If I want something, I’m tryig to let myself have it. If I don’t, it becomes all I can think about and I end up binging.

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Lindsey (Mrs. LC) June 28, 2009

Check out this interesting article – it’s about a man who had prostate cancer and had to go through an agressive treatment of hormone therapy, thus hormonally rendering him a woman for 6 months. I found it so interesting (he mentions battling things like hot flashes, emotions, CRAVINGS!)

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/02/my-brief-life-as-a-woman/?scp=7&sq=prostate%20cancer%20estrogen%20food%20hot%20flashes&st=cse

This article should be a must-read for EVERY MAN to understand us women better. :) Have a fantastic day, Ange!

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Kath June 28, 2009

I’ve learned to just acknowledge the craving. Sometimes you feel like your’e going to die if you don’t eat something but if you just sit through it and think about it like any other emotion, it really does go away.

I love evolutionary explanations for things too :)

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Lynn June 28, 2009

This was great advice and study!!! :)

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Lauren June 28, 2009

When I am in my ‘weight-loss mode’ I get zero cravings-seriously! I guess I just put my mind to something and that’s that! However, when I start eating “normally” and balanced again that is when I get cravings and I am usually in a much healthier mental state then in my diet mode.

Awesome post Angela…as usual!! :)

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Adi (oatonomy.com) June 28, 2009

I’m a sugar-craver, for sure. I avoid cane sugars at all cost, so sometimes I have to satisfy it with ultra sweet fruit — doesn’t always work! ;)
My cravings are more intense when they’re related to hormones. I also crave sweets when I’m stressed.
Something worth thinking about… we can have cravings for healthy things, too! Warm weather always makes me want fresh salads, grilled vegetables and fresh fruit. Not all cravings are unhealthy ones… phewf!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) June 28, 2009

Adi- Looove that thought- healthy cravings of course! :)

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Jenn Eats Nutritiously Now June 28, 2009

I do get lots of cravings. I think I actually get less cravings when I am trying to lose weight, though. Not sure how that works.

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Katherine June 28, 2009

I definitely get more cravings when I’m trying to restrict my food – as soon as I tell myself that something is off limits, it’s all I can think about!

I just have to remind myself to crowd out those cravings with healthier foods, for the most part. Then, if I want something very badly, I’ll have a small piece of whatever it was I was craving.

For example, I went out for brunch this morning and knew I wanted some fresh fruit. Everyone else got bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, etc. I had a bagel with a fruit salad and it was perfect! On my way home, I was craving peanut butter M&Ms (frozen, oddly enough) so I bought a big bag and it’s sitting in the freezer. I know it’s there for whenever I want it and I don’t have to fixate on it. I’ll have a snack later and then maybe a few M&Ms if I’m in the mood!

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Meghan@traveleatlove June 28, 2009

I don’t get cravings that often, but when I do, totally take it as a sign my body needs something. Normally I can be in the frame of mind to think about it and make a good decison to satiate it rather than mowing everything in my path!

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Kristen June 28, 2009

This is kind of off topic but lately I have been having cravings for ketchup on my veggie burgers. I am trying to stay away from extra sugar though so I decided to add tomato paste like you do, oh my gosh its delicious! I am having another burger tonight just because it tastes soo yummy. Great suggestion!

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Conny June 28, 2009

Hey there Angela, I just now stumbled over your blog and I’m still working my way through your archives (thank god for avid posters!). I just wanted to leave you a quick comment how much I’m enjoying your blog. I like your longer thoughts (like the one above), the posts about your baking, your sports, whatever. You always seem so upbeat and genuinely happy with what you’re doing. I hope your blog will encourage me a bit to stop moaning about things I want to change and just go for it ;)

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Heather @ Health, Happiness, and Hope June 28, 2009

Another great topic Angela! I ALWAYS listen to my cravings. I believe it’s another way of my body telling me what it wants/needs. If what I’m craving isn’t exactly “good” for me at that time, I’ll try to figure out WHY I’m craving it, what it is I’m craving about that food (taste, saltiness, cruchiness, coldness, etc), try to find something to satisfy those needs. I think it’s so important to acknowledge craving and understand that they are not a bad thing! :)

xxoo
Heather

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Heather @ Health, Happiness, and Hope June 28, 2009

Another great topic Angela! I ALWAYS listen to my cravings. I believe it’s another way of my body telling me what it wants/needs. If what I’m craving isn’t exactly “good” for me at that time, I’ll try to figure out WHY I’m craving it, what it is I’m craving about that food (taste, saltiness, cruchiness, coldness, etc), try to find something to satisfy those needs. I think it’s so important to acknowledge craving and understand that they are not a bad thing! :)

xxoo
Heather
P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!

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Christina June 28, 2009

On the rare occasion that I’m really craving something, I always make sure to have it – even if it has to be in moderation!

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Amy June 28, 2009

I listen to my cravings, but then sometimes I regret it. Like last night, I was craving a hamburger, but we were on the highway, so we pulled over for some McDonald’s….it didn’t taste that great, and I know that stuff is so bad for me. So sometimes, it’s OK not to listen to your cravings. What I could’ve done was pack a snack for the car ride.

btw, did anyone notice the barely-clothed woman standing behind the chocolate bar in that main photo? LOL, maybe I’m just crazy.

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Mara @ What's for Dinner? June 28, 2009

I have constantly been in “weight loss mode” for 3.5 years now…and therefore I have TONS of cravings. I’ve found though, that the mantra “none is easier than some” holds true. A lot of times, if I just avoid the craving altogether, they go away!

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april June 28, 2009

Thanks so much for answering my question about eating desserts. I need to learn that it’s ok to eat something even if I’m not hungry (as long as it’s in moderation and I’ve eaten healthy throughout the day.) Your posts are very inspiring! Thanks again!

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Courtney June 28, 2009

Wow, this was such a great topic to post on! I am excited to see what people have to say!

Thanks :)

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AshleyH aka Organic Girl June 28, 2009

I am currently working with a holistic nutritionist and she says that most of the time when you crave something alot like chocolate for example it is because you body isnt getting some kind of mineral or vitamin. With chocolate it is usually because the body needs magnesium. Interesting huh?

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Chloe June 28, 2009

I definitely get cravings – chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate. I hardly ever want salty or savory items but am happy eating chocolate all day long. The worst is when I’m feeling hormonal or am stressed, but I’ve learned to keep the good stuff in the house and savor it. Just today I had a strawberry sorbet with hot fudge and it was delicious!

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Allison June 28, 2009

Great post, Angela! This goes along so well with what I’ve been focusing on in my posts lately!

Since I committed to eating intuitively three months ago, I have really tried to honor my cravings and I cannot believe what a difference it has made. I used to have INSANE cravings for sugar and would crave cookies, ice cream, and anything chocolate. If I gave in to these, I would see myself as failing for that day which would really set me up for an atrocious sugar binge.

I started eating a lot more fruit the past few months (something I used to limit because of the calories, carbs, and lack of protein), and I’ve found that my sugar cravings are almost completely gone. I think my cravings were produced by a real bodily need for sugars! I feel so free now and when I do eat chocolate, I feel so in control and not on the verge of binging like I used to. These items are no longer on the forbidden list and I no longer crave them specifically.

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Alicia June 28, 2009

I’m always craving buffalo chicken. i’ve made a grilled chicken that suffices, so i have to remind myself that it’s a good sub!

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Jessica June 28, 2009

great post! I have read a lot about this and i try and always listen to my body and decide what it might want. sometimes i do give in fully, but normally only if i’ve been eating too little and my craving is too strong.
-muffy

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MarathonVal June 28, 2009

I definitely find myself craving more when I am in diet mode!!! For example, when I was in Vegas last weekend and knew I would be eating two HUGE buffets each day, I could walk by a Haagen Daz stand and honestly say I had ZERO desire for it because I knew I was eating sweets already on a regular basis. But now, back home in the Midwest, I would do ANYTHING for an enormous bowl of ice cream right now! Funny how that works :)

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Angela (Oh She Glows) June 28, 2009

I love reading over everyone’s comments! It is clear that we all deal with cravings in ways that work for us and I think that is awesome!

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Katharina June 28, 2009

What is your take on cravings? Do you get them often? When are you most likely to get them?
Do you find you get more cravings when you are in ‘weight-loss mode’?

I think cravings are fine, and not a big deal. I have a roommate that gets really strong cravings for cakes and I love that she doesn’t feel bad about it. It’s refreshing to see someone have a healthy relationship with food and appreciate a whole slice of cake without feeling bad! But I don’t understand why people get such strong cravings because I rarely do. It might be because I incorporate an array of flavors in a lot of my eats. Also I don’t forbid foods that are seen as “bad”.

Hmm.. well let’s see, I don’t think I can answer the other question fairly as I am definitely not in weight-loss mode :)

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Katharina June 28, 2009

Oh! I just read Adi’s post and I do crave things but more like… I crave something fresh.. warm.. or simple. I think I have those kinds of cravings and most of it is affected by weather.

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Tay June 29, 2009

I’ve never been huge on cravings. Rarely do I get PMS chocolate cravings – and it’s weird for me! But I do often feel “unsatisfied” after a meal, and need something sweet to balance it out. So I often times have a few chocolate chips, or pour myself a glass of no sugar added cranberry juice…something with a sweet & different taste to end my meal with.

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Tay June 29, 2009

Oh, to edit, I actually do notice that I crave fruits & veggies a lot if I’ve been lacking!

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The Running Yogini June 29, 2009

Oh, I definitely get cyclical cravings, but I try not to go overboard with it. If I really want something and the thought of that “treat” makes me excited than I’ll go ahead an enjoy because its worth it to me. I think it does balance out because sometimes I’ll notice I haven’t had a sweet treat in a couple days. I’ve found that some sweet cravings can lead to others and some foods end cravings. If I have really darks chocolate, then I feel less likely to want more treats after eating it, but milk chocolate (like the gelato I bought) makes me keep craving more and more sweets. Sometimes I’ll have something like a hot ball to end my sweet tooth cravings.

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Jess June 29, 2009

I have discovered that if I’m craving a particular food (usually some particular flavor combo is my game) that it’s best for me to just have a little bite of that craving than to try and ignore it or “sub it” Otherwise I will eat 1/2 the house trying to satisfy whatever craving it is whereas a little taste in the first place would have solved it!

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thedaintypig July 12, 2009

Hi Angela!! I love love love your blog! I’m not sure if i’ve commented before, so if not: hi! I’m Jess (a fellow Canadian) from the dainty pig (www.thedaintypig.com).

This post really caught my eye because I also took an evolutionary psych class during my undergrad, and it was AWESOME! Looking at our evolutionary history is so relevant to everything in our modern way of living: from our cravings, like you mentioned, to our mate choices!

Your blog is wonderful, and I love reading it! I just wanted to say congratulations on getting your bakery and everything else going! It seems like you are on a truly happy path–keep up the great work!

xoxo

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