We have all been there, desperately craving that food that we know is not good for us. For anybody that has ever tried to lose weight or eat a more balanced diet know just how powerful food cravings can be.
However, there is good news from science. According to a review of 28 peer-reviewed journals, food cravings can be reduced.
The review was undertaken by Dr. Frank Greenway and Dr. Candida Rebello, from Pennington Biomedical research center.
Cravings are strong but the behavior is stronger
They found that a combination of changes in diet, prescription medications, physical activity, and bariatric surgery can reduce food cravings. The research was driven by weight-loss research.
"Craving influences what people eat and their body weight, but there are some components of our behavior and diet that we do have control over," Myers said.
"Being mindful of these desires gives us more control of them."
Cravings are a conditioned response
One interesting finding is that going cold turkey on your most sought-after foods does actually help to reduce cravings. It is a misconception that eating less of your favorite foods is a way to tackle intense cravings.
However, this sort of restricted diet requires some intense emotional energy; the doctors say it can be done.
"The upside of craving is that it is a conditioned response that you can unlearn," said John Apolzan, Ph.D., director of Pennington Biomedical Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism Laboratory.
"It's not easy, but it can be done."
Obesity drugs do work
The journal review found some other key takeaways when considering how to minimize or stop unhealthy food cravings.
These include the knowledge that losing weight does help you to reduce cravings, so if that is your goal, getting started by losing some weight can help you overcome the intensity of other cravings.
In bad news though, the researchers found that exercise can increase cravings as the body hunts for satisfying fuel. Unsurprisingly, the research found cravings are a huge dictator of our eating behaviors and weight gain.
The researchers say cravings can account for as much as 11 percent of our behavior far more than our genetics currently explains.
Prescription drugs designed for weight loss are effective, phentermine, lorcaserin, semaglutide, and liraglutide among others, prescribed to patients who are obese do work well in the fight against cravings.
Body size and weight loss is a very personal issue. Even with cutting-edge research into weight loss and exercise, there are still many aspects of our bodies and minds response to food that we do not know about.
The journal review from Pennington goes some way to begin to understand the way we create and respond to food cravings, but there is much more work to be done.
Mainly, looking at groups from varying socioeconomic, racial is a crucial need as well as expanding the studies into other demographically diverse backgrounds.
"Food craving is an important piece of the weight-loss puzzle. It does not explain weight gain 100 percent," Myers said.
"A number of other factors, including genetics and eating behavior, are also involved." researchers study the effect of prescription treatment alone and in exploratory combination on food cravings.