A Cognitive Experimental Approach to Understanding and Reducing Food Cravings

Eva Kemps, Marika Tiggemann
2010 Current Directions in Psychological Science  
Food cravings are a common everyday experience. Yet, they can pose significant health risks for some people. Following initial investigations into the phenomenology, antecedents and consequences of food cravings, recent scientific interest has turned to the underpinnings of the actual craving experience itself. In this article, we outline a conceptual framework for studying food cravings that is grounded in cognitive experimental psychology, along with our corresponding program of research. In
more » ... articular, we present converging evidence from a number of seemingly disparate lines of research into the cognitive processes that underlie food cravings with a view to developing a craving-reduction technique. The term "craving" is used to describe the strong motivational state which compels an individual to seek and ingest a particular substance, usually drugs. More recently, however, the term has become increasingly applied to food, as illustrated in the title of Marion Hetherington's 2001 book: "Food cravings and addiction". Thus food cravings refer to an intense desire or urge to eat a specific food. It is this specificity which distinguishes food cravings from 'ordinary' hunger. We crave a particular chocolate bar, rather than food in general, and often do so in the absence of hunger. Indeed, chocolate is one of the most commonly craved foods in Western society, particularly by women (resulting in the popular term "chocoholic"), along with chips, pizza, cake and ice-cream. Most of us experience food cravings on occasion, and these are not necessarily pathological. However, like cravings for cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine or drugs, they can pose significant health risks for some individuals. In particular, food cravings have been shown to trigger binge eating episodes, which in turn, contribute to both obesity and disordered eating, especially bulimia nervosa, increasingly serious problems for Western societies. In addition, food cravings can give rise to feelings of guilt and shame if followed by unwanted consumption. While the earliest record of food cravings dates back to the late 17 th century when Martin Lister described the chocolate cravings in Parisian women as "a false hunger" (Hetherington, 2001) , psychological interest in food cravings is relatively recent. Initial investigations focused primarily on documenting the phenomenology, antecedents and consequences of food cravings, such as the incidence of naturallyoccurring food cravings, and emotional and environmental triggers of food craving (e.g., feelings of boredom or depression, and the sight or smell of food) (for a review, see Hill, 2007) . More recent research, however, has focused on the actual craving 1. Address correspondence to Eva Kemps,
doi:10.1177/0963721410364494 fatcat:vldvq54lyvfzfctulxwj5oigmi