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Study Sheds Light on
Sweet and Salty Cravings

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A desire for chocolate may be a signal you are tired and the urge for salty snacks or milk products may indicate your body wants a real meal, according to results of a study on food cravings.

The study, conducted in France, also found that women crave food more often than men do, and seem to have their strongest cravings if they are blue or anxious. Men, on the other hand, indulge their stomachs more often when they are happy.

The complete findings are published in the March issue of the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

Food craving is defined as a strong urge to eat a certain food or type of food. It has been mainly studied in women and in clinical settings where it has been shown to be common in obese or overweight individuals and in people with eating disorders, explained lead author Lionel Lafay of INSERM in Villejuif, France.

``We aimed at studying this phenomenon in a (community-based) normal-weight population. This investigation is part of general research on weight preoccupations,'' Lafay told Reuters Health.

In the study, the investigators gathered information about the food cravings and eating habits of 538 women and 506 men. The study participants kept diaries of eating habits and filled out questionnaires that also assessed their emotional and physical characteristics.

``Subjects were considered to be cravers if they experienced a strong urge to eat specific foods at least once a week during the 6 months (prior to being surveyed).'' They were specifically ''asked about their mood and hunger at the times they indulged in their cravings,'' the authors explain.

``We observed twice as much food craving in women (28%) than in men (13%),'' Lafay told Reuters Health. ``Though food craving episodes were not associated with weight status, they were strongly related to weight concern,'' he added.

``Subjects, particularly women, who craved were more frequently on diets or reported restricting their diet, had unstable weight, felt more frequently too heavy and wanted more frequently to lose weight,'' he said.

Lafay noted that ``another interesting finding was that mood was related to food cravings but in a different way according to gender. A majority of female cravers experienced a more (depressed) mood state during the day, and a negative mood--such as annoyance, boredom, and depression--preceded the craving episodes. In contrast, men more commonly indulged in food craving in association with a feeling of happiness.''

What biological factors may be at play to cause women to crave food more than men do?

``The gender difference observed could be due to a higher degree of weight concern in women. Social pressure for thinness--more pronounced in women--may (cause them to) more frequently restrict their diet and to follow a diet to lose weight. As these practices are associated with food cravings, they could be one explanation,'' Lafay said.

Another possible explanation could be that women experience a different relationship between food and mood. However, the relationships between food and mood are very complex, as is their underlying biological and psychological determination, Lafay noted.

For example, Lafay said, food craving does not appear to be a simple product of the need for calories and energy.

The simple act of depriving oneself of food can explain for food craving in some cases, but ``in our study, food craving was related to a 'desire' and not to a 'need' for a majority of subjects, which confirms the important rule of psychological factors,'' Lafay pointed out.

``Furthermore, subjects who reported being hungry craved more frequently for salted foods whereas others subjects reported craving for sweet foods,'' he said.

SOURCE: International Journal of Eating Disorders 2001;29:195-204.


Reference Source 89

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