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How to Deal with Food Cravings

Posted by Joan Salge Blake August 26, 2013 05:44 PM

Photo Source:  Nutrition & You
Many people have them.  It is an all-encompassing feeling.   Your body is craving for chocolate, chips, or whatever, and you have to have it.  You begin hunting through your kitchen cupboards looking for the specific food or anything close to it that you think will satisfy that food craving.  You’re not content until you eat it.

Food cravings, which are an intense desire for a specific food and the overwhelming desire to obtain and consume it, occur in over 50 percent to up to 97 percent of individuals.  By far, chocolate is the most frequently cited food that cravers would “die for” with salty snacks such as chips and French fried potatoes as a close second, according to a study in the International Journal of Obesity.  

While the exact cause of food cravings is still unknown, there are multiple theories as to why people have these intense feelings for a food.   Some studies suggest that restricting your food intake, aka, dieting, can trigger these cravings.  In a study of almost 130 women, those who were dieting to lose weight had significantly more intense craving for chocolate than non-dieters.  This is the Adam and Eve syndrome.  If you make a food “forbidden,” you are going to want it more.

Sleep deprivation can be another trigger.  Researchers at the University of California Berkeley purposely deprived healthy young adults of sleep and monitored their food choices.  They also monitored the change in their brain activity using a specialized type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that measures blood flow to the brain.  In a sleep-deprived state, the subjects not only had a change in their brain activity but also an increased yen for sweet and salty foods.   “What we have discovered is that high-level brain regions required for complex judgments and decisions become blunted by a lack of sleep, while more primal brain structures that control motivation and desire are amplified,” says Matthew Walker, a professor of psychology and neuroscience, and senior author of the study.  In other words, when you are at a restaurant and tired, the more complex decision to skip dessert because you want to stay on your diet and fit into your jeans is overtaken by the immediate desire for “Death by Chocolate,” which is calling out your name under the dessert section of the menu.

Hunger can also feed into food cravings.  In a study at Tufts University, the food cravings of 32 healthy women were accessed prior to restricting their typical calorie intake by 10 to 30 percent daily.    After 6 months of a restricted calorie intake, hunger was shown to significantly increase the frequency and intensity of their food cravings compared to when their calorie intake was not restricted.  

Lastly, cravings can be a release for emotional issues such as stress and boredom, according to  Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, author of Read It Before You Eat It. “Keeping a food journal can help identify food cravings and potential emotions that may trigger them.”  Once these triggers are identified, “taking a walk, calling someone, or taking a bath may help you relieve your stress or boredom for less calories and potentially less regrets rather than eating.”

If you experience food cravings, here are some tips that may help you reduce or minimize your intense yen for specific foods:
  • When dieting to lose weight, you may want to factor in a 50 to 100 calorie daily or weekly “treat” so you don’t feel deprived.  If you are craving chocolate, buy an individually wrapped small piece of a good quality chocolate such as a Lindt chocolate ball that you can often get in convenience stores.  Walk to the local store, buy only one, and savor every bite.
  • Don’t run yourself ragged.  Get an adequate amount of sleep nightly so that your brain is rested and you are mentally stronger to make healthier food choices.
  • Avoid hunger between meals.  If you noticed that you consistently have cravings late in the afternoon, it may be a signal that you are not eating enough at lunch.  Make sure that your meals contain adequate amounts of fruits, veggies, whole grain, and lean protein.  Add some healthy oils for staying power between meals.  If your schedule causes you to delay a meal, plan on a healthy snack to hold you over.
  • Keep a food record to see if there is a pattern to your cravings.  Find “life outside the kitchen” by keeping yourself busy to prevent boredom and look to physical activity to walk off the stress or anxiety during your day.  A quick 10-minute brisk walk may be all you need to manage emotions that are triggering unplanned, impulsive eating.
Do you experience food cravings?  Please post your thoughts.

                                          Follow Joan on Twitter at:  joansalgeblake

If you have a nutrition topic that you like to see covered, please email me at:
Originally published on the blog Nutrition and You!.

Letter from The School Nurse: Your Child is Overweight

Posted by Joan Salge Blake August 19, 2013 10:22 AM
Source: NIH
In an article in today’s journal, Pediatrics, Dr. Michael R. Flaherty, DO, of Baystate Medical Center and Tufts University School of Medicine, reminds us that sending the kids back to school is just around the corner.  Unfortunately, so are the heated debates surrounding the weight and health of America's youth.

From his perspective, Dr. Flaherty outlines the public health benefits when schools screen and inform parents, by a letter sent home, of their child’s body mass index (BMI) and risk of obesity.  BMI is a measure of an individual’s weight in relationship to their height.  Massachusetts is one of 21 states that have policies in place for this type of screening although several Massachusetts state representatives are looking to prohibit the Department of Public Health from doing this in public schools in the future.

According to Dr. Flaherty, this type of school-to-home screening program is intended to inform the parents, so if need be, they can have further discussions with their child’s pediatrician.  Obesity is a growing problem among American children.  Approximately 12 percent of children ages 2 to 5 are obese and 18 percent of those ages 6 to 19 are considered obese.

Because research suggests that an obese child or adolescent is at a higher risk of becoming an obese adult, intervening earlier in life, rather than later, can be an important strategy to combat and reverse adult weight issues.  In the late 1970s, only 15 percent of American adults were obese. This number has more than doubled as over 35 percent currently fall into this category.

Critics of the program point out potential problems such as bullying, increased prevalence of disordered eating, and the misinterpretation of BMI in student athletes.  For example, at 6 foot 4 inches and 225 pounds, Tom Brady has a BMI that would land him in the overweight category.  Clearly, the man is not over-fat but has a large amount of muscle mass that is driving his current weight upward on the BMI charts.

When implemented correctly, the program could work.  According to Josefine Wendel, MS, RD, School Nutrition Coordinator at the Cambridge Public Health Department, “Height and weight have been collected by the Cambridge Public Schools for many years, as part of the PE [physical education] curriculum, but in 2003, we piloted a program to share this information, along with the results of each child’s fitness testing, with the families. The program was evaluated and the majority of parents said that they wanted to see the information.”   The additional good news is that obesity among Cambridge public school children (K–8) decreased from 21 percent in 2004 to 15 percent in 2013.

However, sensitivity and confidentially are important in communicating this information to the parents, says Wendell.  “The report was mailed in a closed envelope addressed to the parents rather than sent home with the child in the backpack.  It is up to the parent to share it with the child.”

For resources on Healthy Weight for Kids and Family, click here

What are your thoughts regarding this issue? 

                                                          Follow Joan on Twitter at: joansalgeblake
Originally published on the blog Nutrition and You!.

To Lose Weight: Eat Breakfast Like a King, Dinner Like a Pauper

Posted by Joan Salge Blake August 12, 2013 07:59 PM
Photo Source: CDC
There may be something to the old adage to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper when it comes to better managing your weight, according to a study published in the journal, Obesity.  Researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) studied how changing the timing of meals by switching between a high calorie breakfast and a high calorie dinner, but keeping the total daily calories the same, would impact weight loss.  In this 12-week study, 50 overweight women were randomly assigned to a 1,400-calorie diet that consisted of a breakfast of 700 calories, a lunch of 500 calories, and a dinner of 200 calories or the same calories and same food choices but with the breakfast and dinner meals switched.

While both groups lost significant amounts of weight, the women consuming the large breakfast lost an average of approximately 19 pounds compared to only about 8 pounds in the large dinner group.   The breakfast group also lost twice as many inches around their waists than the large dinner eaters.  Since the hormone ghrelin, which increases your appetite, was lower during the day in the breakfast group, these women also experienced higher levels of satiety, or that filling of fullness, throughout the day.  In addition, large breakfast eaters also had significantly lower levels of insulin, glucose, and fat in their blood, which may help lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

The secret may lie in the body’s circadian rhythms, which are physical, mental, and behavioral changes in the body and can influence hormone release and other bodily functions.  “Metabolism is impacted by the body’s circadian rhythm, the biological process that the body follows over a 24-hour cycle.  So the time of day we eat can have a big impact on the way our bodies process food,” says Professor Daniela Jakubowicz, MD, of TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the lead researcher of this study.

This isn’t the first study to suggest that eating your larger meal earlier in the day can have some health benefits.  For those trying to lose weight, flipping your calories to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper may help you flip the numbers on the bathroom scale. 

Here are some tips:

  1. Consider having a larger breakfast and smaller dinner. Consuming protein at each meal will help keep you full between meals.
  2. Stop eating after dinner.  Avoid munching in the evening, which is often more due to boredom than hunger.
  3. Make sure that your diet is well-balanced to meet your daily nutrients needs.  Fiber-rich whole fruit, vegetables, and whole grains are important dietary staples that also satisfy hunger between meals. 

Be well, Joan

Follow Joan on Twitter at:  joansalgeblake

If you have a nutrition topic you would like discussed, please email me at
Originally published on the blog Nutrition and You!.

Would You Eat a Lab Grown Hamburger?

Posted by Joan Salge Blake August 5, 2013 03:38 PM
Dr. Mark Post with cultured burger.  Courtesy of Maastricht University
When buying ground beef in future, you may need to not only look on the label to make sure that it is lean but you may have to also decide if you want the variety that came naturally from a cow or the one that was grown in a petri dish. 

Today in London, Professor Mark Post MD, PhD, from Maastricht University in Netherlands unveiled the first lab meat produced using stem cells from cows and grown in his lab.   The stem cells were fed protein, fat, and carbohydrates and cultivated to grow muscle meat.  For more on the process of creating cultured beef, click here.

His goal was achieved today by taking this laboratory grown muscle meat and creating a hamburger.  This is what the hamburger looks like:

Source: Masstricht University
Post has two motivations for creating lab grown meat.  According to the Next Nature Power Show lecture that he delivered, the current way we produce meat for consumption is no longer sustainable to feed the world population.  The problem lies in the inefficiency in which animals convert the protein-rich plant feed that they consume into the meat that we eat.  According to Post, for every 15 grams (about ½ ounce) of edible meat produced by the animal, it takes 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of vegetable protein-rich feed.  Not exactly good math.  The second reason is that the way we currently produce meat is not good for the environment.  According to Post, due to the large amounts of greenhouse gasses generated by the grazing animals and required during the processing of the meat, “a vegetarian in a Hummer is much more environmentally friendly than a meat eater on a bicycle.”  

While it is unlikely that a cultured burger will be in the supermarket any time soon, I think that consumer acceptance is going to be a major issue with trying to sell the public on lab grown meat.  Ironically, this unveiling is coming on the heels of the current push for genetically modified organism (GMO) labeling on foods in order to provide consumers with informed choices when shopping for dinner.   According to the Huffington Post, Connecticut has passed a GMO labeling law and New York, Maine, and Vermont are considering similar legislation. 

So the question is, would you eat meat that was grown from stem cells?  Please post your thoughts below.

Be Well, Joan

                                        Follow Joan on Twitter at:  joansalgeblake

If there is a nutrition topic you want me to blog about, feel free to email me at

Originally published on the blog Nutrition and You!.

About the author

Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, is a clinical associate professor and registered dietitian at Boston University in the Nutrition Program. Joan is the author of Nutrition &You, 2nd Edition, More »

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