Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

Research Article

The psychology of food craving*

Symposium on ‘Molecular mechanisms and psychology of food intake’

on 3–6 July 2006, The Summer Meeting of the Nutrition Society, was held at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre, Aberdeen.

Andrew J. Hilla1 c1

a1 Academic Unit of Psychiatry & Behavioural Sciences, School of Medicine, University of Leeds, 15 Hyde Terrace, Leeds LS2 9LT, UK


Cravings are hedonic responses to food, characterised by their intensity and their specificity. Food cravings are extremely common, reported by the majority of young adults. They are closely associated with liking but not synonymous with increased intake. Structured interviews and prospective incident accounts of food cravings have succeeded in revealing a richness of information about their character, their antecedents and their consequences. In addition, laboratory investigations are adding to what is being learned from field and clinical studies. Taking dieting as an example of an assumed influence on food craving, the outcomes of cross-sectional studies are mixed and unconvincing. Prospective and experimental research shows a clearer relationship. Dieting or restrained eating generally increase the likelihood of food craving while fasting makes craving, like hunger, diminish. Attempted restriction or deprivation of a particular food is associated with an increase in craving for the unavailable food. This relationship suggests a variety of underlying cognitive, conditioning and emotional processes, of which ironic cognitive processes, conditioned cue reactivity and dysphoric mood are prominent. Food cravings may also be self-attributions, accounting for why a highly-palatable but self-restricted food is (over-)consumed. Overall, the popularised account of cravings as elicited by specific nutritional need is having to give way to a more subtle and complex appreciation of human eating behaviour.


c1 Corresponding author: Professor Andrew Hill, fax +44 113 2433719, email


* The other papers from this symposium were published in Proceedings of the Nutrition Society (2007), 66, 113–155.