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Food Craving Intensity and Gender Differences 

Iva Klimesova, Milan Elfmark, and Jiri Stelzer

ajhe cover May June 2020

Food craving is often defined as “the intense desire to eat a specific food.” Typically, people eat when they are hungry. However, the desire to eat could be influenced by many different factors and stimuli. The smell of fresh bread could influence a food craving for bread, and the sight of the bakery could influence a food craving for anything sweet. Also, food cravings were found to be focused on foods which people consider tasting good, with a high content of sugar and low nutrition values, rather than those consisting of high-quality nutrition.

In the past, researchers studied the reasons for and consequences of food cravings. The amount of stimulus or reward sensitivity that people get through consuming food is a great predictor of food craving intensity. Pavlov used dogs in his research to study psychological responses to a stimulus and found out that the sound of a bell ringing when giving food caused the dogs to salivate when only the sound of the bell was present. Franken and Muris used Gray’s Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory in an attempt to explain how different stimuli or reward sensitivity may determine what causes an individual’s cravings. They confirmed Pavlov’s finding that the relationship between a stimulus or reward sensitivity and food cravings was positively correlated. They also stated that “Food craving is driven by the presence of a stimulus that predicts the rewarding effect of food.” Later research, however, focused more on a combination of impulsivity/reward sensitivity. Giel et al., after his review of 20 studies since 2012 on obesity/binge eating disorder concluded that stimulus or reward sensitivity plays a role in earlier stages of overeating, while rash impulsivity plays a greater role in the progression to more additive food consumption.

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