Journal article Open Access

It's craving time: Time of day effects on momentary hunger and food craving in daily life

Reichenberger, Julia; Richard, Anna; Smyth, Joshua M.; Fischer, Dana; Pollatos, Olga; Blechert, Jens

Objective. A key determinant of food intake besides hunger is food craving, which refers to an intense desire to consume a specific food. Although both frequently co-occur, they are conceptually different and their dissociation is thought to underlie unhealthy eating (e.g., eating in the absence of hunger). To date, we know almost nothing about their coherence (or dissociation) in daily life, or about the role of time of the day and different food types.

Research Methods & Procedure. The present investigation assessed both hunger and food craving for several food categories in daily life using smartphone-based ecological momentary assessment. Across three independent studies (n = 50, n = 51 and n = 59), participants received five/six prompts a day and reported their momentary hunger and desire for tasty food (a subcomponent of food craving).

Results. Consistent across studies, hunger and desire for tasty food exhibited largely similar patterns throughout the day with two peaks (roughly corresponding to lunch and dinner). Examining more specific food categories, study 3 showed that while desire for main meal-type foods showed a two peak pattern in coherence with hunger, this pattern was different for snacktype foods: desire for fruits decreased, whereas desire for sweets and salty snacks increased throughout the day with less coherence with hunger.

Conclusions. These findings suggest that dissociations between hunger and craving are seen only for snack-type foods while hunger and general food cravings cohere strongly. Interventions addressing snacking may take these circadian patterns of food cravings into account.

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