A role for mental imagery in the experience and reduction of food cravings
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The term “craving” refers to a strong motivational state, which compels an individual to seek and ingest a particular substance. It usually refers to alcohol, tobacco, or drugs, but has become increasingly applied to food. Thus, food cravings refer to an intense desire or urge to eat a specific food. It is this specificity that distinguishes a craving from ordinary food choices and hunger. In Western societies, the most commonly craved foods are those high in fat, sugar, and salt, such as cake, chips, pizza, ice-cream, and in particular chocolate. Most people experience cravings for such palatable foods on occasion without any problem. However, food cravings can pose significant health risks for some people. Most notably, they can contribute to the development of obesity and disordered eating, increasingly serious global health issues. This has prompted a surge of investigations into the mechanisms that underlie the experience of food craving with a view to developing effective craving reduction techniques. The present paper focuses specifically on cravings for food, and the role of mental imagery in the experience and reduction of such cravings. For excellent reviews of the theoretical underpinnings of craving and addiction more broadly, we refer the reader to recent works by May and colleagues. We take a more applied perspective here and critically evaluate the practical significance of imagery-based craving reduction interventions.