Food Cravings, Mood, and Nicotine Addiction

Smoking cessation is one of the most common risk factors for weight gain and there is little doubt that in some people food activates exactly the same hedonic pathways as does nicotine and other drugs – this is why for some people, food is very much an addiction.

In fact, previous studies have shown that people who abstain from smoking, not only tend to give in to food cravings more often, but as cravings for cigarettes become more intensified, so do cravings for starchy carbohydrates and fats. These food are also well know to improve dysphoric moods (anxiety, depression, and irritability) that typically accompany nicotine withdrawal.

A new study published this month in OBESITY further illustrates these striking similiarities in food cravings and mood states between obese women and women who smoke tobacco.

In this study, Yanina Pepino and colleagues form the Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, PA, USA, assessed food cravings in 229 women who differed in smoking history (i.e., never smoker, former smoker, and current smoker) and body weight (i.e., normal weight, overweight, and obese).

Each subject completed the Food Craving Inventory (FCI), which measures cravings for sweets, high fats, carbohydrates/starches, and fast-food fats, and the Profile of Mood States (POMS), which measures psychological distress.

Both smoking and obesity were found to be independently associated with specific food cravings and mood states (particularly depression and anger). Current smokers clearly craved high fats more frequently than former and never smokers. They also craved starches more frequently and felt more depressed and angry than never smokers, but not former smokers.

From these findings the authors conclude that while cravings for starchy foods and poor mood may be characteristic of women who are likely to smoke, more frequent cravings for fat among smokers is related to smoking per se.

Similarly, obese women craved high fats more frequently than nonobese women and depression symptoms were intensified with increasing body weights.

The overlapping neuroendocrine alterations associated with obesity and smoking and the remarkable similarities in food cravings and mood states between women who smoke and women who are obese suggest that common biological mechanisms modulate cravings for fat in these women.

Unfortunately, while smoking can be addressed by “smoking cessation” programs it is highly unlikely that we will be able to address the obesity epidemic with “eating cessation” programs.

Nevertheless, the recognition that smoking and food cravings interact with mood and involve the same hedonic neuronal pathways, may well lead to treatments that can target both nicotine and food addiction.

Edmonton, Alberta