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Junk Food Cravings Are Just as Bad for Your Wallet as They Are for Your Health

April 3, 2018, 4:50 PM UTC

A new study confirms what you likely already know: Few things can stop us from hunting down the foods we crave.

A study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that people are willing to overpay when they’re craving junk food — underscoring just how powerful these feelings are.

In one experiment, 44 non-dieters who had not eaten for four hours were asked how much they wanted 15 different snack foods, as well as how much they would pay for each item out of a $5 budget. Next, each person went through a multi-sensory experience meant to prompt cravings for one of three desirable foods: a Snickers bar, Cheetos or a Coke. They were then asked how much they wanted that particular item, and how much they would pay for it.

Not only did desire increase, but the researchers also found that participants were willing to pay an average of $0.66 more for the item they had been made to want, and an average of $0.26 more for similar snacks. When presented with less-similar (and, thus, healthier) items, such as a granola bar or pretzels, they were not willing to pay as much, suggesting that cravings operate distinct from general hunger.

In a second experiment, the researchers repeated the process with 45 people. This time, however, individuals could opt to pay for one, two, three, five or eight “units” of whatever they’d been made to crave. This time, the researchers found that people were also willing to pay disproportionately more for larger quantities of whatever food they desired.

Taken together, the results demonstrate the power of cravings — whether for food or something else.

“Even if people strive to eat healthier or endorse drug-free lifestyles,” the researchers write in the paper, “craving could overshadow the value of health by boosting the value of unhealthy foods or drugs.”

On the bright side, however, the researchers estimated the effects of subjects’ cravings would dissipate within two hours, and potentially less time if “this good is not available, or when a person engages in self-regulation.” If you’re able to wait it out, then, you may be able to resist the lure of junk food.