Do you ever find yourself craving junk food? Junk food is everywhere. But there are many ways to reduce your cravings for food and learn self-care tips that will help you maintain a healthy diet.
We all know how difficult it can be to stop eating junk food.
It’s in the vending machine at work, it’s on your way home from school or work, and it’s even hiding in your pantry!
We’re drawn to it despite its harmful effects on our health.
How to Stop Eating Junk Food
To stop eating junk food, you must implement three tactics.
- Learn why junk food is addicting (and stop blaming your lack of willpower).
- Invoke strategies to control cravings.
- Build healthy self-care eating habits.
What is junk food?
Junk foods are foods that are high in calories, added sugars, and unhealthy fats.
Most of the processed foods that contain high amounts of salt or sugar are considered junk food. Junk food can include candy, potato chips, soft drinks, ice cream, and cookies.
Many of the pre-packaged foods labeled as snacks are junk food too.
Why do we crave unhealthy junk food?
You may find yourself wondering, “Why can’t I stop eating junk food?” Well, here’s why. Junk food contains sugar, salt, and fats that can trigger the reward center in our brains. When this area in our brain is activated, it releases dopamine, making us feel happy or euphoric. Plus, junk food tastes delicious!
There can be lots of reasons why people have a craving for junk food.
Many people are drawn to the mood-boosting properties of some foods. For example, chocolate effectively reduces stress levels because it contains tryptophan that is converted into serotonin which then becomes melatonin.
Another reason our bodies crave these foods is that we don’t get filled up on them like we would healthy foods. Junk food is easy to binge on, and before you know it, you’ve eaten an entire bag of chips!
But, it’s sometimes hard with some foods to know when to stop eating.
Why is junk food so addictive?
Food manufacturers have become savvy in engineering food that capitalizes on our innate desire to feel good because they want to create lifelong customers who are addicted to the perceived pleasure while eating their products.
They successfully do this by engineering the food to taste the best it possibly can to override our internal ‘stop’ signals and encourage us to eat (and then buy) more.
The more a specific food is eaten, the more it triggers consumers’ brains to crave them. Have you ever had a “sugar crash” after overeating candy or pastries? If so, you know how good it tastes and how bad that crash feels!
So what is it that makes junk foods so darn irresistible? What causes us to keep eating the foods we know are bad for us?
Junk food is engineered to be irresistible, and this is called the bliss point.
The science behind the bliss point
The bliss point is when the person experiences their ultimate eating pleasure, with the right amount of salty, sweet, and fatty flavors. Some might go as far as to say that the bliss point is the perfect amount of sugar, salt, or fat that makes us want more.
Food manufacturers’ ultimate goal is to create foods that spark a cycle of addiction in consumers. They know just how much to add to get us addicted and wanting more, so they aim for the “bliss point” in a product. In essence, food manufacturers have learned how to create food that alters our internal hunger cues. This is what keeps junk food companies in the business!
The bliss point also connects to how our senses react when we’re consuming food. When we eat something, all of our senses are activated. For example, our sense of smell, the aroma, is the first thing that entices us to eat food. This can be overwhelming – one whiff, and we’re hooked!
To combat responding to the bliss point and being overwhelmed by all food cues, you must reduce your “food cue reactivity.” This is defined as your susceptibility to being influenced by the food smells, advertisements, and conversations surrounding you every day. Researchers believe that this is the most important strategy you can use to fight junk food cravings.
Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that teaching people to identify their food cravings is key to reducing junk food cravings. Just being aware that you are craving something can help reduce the intensity of your desires for it.
Whether you love sweets or prefer salty foods, it pays to know the foods that send you down the non-ending spiral of junk food binging.
What are the harmful effects of eating junk food?
Junk food can lead to adverse health consequences such as weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, overall poor health, and early death. But, on the other hand, good health is not something you want to risk, mainly because many healthy foods taste good. After you break the junk food addiction, you’ll find healthy food tastes even more delicious than fake foods!
How to tell if you’re craving junk food and eating mindlessly
1) You eat more than usual during a specific time, such as late at night.
2) You feel intense cravings for unhealthy foods even when you’re full or not hungry.
3) You find you buy certain types of healthy food, but they go bad before you can eat them.
If these events are happening, first, ask yourself what is your mood when eating these foods? For example, do you have a craving to feel happy, content, and relaxed?
If you crave something sugary or fatty, it isn’t because your body needs that. Instead, the bliss point triggers our brains to seek a reward so we don’t feel down in the dumps. But if we’re feeling upset, we often can be drawn to comfort foods to mask our emotions and feel better.
Sugar has been shown to increase serotonin levels, which boosts mood, reduces anxiety, and enhances feelings of well-being. This is why it’s so easy to reach for something sweet when you’re feeling down. This explains why you might find yourself craving a doughnut or bag of chips at the end of a long day!
Try to avoid those bad foods as much as possible and seek comfort from other self-care methods instead, such as going for a walk or taking a warm bath with some soothing music, or lighting scented candles.
As a sidebar, to stop eating junk food at night, you’ll need to break your nightly habits or start substituting healthier foods.
And if you’re a parent of a teenager, and you’ve never worked on not eating junk food before, you can use these tips to teach them how to stop eating junk food even as a teenager. There is no time that is too late to start eating healthier foods.
What junk foods are the main culprits for food cravings?
1) Fried food (French fries, battered chicken, etc.)
2) Sweets (desserts, candies)
3) Fast food
4) Regular sodas
5) Processed meats
6) Processed bread and refined grains (e.g., white bread)
If you feel deprived of junk food, this can lead to anger, sadness, and anxiety. So if you’re craving something sweet or fried instead of something healthy, get creative with other methods that comfort you – like taking a walk in the park, listening to some soothing music, making some yoga moves, or reading your favorite book.
Now that you understand why we crave junk food and how it works let’s go through some tips to overcome those cravings.
Strategies to control your cravings
There are lots of ways to reduce junk food cravings. But, to be the most strategic, remember you must decrease your “food cue reactivity.” A food cue reactivity is defined as your susceptibility to being influenced by the smells, advertisements, and food conversations surrounding you every day.
The most important strategy is to start eating real food. When you replace healthy foods with junk food, you’ll ingest the nutrients from the more nutritious food, and your cravings for the fake food will decrease.
That said, junk food cravings are a primary cause for people to get derailed from their healthy eating plans. Once derailed, cravings can lead to unhealthy eating habits and be the biggest obstacle to weight loss. Thankfully, it helps to know how junk food is engineered.
Craving something sugary or fatty isn’t because your body needs that; the bliss point triggers our brains to seek a reward. So, if you do get derailed, recognize what happened and jump back on the wagon immediately. As you see, it’s not about a lack of willpower and, therefore, it won’t help you to beat yourself up emotionally.
Plus, you can use your derailment experience as a way to learn more helpful facts about your food triggers. For example, not all junk foods will be tempting to you, so knowing which foods trigger your cravings give you valuable information that provides insight into what food cues you need to avoid.
Here is a List of Tips to Help You Control Your Food Cravings
- Plan ahead – make healthy foods for meals and snacks available.
- Eat a healthy breakfast – A healthy, filling breakfast can help reduce junk food cravings. (Don’t skip breakfast!)
- Eat more protein – protein helps control hunger
- Include fiber – Fiber is shown to positively impact blood sugar levels, which can help reduce cravings.
- Supplement with chromium – Chromium has been shown as an effective supplement for reducing carbohydrate cravings.
- Bring more fruit to your diet.
- Place healthy food and snack options insight.
- Build balanced meals.
- Have a snack drawer (filled with healthy snack options).
- Don’t starve yourself.
The long-term effects of junk food are very harmful, so it’s essential to control your food cravings and practice healthy self-care methods to feel strong and stay mindful of what is happening to improve your eating habits.
Self-care Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Eating Habits and Eat Less Junk Food
Practicing self-care habits that set you up for eating healthy foods can go a long way towards learning how to stop eating junk food and lose weight (if that is one of your goals).
Weight management can be challenging due to our body’s chemical responses, behavior, and the highly processed foods we’ve been conditioned to crave.
Here is a List of Self-care Tips to Stop Eating Junk Food (and Sugar)
- Set healthy boundaries so you can prevent negative emotional responses.
- Eat meals at home. With fewer meals being prepared in the house, fewer Americans are being raised with the skill of cooking.
- Eat a rainbow of colors every 1-2 days.
- Learn to see self-care differently. Healthy eating habits are a way to treat your body like a holy temple.
- Eat smaller meals – Eating more frequently and smaller meals help control blood sugar and insulin levels, both of which can trigger hunger and cravings for sugary foods.
- Manage your stress.
- Eat proper serving sizes of any food you eat.
- Focus on adding healthy foods (not denying yourself food).
- Learn how to spot alternative names for sugar on food labels.
- Break up routines that journey towards eating junk food.
- Make time to sit down when you eat so you can be mindful of what and how much you are eating.
- Drink more water.
- Get the right amount of sleep.
- Pack your lunch with healthy options for work or school.
- Work on saying no when you are offered junk food.
- Have healthy snacks available.
Don’t try to implement all of these tips and strategies at once.
For example, to successfully resist food in front of you, or stop eating junk food when you’re bored, choose one or two tips from above to start with, then add one or two tips at a time after you’ve cemented those tips into habits.
In conclusion, it’s definitely possible to learn how to stop eating junk food. In fact, if you can give yourself a goal of eating no junk food for a month, the results will probably shock you!
The two most important messages are to start eating real food – when you replace healthy foods with junk food, you’ll be getting all the nutrients you need. And secondly, to think about what you should be eating to nourish your body, acknowledge how you feel at the moment (physically and emotionally), and try doing another activity, like taking a walk or calling a friend, to help reduce those cravings.
The best strategy is to eat foods prepped and ready, but don’t hesitate to use these tips if you do get derailed. As you continue eating healthy foods for meals and snacks, your cravings will diminish on their own!
I hope this article on how to stop eating junk food was helpful to you!
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Hi, I’m Lisa! Thanks for visiting My Life Nurse, where we provide people who serve and take care of others with easy self-care plans and systems, wellness strategies, and scripture-based encouragement so you can stay happy, healthy and rejuvenated. I’ve found that many people struggle with caring for themselves while taking care of others, but they also feel called to serve others, so they keep working even when they’re stressed and exhausted. That’s why I combine my nursing expertise with Scripture-based teaching. Our readers love learning how to walk closer to the Lord to improve their self-care – so they can begin their journey to feel better – without feeling guilty. Be sure to grab your FREE Self-care StarTer Guide!