Even though eating junk food is one of the easiest ways to gain unwanted weight, beating the habit isn’t easy. It’s so hard to resist the temptation, whether it’s a bag of salty chips or your favourite gooey chocolate bar.
But did you know that there are actually evolutionary reasons for our love affair with sweet, salty and fatty foods? And food manufacturers are very aware of our attraction to those flavours.
Therefore they’ve spent millions of dollars over the years engineering junk foods that taste utterly irresistible to us so we keep coming back for more.
But what if you’re ready to make a change and eat way fewer servings of those delectable treats? (After all, there’s no reason to give them all up forever and ever)
Are there steps you could take to cut back without struggling too much?
Understanding the Science Behind Junk Food Cravings
The Role of Evolution
Did you know that there’s an actual reason for our love affair with sugary, fatty or salty foods? Those flavours were super important for our survival. They helped us choose the right foods. So, it’s not just a coincidence that we crave them.
For instance, [these are just a few general reasons] sweet carb-rich foods provide us with energy, while salt helps with electrolyte balance and fat helps with hormonal health, cell growth, absorption of fat-soluble vitamins etc.
Isn’t it interesting that we don’t crave pure protein even though it’s needed by every cell in the body? Protein is crucial for overall health, and yet we don’t have a craving for it or tastebuds that can detect protein content. Unless that protein is mixed with something else like sweet, carb-rich, salty or fatty ingredients …we don’t care about it. Odd, no?
Anyway….by now, we should no longer need these basic flavour cravings in the same way as our ancient ancestors did. And yet, our brains haven’t been reprogrammed. We’re still acting on those original preferences which we can find in their concentrated forms in junk foods.
Manipulation by Food Manufacturers
Food manufacturers are quite clever in the way they come up with processed foods that can get us hooked…And although those foods taste yummy, if you think about it, they never leave us quite satisfied. Often we get hungry shortly after we’ve had a bag of chips or a chocolate bar.
Recognizing Your Triggers for Eating Junk Food
One of the first steps to breaking free from these highly flavoured foods is identifying the possible triggers that can lead you to eat these foods.
For instance, during times of stress, sadness, or anger many turn to unhelpful foods for comfort. They are being used as a sort of coping mechanism. The pleasure of experiencing those concentrated flavours releases feel-good hormones in our brains. This can lead to the habit of soothing oneself with junk food when things get tough or even just boring.
We’re often surrounded by cues that prompt us to eat junk food, from advertisements to social gatherings. Knowing the triggers that make us want to eat even when we’re not hungry is important. It can help you make plans to avoid those situations.
Let me give you an example: before I go out to a restaurant or a party where I know that there will be higher-calorie foods, I always have something before I arrive at the venue. My favourite trick you can try is having a protein shake before you go out. It will help you feel fuller so you won’t be as tempted by all those eye-popping choices.
Setting Clear Goals and Overcoming Junk Food Temptation
Knowing Your Reasons
Therapists tell us that understanding the ‘why’ and the goal of why you want to give up junk food is important. No matter if it’s for weight loss or improving your health, it can help you stay more motivated.
Strategies to Overcome Temptation
The next step is to create some strategies to overcome junk food cravings. Like the one I mentioned above …before going out, I make sure to have something beforehand. Because if you arrive at the restaurant or party with a growling, empty stomach, you won’t be able to resist temptation.
But if you’re eating too many cookies or chocolate bars at home, then either having healthier alternatives available can work OR as Dr Greger from Nutritionfacts suggests (which is one of my favourite sayings) ‘If you don’t buy it, you can’t eat it’.
Two more tips are distracting yourself when cravings hit or using some mindfulness techniques to stay focused on your goals.
Avoid Restrictive Fad Diets when losing weight
Restrictive very low-calorie weight loss plans can actually work against you when trying to break free from junk food. I found that hunger can make it too challenging to resist cravings. Instead, create only a modest calorie deficit which doesn’t leave you hungry and is much easier to stick with.
Ensure you get enough Protein and Fibre in your Diet
Not because you might get deficient. But protein-rich foods and high-fibre foods keep you fuller for longer. They can help prevent your cravings. And choose to eat foods that fill you up AND eat healthy things that you actually enjoy 🙂
Healthy eating and weight loss aren’t punishment for past eating sins, but self-care.
Have a look at this man’s story and how he overcame his junk food addiction. Would something like this work for you, I wonder?
Staying Motivated and Accountable
Track Your Progress
Keeping a food diary can help pinpoint areas that might need improvement and also see your progress. It’s so motivating when you can see and compare how far you’ve come since last month. Food diaries are also helpful for self-reflection and accountability. When it comes to breaking the habit of eating junk food, we need as many tools as possible. And journaling can be one of them.
Get your friends and relatives involved in your journey
It can be so annoying when others around you are munching on chips and doughnuts right in front of you whilst you’re trying to eat better. Explain to them that their actions are making things more difficult for you. Hopefully, they’ll understand and either join you by eating better as well or at last stop eating that stuff in front of you. Ask them for their support and get them on board.
When you’re trying to make a change in your lifestyle, be prepared because, like most of us, you’ll have some setbacks. But guess what? It’s completely normal! So instead of beating yourself up, think of setbacks as chances to learn and improve.
Think back on what actually caused the setback and figure out ways to handle similar situations in the future. That way, next time you’ll know what to do to avoid it.
Celebrating Your Successes
And when you achieved the next step, it’s important to give yourself a pat on the back. It’s totally ok to cheer yourself on. Whether it was for saying ‘no’ to junk food when you really wanted it or reaching a new goal like walking ten minutes longer each day than last week, it’s all fabulous! Take a moment to celebrate and reward yourself for working hard. But not with food 😉
To wrap it up, getting rid of a junk food habit can’t be done by following just one single tip or relying on willpower. It’s more like putting together a puzzle image with lots of different pieces. You will need to understand why you crave junk food and what makes you want to eat it.
Then, set goals for yourself and eat more whole food and way less processed food. Planning your meals, staying active, and getting support from others will also help. And by using the above suggestions and tools, hopefully, you’ll find it easier to beat your love affair with junk food.
Let me know if you are already using some of those tips.