Even though it’s a well-established fact junk food is unhealthy, most people consume it on a regular basis. For some people, burgers and fries or some other types of junk food are the biggest guilty pleasure. It’s not uncommon for people to firmly decide they will stop eating junk food anymore, but cravings are too strong and they cave in. If you tend to struggle with this problem as well, this post can help you out. Scroll down to see some easy tips to stop craving junk food.
1. Keep a cravings journal
Dealing with junk food cravings can be tricky and challenging, which is why many people believe they can’t succeed. With strong willpower and effort, you can stop craving these unhealthy food choices. In order to make it happen, you may want to analyze your eating habits. For that reason, you may want to keep a cravings journal.
A cravings journal is similar to a regular food journal where you log everything you eat and drink. The only difference is that the cravings journal focuses only and entirely on your cravings for unhealthy foods.
Keeping a cravings journal allows you to clear out the confusion surrounding your eating habits and helps raise awareness of your food choices. In other words, to stop craving certain foods you need to analyze this aspect of your eating behavior.
To keep a cravings journal, you should (1):
- Choose a time frame you will use as an observation period. The time frame depends on the specific habits. It’s important to choose the time frame that enables you to get a clear picture of your emotions, moods, interactions. It can be a week, two, a month, etc.
- Create checkboxes ahead of time to identify what you’re experiencing without having to articulate at the moment. Checkboxes should include: moods (anxious, depressed, content, etc.), judgments (ugly, fat, worthless, stupid), sensations (tense, numb, aroused, buzzing, etc.), and emotions (mad, glad, sad, scared). You may also want to include checkboxes for foods you crave, write a list of different junk foods and put a checkmark when you crave a specific item.
Keep your cravings journal as detailed as possible. Be honest with yourself. You can keep a cravings journal in a notebook or your phone, depending on what’s more practical to you.
When you reach the end of the observational period, go through your notes. You will be able to analyze your junk food eating behavior. For example, you will be able to pinpoint a specific emotion, mood, sensation, or judgmental thought that intensifies your cravings.
Once you analyze your cravings, you will be able to create an effective strategy to get rid of them.
2. Plan your meals ahead
Cravings are intense and you may feel it’s easier to eat processed food or junk food than deal with them. In many cases, cravings stem from a lack of organization i.e. when you don’t know what to eat at a specific time. What’s more, you may find it easier to handle cravings when you plan your meals and snacks ahead.
When you have meals and snacks planned out, you are less likely to eat something unhealthy, including processed food. You have already planned your breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for the week or maybe even prepared some foods over the weekend. Since you have everything ready, there’s no need to think about what you eat. All this can prevent triggering junk food cravings.
Planning your meals ahead decreases the food cue reactivity. The term food cue reactivity refers to a strong motivation to eat even in the absence of hunger. It’s your susceptibility to being influenced by advertisements, food smells, and other stimuli that prompt cravings. Studies confirm food cue reactivity can sabotage healthy eating, cause weight gain, and impede weight loss or weight maintenance (2).
Meal planning keeps you organized, but it’s also associated with a healthier diet and less obesity (3). You are more likely to make wiser diet choices when you have your meals planned out.
So, how to plan your meals? The most practical approach is to plan meals on Sunday for the entire upcoming week. Or you can do it on Saturday so that you can also go grocery shopping for things you need.
The goal is to plan everything you’re going to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Make your plan versatile so that you find it easier to stick to it. You may even want to go ahead and prepare certain meals so that you have them ready during the week. Just pack and store them accordingly and you’ll have home-cooked meals throughout the week, which can also reduce your cravings for unhealthy foods.
When it comes to snacks, make sure to plan healthier alternatives. Instead of French fries, you can opt for carrot or celery sticks for example. Fruits are also a great snack option.
3. Take a mint or brush your teeth
Cravings can be too intense and difficult to resist, which is why you’re probably looking for instant solutions to this problem. One of the easiest things to do is to brush your teeth or take a mint. This is particularly effective at night when most people can’t say no to late-night (unhealthy) snacks.
After brushing your teeth or using mouthwash you’ll probably avoid eating junk food. The reason is simple – food tastes bad afterward. So, when you start craving for something unhealthy, get up and go and brush your teeth (or use a mouthwash) and you’ll be reluctant to give in.
Mint can also suppress your appetite and it’s all thanks to its strong scent (4). You may want to take a mint (sugar-free, low in calories) or prepare peppermint tea to tackle cravings.
4. Distance yourself from the foods you crave
One way of managing negative stimuli is to remove yourself from the situation. We often do that with things that stress us out, make us anxious, or make us angry. You can do the same when you crave junk food.
Whenever you feel a craving, try to remove yourself from the situation i.e. distance yourself from the foods you crave.
So, instead of going to the kitchen, you may want to take a shower or have a nice bath. You can also take a brisk walk, go to the gym, and exercise. Another option is to read a book. Basically, you can do anything that shifts your mood to something else so you don’t focus on the craving.
When you’re already outside, you may want to avoid fast-food restaurants. You can try a different route, for example. Since you’re not walking past the junk food place you like, you’re less likely to crave unhealthy food.
5. Chew gum
Chewing gum is a quick and inexpensive way to stop craving junk foods. What’s more, the short-term benefits of chewing gum are scientifically proven. A study from the journal Appetite found chewing gum can suppress appetite, specifically desire for sweets. It can also reduce calorie intake. For instance, people who chewed gum consumed 36 calories less on the next eating occasion (5).
The same journal published a different study that also confirmed chewing gum for at least 45 minutes can significantly suppress hunger, appetite, and cravings for snacks while promoting fullness (6).
There is no specific type of gum that works better than others. For example, sugar-free gums contain about two calories fewer than sugar-containing gums. At the same time, they may contain artificial sweeteners (7). However, they may still be more helpful for suppressing cravings because most of them rely on peppermint. As seen above, peppermint can be helpful for persons who want to eat less or stop craving junk food.
6. Don’t get too hungry
One of the biggest reasons you experience cravings is hunger. When you’re hungry, your body propels you to eat and you start craving foods laden in calories. That usually happens for people who tend to skip meals or get too hungry.
Therefore, a simple approach to stopping your cravings is to avoid getting extremely hungry. To do so, you need to eat your meals regularly, don’t skip any meals. And you may also want to have snack time, but go for healthier options. When you’re not hungry, but also do not overeat, you are less likely to crave junk food. This is a great way to prevent cravings from bothering you.
7. Don’t go grocery shopping when hungry
Grocery shopping can intensify your food cravings if you choose to go to the supermarket hungry.
Well, in a supermarket you have easy access to all kinds of foods, especially high-calorie sugar-laden or trans-fat-laden items. Everything you love to eat, and the foods you crave, are available in supermarkets.
You probably didn’t even realize the unhealthiest foods are almost always displayed at eye level (8).
Being surrounded by unhealthy foods triggers cravings that are, for most people, almost impossible to resist.
The best way to stop this problem is to avoid going grocery shopping when hungry. Make sure to eat first and then go to the supermarket.
Check the labels too. Most food manufacturers will include not just the ingredients but also the calories for each of their products.
8. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store
You have probably heard the term “shop the perimeter” on more occasions than one. The perimeter of the grocery store indicates areas holding items that are most conducive to helping you lose weight or eat a healthy diet. These are healthy snacks that you need on the menu for good health and wellbeing, meal planning, eating, and whatnot.
When you go into the grocery store, in most cases, the first thing you see is the section with fruits and vegetables. At least one-half of your basket should contain produce. Then, you move on to the dairy section and put low-fat items into the basket too.
From there, you move on to buy whole grain bread, whole wheat tortilla, or maybe whole wheat English muffin.
In other words, shopping the perimeter means three-quarters of your basket or cart should be filled with foods from sections with healthier items. These sections are the produce, dairy, meat, fish, and grains. That way, you won’t have as much room in the cart to add junk food (9).
9. Change the way you think about junk food
People love junk food because it is tasty, easy to prepare, and inexpensive. But, if you keep thinking about junk food this way it will be more difficult to stop cravings. For that reason, an effective strategy to handle cravings is to change the way you think about junk food.
Evidence shows when people look at their most-craved junk foods in a negative light, the cravings for those specific foods decrease (10). Your mind is more powerful than you think. Once you stop associating junk food with positive thoughts and emotions, you’ll stop craving it.
Keep in mind changing the way you think about junk food isn’t something you can do instantly. It takes time to make it happen. You need to be persistent and have strong willpower. Then, you will succeed.
Instead of thinking junk food is delicious and cheap, you may want to think about how unhealthy it is. Remind yourself of all dangers of junk food on a daily basis (11).
10. Practice mindful eating
Mindful eating is an approach to food that focuses on a person’s sensual awareness of food and their experience of it. When mindfully eating, you are paying attention to food, your purpose, moment by moment, and without judgment. You focus on every bite and all the flavors and aromas it offers.
The purpose of mindful eating isn’t in calories or weight loss, but most people do slim down when they practice this approach (12).
How can mindful eating stop junk food cravings? This practice teaches you to distinguish between actual (physical) hunger and cravings. That way, you are more equipped to choose your response to the stimulus (craving) rather than acting impulsively (13). The impulsive action is, of course, caving in and eating the food you craved for.
If you practice mindful eating regularly, you may be able to avoid overeating or reduce binge eating. In one study, mindful eating decreased binge eating episodes from four to 1.5 a week, but it also lessened the severity of these overeating episodes (14).
Practicing mindful eating is easier than you think. These tips can help you out (15):
- Eat slowly
- Turn off TV
- Don’t use your phone when eating
- Chew thoroughly
- Stop eating when you’re full, even if there’s still food on the plate
- Eat in silence
Other Tips to Stop Junk Food Cravings
Besides the tips mentioned above, other things you can do to stop junk food craving are:
- Eat healthy fats
- Consume enough protein
- Drink water
- Eat fruit instead of candies
- Strive to include different food groups into your meals
- Manage stress
- Get enough sleep
Follow our 10+ easy tips and tricks to stop craving junk foods. Keep in mind that dealing with food cravings requires some lifestyle adjustments and healthy habits. You need to be patient and persistent in order to succeed. It all comes down to regular meals and wiser food choices.