So you crave a lot of junk foods? Don’t worry, it’s not your fault. And you’re not alone either. Here are six creative ways to curb your junk cravings for good.
I’ve experienced junk cravings all my life and did a bit of research not long ago to see if there’s something wrong with me.
It turns out, junk food is purposely designed to make us crave it, and numerous scientific studies revealed it.
So before getting into the ways that helped me curb my junk cravings and may help you achieve the same, let’s see why we crave junk foods in the first place.
The Doritos Dilemma
This past weekend, I was sitting in a hotel room in Pittsburgh at the desk (you know, the one with the complimentary pad of paper and a pen).
I was staring in the face of a family-sized bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos. And I wanted them.
I haven’t eaten a single electric orange triangular chip in well over a year. But yet I still wanted them like a dog wants a T-bone steak fresh off the grill.
So I picked up the bag and read the ingredients:
- Monosodium glutamate;
- Natural and artificial flavors;
- Artificial colors (including Yellow 6, Yellow 5 and Red 40);
- Citric acid;
- Disodium guanylate (whatever this is).
I know these things are awful for me and hold no nutritional value, so why did I want them so badly?
The answer is in science. Doritos have been listed as the topmost addictive food in lists followed by Cheetos, Oreos, M&Ms, and (you may have already guessed this one) french fries.
Doritos reign on lists like these because they have been modified to be irresistible through precise combinations of sugar and salt, fat ratios, and the way the cheesy, lick-your-fingers dust is ground to sink right into your taste buds.
If you can’t stop eating them, it’s not your fault; that’s exactly how they’re supposed to be.
Fat And Happy (And Possibly Addicted)
- Sugar (or artificial sweeteners, if you choose a “diet” option);
- Artificial coloring;
- The all-famous monosodium glutamate (MSG);
- And unpronounceable preservatives that keep the flavor and the lifespan to a maximum.
Junk food releases dopamine, a chemical in your brain that makes you feel happy. Unless you are the Grinch or Grumpy Cat (may she rest in peace), you like feeling happy. So you’re prone to reach for more, even after you think you’ve had enough.
As you eat more of these foods, you need more and more to get the same level of satisfaction. Again, just like a drug. This can result in overeating, binge eating, or food addiction.
If you’ve ever been on a “kick” of a certain food, as my family would call it, and had to stop yourself from eating more of it, you probably know how hard it is to stop.
Maybe you tried to substitute your favorite savory snacks for strictly healthy options, like bell pepper sticks or cucumbers, or your preferred sweet dessert with Greek yogurt or a handful of berries.
Replacing processed, modified foods that satisfy your brain with unprocessed, unmodified, natural options won’t curb your junk cravings. That’s because they’re not in the same ballpark.
The Addictiveness Of Junk Foods
In this research done by the University of Michigan, two experiments were run on test groups that monitored the addictive properties of both processed and unprocessed food. The takeaways were as follows:
- The level of processing is a large factor in addictive-like eating tendencies.
- The level of fat and the rate that refined carbohydrates are absorbed into the body (referred to in the article as glycemic load, or GL) were significant predictors of how food would be ranked on a scale of addictiveness.
- There is preliminary evidence to suggest the presence of parallels between the pharmacokinetics (the body’s ability to absorb, distribute, metabolize, and excrete drugs) of commonly-abused drugs and highly-processed food.
How To Curb Your Junk Cravings (My Personal Experience)
I grew up the largest kid in my class and hit 100 pounds in second grade, then 200 pounds in sixth grade.
I had an affinity for snack foods since before I can remember. So I was always ready to try the new flavor of Oreos or the special edition of soda in the grocery store.
I loved to snack, often chomping down on three or four different ones in a short time span. But I didn’t eat this way in front of others. Instead, I binged it and fully indulged when no one was home or I was the only one awake.
I’d make third, fourth, and fifth trips to the pantry to get another handful of Goldfish or SunChips, ignoring every sign in my brain that I was full because my body wanted more.
It’s honestly embarrassing typing all of these out. But I was never conscious of how bad they truly were until I stopped and changed my lifestyle. Now, I can look back on them and be thankful.
I lost over 70 pounds in a year and a half when I was still in college by exercising and tracking my food.
The surprising thing is that I didn’t do any diets or meal plans, no personal trainer or nutritionist, no eliminations of entire food groups or forced mile runs.
I started an Instagram account for myself for accountability purposes and used it to follow professionals in the industry and learn from them – free of charge.
Today, I want to share with you six things I learned from my journey that I wish I knew before I started. Hopefully, they’ll help motivate you and help you understand and trust the process.
So here’s how to curb your junk cravings in six simple steps:
1. Track Your Food
Really understand what you’re putting into your body. One of the first quotes I found when trying to find motivation on Pinterest is that “food is our fuel.”
Eating Doritos or other foods with high caloric density but low nutritional value will eat up your daily calorie intake (which can be calculated using a calorie calculator) and leave you feeling hungry and unsatisfied.
Once you start punching in your portions to a fitness tracker (I started with Lose It! and eventually made the switch to My Fitness Pal), you’ll be able to see how much your food choices impact your daily caloric intake.
Witnessing the impact of these foods is the first important push to make a change in your diet because you’re probably underestimating exactly how much you’re consuming in a day.
2. Don’t Cut Out Your Favorite Foods
I know I have been ripping on Doritos since the beginning of this article, but you best believe I did eat one when I was facing off with that bag in the hotel room.
I do the same thing with my coworker’s jar of M&Ms at her desk – take a few (under 10), track them in MFP, and take the time to enjoy them. Take smaller bites, toss them around in my mouth, and really take in all their flavors and consistency.
Foods with no nutritional value are okay in moderation. Of course, it’s better with them out of the picture. But if you really want them, there’s no sense in absolute restriction, because that will most likely lead to a binge. And binges often lead to failure and reverting back to your old ways.
3. Measure Your Food
This means either counting out a serving size or physically measuring your food. The most foolproof method is investing in a good food scale because weighing is a better measure of volume than measuring cups or tablespoons.
4. Swap Out Old Habits With Better Alternatives
Creating a sustainable diet has to be something you enjoy eating. By this, I mean that if you’re a soda drinker, shift to drinking unsweetened teas (sweetened with stevia or honey if need be) or seltzer water (my personal favorite).
If you enjoy a nightly bowl of ice cream, look into making your own banana ice cream or smoothies in a blender.
Losing weight and keeping it off isn’t a once-and-done effort. But if you do it right, it won’t feel like effort at all.
This is something I wish I understood in high school when I looked at eating right and exercise as the biggest, most annoying chore.
Once you create a habit (or a supplemental habit to a bad one), it’ll become a part of your daily life, and soon you won’t even miss your old ways.
5. Find Support To Curb Your Junk Cravings
For the majority of my weight loss, I was surrounded by people that weren’t watching what they ate in college, at home, or at work.
You’ll undeniably encounter restaurant trips and stocked pantries that make it easy for you to stray away, maybe even encourage it.
Since I didn’t have anyone experiencing what I was going through in my physical surroundings, I looked to the Instagram fitness community and joined a support group on Facebook to find inspiration, support, and peers who could help me stay on track.
I hate to admit it, but sometimes, your only support will be your own willpower and motivation to better yourself.
You might find yourself at a bar when everyone is ordering nachos and loaded french fries with margaritas and crazy cocktails, but you make the decision to not indulge and stick to a vodka soda and only a few chips.
That is amazing. You are amazing. You are worth every sacrifice it takes to achieve your goals.
6. Do What Feels Natural To Stop Your Cravings
This goes for in the gym and in your diet. If you don’t know how to use 3/4s of the machines, stick to what you know.
Whether it’s sit-ups or bicep curls you remember from your high school gym class, or you follow a beginner’s tutorial on YouTube for strength training using free weights, don’t feel pressured to do something you’re not comfortable doing.
If you aren’t comfortable cutting out dairy from your diet but you see an inspirational fitness blogger doing it, then don’t cut out dairy!
Always remember: what works for someone else doesn’t have to work for you.
Losing weight was one of the hardest things I ever did in my life, but by far the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had.
I feel like a new person – I’m more energetic, and happier, and my clinical depression and anxiety don’t have nearly as much of a hold of me as they did in high school.
I discovered my self-worth and found an inner love and respect for my body, which is priceless to me.
So, when you’re having your next faceoff with a Family Size Doritos bag, remember: your cravings are exactly what you are supposed to have. But, ask yourself, is it worth it?
It’s not gonna be easy, but bettering yourself is not worth it. What would happen if this time, you didn’t give up?