Junk Food Cravings Got You Down? Try These Tips
Whether your preferred poison is McDonald's French fries, a mountain of bite-sized Snickers, or a bag of salty chips, indulging a junk food craving is lovely while you're eating it, but once the guilt kicks in, the joy quickly turns to disgust and self-loathing.
You know junk food is bad but did you know that junk food cravings are powerful physiological feelings that originate in the memory and reward regions of the brain? The act of indulging in unhealthy food promotes the release of dopamine, that “feel-good” brain chemical, and your memory centers begin to associate the treat with the pleasure it produces. To put it simply, junk food can hijack your brain chemistry and cause cravings that are often as powerful as drug cravings.
If you're trying to cut down on sugary, salty, or fatty foods to lose weight or improve your overall health, you may be realizing that doing so is more difficult than you thought it would be. These tips can help you just say no to junk food.
Identify Your Triggers and Plan Ahead
Try to identify the triggers that make you crave junk food. For example, maybe you always seem to crave chocolate right when you get home from work or you tend to gorge on French fries when you're stressed or bored. Once you identify your triggers, plan ahead. Instead of coming straight home from work, consider hitting the gym first or have a healthy snack at the ready for when you get home. Prepare for stressful times by having healthy food on hand to graze on and combat boredom by engaging in a project or hobby.
Reduce Stress to Make it Easier to Say No
Stress is a major trigger for gorging on junk food. Keep your stress levels down as much as possible for better health and fewer cravings. Exercise every day, consider daily meditation, breathe deeply when you feel stressed, and identify your major stressors so that you can try to mitigate them through mindful, positive action.
Make Your Home a Junk Food Free Zone
If it's in the cupboard, chances are you're going to cave and eat it at some point. If at all possible, make your home a junk food free zone. If you have a massive craving for chips but you have none, you'll have a better chance of getting through the craving without indulging--unless the craving is so intense that you hit the grocery store at 11 p.m. to satisfy it. Instead of dwelling on how much you want chips and debating whether to grab the keys and go get some, find something else to keep you busy or enjoy a healthy snack, such as carrots dipped in Ranch or a banana and berry smoothie.
Eat Often, Eat Healthy
If you let yourself get too hungry, you'll have less resolve to say no to junk food. Eat a healthy breakfast, then have a snack before lunch. Eat a healthy lunch and have a snack before dinner. Eat a healthy dinner and have a snack before bedtime. Choose snacks that have a little healthy fat--such as a handful of almonds, an apple with peanut butter, or mashed-up avocado on whole-grain toast--to help satisfy you and make you feel fuller longer.
Don't Beat Yourself Up When You Cave
You tried to leave that doughnut alone, but it kept calling your name and you finally caved. It's okay. Don't beat yourself up, which will only cause stress and negative emotions that can make your cravings even worse. Instead, decide what you might do next time to stave off indulging. For example, you could take a walk around the block to clear your mind and boost natural endorphins or you could put the doughnut in a high cupboard, out of sight, and go run some errands.