8 Tips for Overcoming Junk Food Cravings
Everyone has moments of weakness. That is a universal fact. What we are faced with and how we cope with those moments differs from situation to situation and person to person. Sadly, food is generally the first thing that people reach for, not only during those weak moments, but throughout our day. We comfort eat when we are sad, overeat during holidays, and most of us prefer pizza or greasy foods over chicken and rice.
Food just makes people happy and we reach for it every moment that we can. That is, of course, barring any self control we may have.
Those of us working on fitness goals know that reaching for the wrong foods too often can lead to some serious weight gain. It can also lead to a whole host of other problems such as:
- Skin issues
- Sleep disturbances
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Certain diseases
Food addictions and cravings for junk food can wreck otherwise strong fitness programs, so they have to be overcome. Proper nutrition (i.e. proportional consumption of nutrients) is the biggest influence on overall fitness, after all.
Here are the top 8 ways to help overcome cravings for junk food.
1. Take a walk (or any physical activity, really)
There are tons of studies that point out how walking can reduce blood pressure and reduce food cravings among people. In fact, walking away from a situation, or temptation in this case, ranks up in the top tier for overcoming moments of stress in general and it makes sense. It is harder to give in if whatever you are facing isn’t accessible.
This isn’t exactly a secret, either. For example, when people have a bad day at work, they often remove themselves from the situation and cool down by taking a short walk. Maybe just going around the floor can do it, other people take 10-15 minutes and walk around the building.
Physically getting up and walking around for a few minutes can really help to overcome any momentary stresses. It makes sense that getting up and out of wherever you are when a craving strikes can be just as powerful as leaving a situation when you get upset.
Next time you really craving some junk food but are tracking your macros, get away from the food and get moving. What you can’t eat can’t wreck your day.
2. Increase protein intake
If the first idea doesn’t help and all you can think about is a bag of chips but really don’t want to give in, grab some protein if you have any nearby. Doesn’t matter what form, either. Shake, bar, a big piece of chicken or steak, or even some nuts.
Protein is the most satiating of the three major macronutrients. Eating enough protein helps you stay fuller longer, keeping you from even having to deal with junk food cravings. Don’t wait until your body is demanding a candy bar before you eat fill up. Keep some protein bars at your desk, or a shaker bottle full of protein powder nearby.
Increasing how much protein you consume each day can actually stem cravings before they hit. In fact, the Obesity society put out a study a few years back showing the link between eating 25% of a days total calories in protein and far fewer cravings for junk food.
3. Keep the junk out of your house (and out of your way)
If you can’t get to it, you can’t eat it. Right? Well, that starts at home. If your pantry is full of potato chips and your cabinets are full of candy bars, how can you possibly cut back? Phase out the junk food in your house in lieu of healthier options like fruit and whole grains.
Most people will tell you to just throw it all away, but does that actually happen? Probably not. A lot of people won’t throw money out the window by tossing everything in a drawer away.
Instead, cut way back on how much you buy. Do it slowly and deliberately. Finish up whatever stores you have in your house and just don’t buy more. Whatever you do and how you do it, don’t shop on an empty stomach. That is asking for trouble.
Keep the junk at a minimal and you have less temptation while searching for your just before bedtime snack.
4. Have a tea (or coffee)
This one is for all of you tea and coffee lovers out there. Grab a cup when you start to feel like you need something sugary, especially if it is mid afternoon. Our bodies sometimes confuse sluggishness and sleepiness with hunger. That causes us to want to eat sugars which would produce near immediate energy.
Luckily, both tea and coffee contain caffeine which can reduce cravings for sweets because it can provide us with that perceived need for quick energy. Don’t grab the decaf if you are looking for a boost, though.
Just stay away from the extremely sweetened coffee or tea found at most places. Stick to a simple tea with honey or coffee with minimal additions, or else you aren’t really avoiding your cravings.
5. Reduce Your Stress
It is no secret that stress can wreak havoc on anyone’s psyche, sleep quality, and mood, but did you know that higher stress levels actually can cause you to eat more unhealthy? Stress causes our bodies to release cortisol, the stress hormone, into our bloodstream.
Cortisol can raise our appetite, causing us to want to eat. If stress stays high for long enough, cortisol levels will remain elevated, and we will want to eat more and more. It’s a vicious cycle.
Overcoming our cravings for junk food can be difficult, especially with stress.
Luckily, for most people, by reducing stress, we reduce the chemicals floating around our body that make us want to eat more than normal.
Want to work on your stress levels? Try some of these ideas :
- Regular exercise and physical activity
- Mindful breathing
- Say no to additional responsibilities
- Find a hobby, and do it often
6. Drink water
There is an old trick in the weight loss world that involves drinking a large glass of water just before eating a meal. That glass of water helps to fill you up, causing you to eat less overall during that meal. When it comes to junk food cravings, there is research that the same concept can be put into play, but for slightly different reasons.
Dehydration is a huge cause for sugar cravings. Those cravings stem from our inability to break down foods in our belly when we are dehydrated. Our bodies think, ‘Hey, since I can’t break down this food into glucose, maybe I can just get them to eat simple sugars.’
It makes sense once you look at the science behind how your body uses nutrients and water for various functions. Aside from keeping us alive, water has tons of benefits. One of those benefits lies in how water can put a damper on food cravings.
Aim to drink enough water each day to avoid your body feeling like it is working on a water restriction.
7. Get plenty of sleep
Sleep is hugely underrated in our culture today. Often, people put it off in favor of going out with friends, studying for a test, or extra hours in the office. Most people don’t get enough sleep regularly, and that sleep deprivation can lead to binge eating.
In fact, lots of people who have even mild sleep issues report having stronger cravings before bedtime and a desire for highly processed foods.
Obviously, that isn’t great news for those of us trying to look or feel our best. Eating too much can make us feel bloated, and even push us from a cut cycle into our winter body.
Aiming for 7 hours of sleep or more each night can drastically reduce and overcome our junk food cravings, control eating at odd hours, and helps with overall self control and mental clarity.
8. Change your Taste Buds
I know what you are thinking. How can I change my taste buds? I don’t mean literally change them out. This is referring to adjusting your preferred tastes.
Studies have shown that people can become addicted to refined foods.
For example, eating more and more sugar can lead to a stronger and stronger sweet tooth. That is what we want to avoid.
If you build an addiction by taking in more, wouldn’t it stand to reason that eating less and less refined foods will cause an addiction to weaken. After all, isn’t that the theory for quitting nicotine and other addictive substances?
Work on changing out some sugary foods for other items slowly. Maybe switch out white bread for wheat, soda for water, or even reduce the amount of cookies eaten at one time. Wherever you start, you can go miles towards helping with an addiction to highly refined foods by cutting back.
Over time your tastes will shift. You might even find that what you used to love actually tastes terrible after some time.
In order to avoid replacing the sweet foods you are trying to get rid of with something worse, eat more foods like nuts, fruits, and beans. Not only will they keep you fuller for longer than highly refined foods, they will also help to modify your taste buds to prefer less sweet foods. Or at least less processed foods (fruit is pretty sweet, after all).
Having a treat once in awhile isn’t a problem. In fact, I personally love the idea of macro dieting since it avoids cutting out all sweets, leaving you with bland, boring diets that most people won’t follow.
The problem comes along when we get addicted to sugary or highly refined foods or beverages and consume more of them than we do healthy, natural foods. Finding that balance is where most people struggle, because highly refined foods just taste good. Salty chips and sweet tea will beat out broccoli in almost every case, after all.
Work on cutting out junk foods to a manageable level. Not only will you feel better physically, but you will skyrocket towards your gym goals and feel fantastic mentally knowing that you can overcome your junk food cravings with ease.