Junk food is popular across the globe and among adults and children alike. A study carried out in a period between 2013 and 2016 showed that 36.6% of Americans consumed junk food on any given day (1). In other words, 84.8 million people eat fast food every single day. Although fast, cheap, and tasty, fast food is bad news for your health and quality of life.
Consumption of junk food is associated with overweight and obesity, and it increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, various cancers, arthritis, asthma, hypertension, high LDL (bad) cholesterol, depression, infertility (2), among other health problems. If you want to improve your health, protect the body from various diseases, and lose weight successfully it’s vital to say no to junk food.
Fast food cravings can be tricky to overcome, but with a few easy tips and tricks, you can do it. Here are the best ways to overcome cravings for junk food.
Drink more water
The reality is that most of us don’t drink enough water during the day. We drink water when thirsty, but by then the body has already shown some subtle signs of dehydration or insufficient fluid intake. Water is vital for good health, energy, alertness, and it’s important for weight management too.
You’ve probably heard some people drink a glass of water before their meals in order to eat less and it truly works. That’s why persons who drink more water lose weight and maintain it in a healthy range more effectively than those who do not.
One study found that majority of people who increased consumption of plain water by 1% reduced total calorie intake as well as consumption of saturated fat, sugar, sodium, and cholesterol (3) all of which are found in junk food. Therefore, the first thing you need to do to stop craving junk food is to start drinking more water.
Think about junk food in negative light
We eat something because we love everything about it, i.e. we have a positive opinion about them regardless of whether something’s healthy or unhealthy. When some junk food comes to mind, you see it as a super delicious meal that doesn’t cost a lot, and you don’t have to cook. Nothing negative there! But, that’s the problem. In order to stop craving fast food, you need to change your perspective and think about it in a negative light.
A study from the Appetite journal revealed that when people were trained to look at and interpret one of their most-craved junk foods in a negative light, desire for it decreased (4). Decide to look at junk food in a different light; see it as food that doesn’t supply your body with much-needed vitamins and minerals, like a meal that could damage your health.
Take a few moments to consider non-hygienic conditions in places where those foods are prepared. Options are endless. Once you change perspective, it’ll be easier to stop craving it.
Plan your meals ahead
Cravings for junk food sometimes occur due to lack of organization. You don’t know what to eat, so the first thing that comes to mind is burger along with fries and Coke. Day after day and it becomes a habit that you’d like to get rid of. To overcome cravings for junk food, you can start planning your meals ahead.
Meal planning is an excellent way to stay organized and avoid putting yourself in a position where you’ll think about food, especially unhealthy meals. If you have healthy snacks packed and ready you’re less likely to think about junk food.
A useful thing to do is to plan meals for the upcoming week every Sunday evening. Not only will this prevent junk food cravings but you’ll also save some time, money, and still be able to manage your weight.
Eat more protein
The body needs protein for growth and maintenance of tissues, communication between cells, pH balance, fluid balance, muscles, and a wide range of other functions. Protein is one of the most important macronutrients and thankfully we can obtain it through diet. Junk food isn’t such a great source of protein particularly if we bear in mind it doesn’t supply the body with other nutrients that are also present in protein-rich foods.
Protein is also important for weight loss or management and to stop cravings for junk food. A growing body of evidence confirms that eating more protein, particularly for breakfast, increases satiety and reduces hunger throughout the day (5). As a result, cravings for junk food are lessened, and you also get to support weight loss.
Eat more fruit
How much fruit do you really eat a day? The answer is probably – “not enough.” Fruit is an abundant source of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants, but also fiber. Fiber is crucial for healthy digestion, and it supports weight management. Increasing fiber intake is an effective weight loss practice too.
Why? Fiber keeps you full thus making you eat less. This impressive effect of fiber also prevents you from craving junk food. When you’re feeling full, you don’t think about eating anything including fast food and other unhealthy meals.
Thankfully, there’s a wide selection of fruits to consume. Make sure you eat fruit on a daily basis; it will show on your weight, health, including your skin.
It seems like stress goes hand in hand with modern ages. Busy work schedule, constant demands, pressure, and other personal and professional commitments make us feel incredibly stressed out. Stress is a natural response of the body to some change or uncomfortable situation and it’s not something can avoid for the rest of our lives. But, we can manage it successfully. Why is that such a big deal? It’s important because unresolved issues can make you eat more, crave junk food, and gain weight.
Studies confirm that stress influences eating behaviors, induces food cravings, and it may be particularly expressed in women (6, 7, 8). By managing stress, you can lower calorie intake, stop craving junk food, and support your weight loss regimen. Do something you find relaxing, and it can be anything you like such as reading, writing, exercising, listening to music, taking deep breaths, among other things.
Focus on adding healthy foods to your diet
People who eat junk food on a daily basis rarely think about adding healthy foods to their diet as much as they should. Yes, that thought comes to their mind from time to time, but that’s about that. You wanted to change that eating habit but ended up failing. One reason behind that could be the fact we don’t focus on adding healthy foods to our menu.
A study from the journal Nutrients found that focusing on the positive side of healthy eating could be even more effective than focusing on the need to remove junk food (9). You can easily combine this tip with the above-mentioned suggestion to view junk food in a negative light. The more you focus on the consumption of healthy food the easier it will be to realize how unhealthy junk food is.
Get enough sleep
Ideally, we should get about eight or nine hours of sleep every night. Not only that, but we should also establish a regular sleep pattern where we go to bed every night and wake up every morning at the same time. Let’s face it; that rarely happens! We have become a sleep-deprived society due to technology that keeps us awake and the belief there’s always the weekend to catch up with sleep. It doesn’t work like that though.
Sleep deprivation increases stress, lowers productivity, contributes to weight gain, accelerates the aging process, and leads to many other complications too. Studies also show that sleep debt increases food intake (10). Basically, if you don’t get enough sleep, you’re more likely to crave junk food. Now you know what to do; get enough sleep every night.
Try mindful eating
In many cultures around the globe eating isn’t just about stuffing yourself with food to the point you feel sick later or like there’s a huge rock in the stomach. Instead, eating is an opportunity for the family to come together and bond. They focus on every bite they take, flavors, aromas, everything.
Mindful eating is all about allowing your emotions to tune in and being aware of the moment. When practicing mindful eating, you’re more likely to choose healthier foods rather than unhealthy alternatives and reduce the number of binge eating episodes (11). When eating mindfully, you also chew your food thoroughly before swallowing it.
Don’t go grocery shopping when hungry
We tend to crave junk food because we’re surrounded by it and not just outside, but in our home too. If you go to the store hungry, you’re more likely to stack the shopping cart with unhealthy items and all sorts of junk food. Then you know there’s fast food in the fridge, and of course, it will be difficult to resist it.
Avoid all this hassle by choosing not to go grocery shopping when you’re hungry. That way, there’s no junk food in your home, you’re not exposed to it, and it becomes easier to prevent cravings.
Junk food harms our body in more ways than one. Eating junk food leads to weight gain and a higher risk of many health problems. While cravings are tough with a few tips and tricks from this article, you’ll be able to overcome them.
Doctor/Medical writer/researcher/ Translator/MD/M.Ch/USMLE Plastic Surgeon at Ministry of Health & Population of Egypt