​JUNK FOOD: Why we crave it and how to quit it

When you’re trying to lose weight and get fit, curbing your cravings is a challenge faced by even the most dedicated fitness fanatics. For many, crunchy chips, decadent chocolate treats, and carb-loaded snacks top the list. We share common cravings, and it’s no accident.

The processed food industry calls it “The Bliss Point” – the perfect combination of salt, fat, and sugar that makes even mundane foods seem irresistible. And to a point, they are. Food scientists are able to pinpoint exact ratios of salt, fat, sugar, or a combination of the three that appeal to our primal needs with such success that they actually become addictive.

Here are 9 ways to kick your cravings and keep your diet on track.

1. Find out what your body REALLY needs

Many times, our craving for carbs – like sweet treats or salty snacks, are the result of fatigue. Our bodies’ primary source of fuel is carbohydrates. If you’re tired, your body will likely crave quick-digesting carbs in order to re-energize. While many of us aren’t afforded midday naps, a better option might be to go on a 20-minute walk. In a study conducted by the University of Georgia, sleepy study participants who went for a stroll experienced a 65% decrease in feelings of fatigue.

If you’re on the prowl for something crunchy, it could indicate stress. While the satisfying crunch of pretzels or chips might provide a temporary outlet for your frustration, a better stress-reliever would be exercise. Getting your blood pumping will raise your endorphins to relieve stress and boost your mood.

When participants in one study were craving certain foods, the parts of their brain responsible for memory were active. Research suggests that we crave foods that are associated with positive memories. For example, if you’re dying to have a bowl of macaroni and cheese or would kill for a chocolate chip cookie, it may because these were foods of your youth – a time usually linked with happy memories. Furthermore, foods high in fat and carbohydrates trigger the release of serotonin, a “feel-good” neurotransmitter that calms and relaxes. While a brownie might ease your stress in the short-term, these cravings could be an indicator of a bigger issue.

2. Drink a glass of water (or two)

Before you indulge drink a couple glasses of water. In a 2010 study, participants who drank two glasses of water prior to eating a meal were satisfied earlier than their thirsty counterparts. Based on this study, if you drank water before every meal, you would eat about 250 fewer calories per day without even realizing it.

3. Wean yourself off sugar

Sugar addiction is real! If you’re on a high-sugar diet, your body starts to send signals demanding more and more. You can tame your taste preferences, but making the change slowly will increase the likelihood of success. Keep track of the amount of sugar you eat and start to eliminate it by making small changes. For example, replace your sweetened chemical coffee creamer with skim milk or swap sugary cereal with steel-cut oats.

When subbing out the sweet stuff, avoid artificial sweeteners. Though these are technically “sugar free,” fake sugars actually intensify your sugar cravings. If you can’t bring yourself to ditch the sugar altogether, start by subbing in natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup.

Want to learn more not-so-sweet truths about sugar? Read our blog “BITTER EFFECTS.”

4. Replace the craving

Your favorite deep-fried foods and sugar-laden sweets can usually be made over into healthier versions when you prepare them at home. Peruse these recipe makeovers to get some ideas.

You can also swap out your craving with foods that suppress your appetite like:

  • Apples
  • Green tea
  • High-fiber bran + water
  • Pine nuts and almonds
  • Red wine vinegar

For powerful appetite control, you can also try NFP’s Shred XD Thermogenic Fat Burner.

5. Stall

Your stomach can hold about 17 cups of food or liquid. Many of us don’t reach near this capacity by the time we feel full. That’s because “fullness” does not come about because of the volume in our bellies, but rather the brain reacting to chemicals released in our bodies.

When food or liquid reach your stomach, your body releases chemicals that signal fullness to your brain. However, it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register the change. These chemical levels continue to rise after your meal and remain elevated for three to five hours after you’ve eaten. Once the chemical levels fall, you begin to feel hunger pangs.

While your body may be signaling for another serving of spaghetti now, if you wait 20 minutes, the craving may subside altogether.

6. Rid your cabinets of junk

If your cabinets are stockpiled with Pop Tarts, gummy worms, and Oreos, you have to be reminded of them every time you go to the kitchen. When you’re trying to kick your craving, the mere proximity of these foods can turn your evening into one straight out of an Edgar Allen Poe poem. Soon, even the old, frosted-over ice cream in the freezer starts to call your name. If you’re serious about kicking the junk food habit, refuse to keep it in the house.

If the other members of your household aren’t ready or willing to clear out the cabinets, put all the sweets and unhealthy snacks in cabinet or drawer of their own so you won’t be tempted when you reach for healthy alternatives.

7. Give in (a little)

Banishing all sweets from your diet will likely set you up for failure. After all, if we’re denying ourselves the simple pleasure of a treat now and again, what’s the point? Most of us diet and exercise to put a little more life in our life. But, sweet treats and salty snacks should add to your life, not dominate it.

If you’re craving a mammoth-sized slice of birthday cake, give in (just a little) and take three bites. Or, go gourmet. If you nibble the ear of the chocolate bunny leftover from Easter, you may continue eating because you didn’t get the rich chocolate flavor you were craving. High quality sweets are usually complex and robust, meaning just one candy will likely be enough to satisfy.

8. Spruce up your diet

If you’re constantly wandering to the kitchen in search of a snack, it’s possible you’ve restricted your diet too much. Your body needs carbohydrates, fats, and protein to function normally. If you’re exercising, you need to provide your body with adequate fuel. Take a calorie inventory and determine how many calories you’re eating as well as the number of calories you burn working out. If you’re running on a high calorie deficit, you may want to schedule in some snacks. Learn more about getting lean the right way by reading our blog “HOW TO LOSE FAT AND KEEP MUSCLE.”

9. Go DO something!

Sometimes we find ourselves reaching for a snack because we’re bored. This craving cause is easily remedied with activity. Call a friend and go for a walk, or pick up a new hobby that doesn’t involve a television or computer screen.

Cravings are all in your head – literally. Understanding why your brain is sending you the signal to snack puts you back in the driver’s seat. It is okay to take small detours from your diet, but stay in control and make sure your cheat meal is worth it.