How do I beat my junk food cravings?
Maria Tadic, RD
Whether it’s chocolate, carbs, salty or crunchy foods, everyone seems to have their own junk food cravings. These might be foods that are hard to have only one bite of, or the ones you crave when you’re stressed, sad, or even bored.
Why We Crave It
Many times specific foods are connected to memories. What you grew up with, what your family ate, or things you ate during childhood affect your choices as an adult. That’s part of the reason for the term “comfort foods.”
Most of these foods fall into one or more of the following categories: high fat, high sugar/high carb, or calorie dense. These foods affect two very important neurotransmitters in your brain – serotonin and dopamine – which both play an important role in regulating your mood and appetite. When you overindulge in ice cream or a greasy burger, your brain chemistry changes. It will sense pleasure and reward after eating these foods. It makes you feel good (at least temporarily).
Indulging in your favorite comfort foods every now and again is not a bad thing. It’s a problem when it becomes a habit. When you emotionally eat, whether in response to depression, loneliness, anger, stress, or boredom, you strengthen the reward pathway in your brain – which means you keep wanting more! Those comfort foods become therapeutic to you – you think you need them to feel better.
Overcoming the Junk Food Cravings
Manage your junk food cravings wisely. Try:
- Indulging moderately. Restricting your favorite foods too much can trigger a binge. Give yourself a limit and enjoy your favorite foods wisely – for example, pick one day per week to have your treat meal and/or snack.
- Find a healthy substitute. Crave sweets? Try a sweet fruit like pineapple or mango, drink a cup of low-fat hot chocolate, have a low sugar protein bar, or eat a low fat Greek yogurt.
- Manage your emotions. Seek out help and support and work on dealing with your emotions in a different way.
- Relax and de-stress regularly. Find activities like yoga, walking, hot bubble baths, a massage, etc that can help you feel relaxed and calm.
- Take 10. Cravings are very spontaneous and fleeting. Generally, they’re more intense when they first hit, but will subside over time. Distract yourself for 10 minutes, take yourself away from the situation, drink lots of water, and then revisit that craving (if necessary)!
- Detoxify your kitchen. Get rid of tempting junk food in your house, workplace, and other environments. If tempting food is not there during a craving, you won’t be able to eat it!
1. Magee, E. The facts about food cravings. WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/diet/the-facts-about-food-cravings. Published January 13, 2005. Accessed July 28, 2015.
2. McQuillan S. Your brain on food. Psychology Today Web site. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cravings/200906/your-brain-food. Published June 3, 2009. Accessed July 28, 2015.