5 Quick Ways to Stop Craving Junk Food
Are you a junk food junkie? Maybe you've never met a dessert you didn't love, or maybe you prefer salty potato chips and fries.
Either way, if you overindulge, you're loading your body with calories while depriving it of real nutrition.
Junk food is fine in moderation and on special occasions, but what about those cravings that hit you at the most inconvenient times - or, worse, the cravings that just never seem to go away at all?
Improbable as it seems, they can be tamed. Here are five proven strategies for ending junk food cravings.
Tip 1: Control blood sugar spikes and crashes.
When we stuff ourselves with highly refined carbohydrates, which most junk food tends to be, our blood sugar rapidly climbs. Then, because our bodies process these carbs so quickly, we experience a blood sugar crash.
Low blood sugar increases hunger, urging us to go out and do it all over again.
To avoid this cycle, eat small but frequent meals throughout the day. Never skip meals; recent studies have shown that dieters are more likely to binge on junk food if they haven't eaten in several hours.
To really knock out cravings, combine a healthy fat with some protein and complex carbohydrates, like a tablespoon of peanut butter on whole grain bread. It will be more nutritious and more satisfying than the junk food your body is asking for.
Tip 2: Avoid artificial sweeteners and MSG.
When we eat sweet-tasting foods, our bodies produce insulin, whether those sweet-tasting foods actually contain sugar or a sugar substitute.
These findings were reported in the British Medical Journal in 2004, along with the result of eating foods sweetened with artificial sweeteners: deprived of the real sugar it was anticipating, the body experiences stronger sugar cravings at the next meal.
MSG (mono sodium glutamate) is a flavor-enhancer found in many prepared foods in grocery stores and at restaurants.
MSG has also been linked to incessant food cravings, including the infamous 'Chinese restaurant syndrome': you eat the food, then feel hungry an hour later.
(It should be noted that many Chinese restaurants now offer MSG-free foods.) Other foods, such as grated parmesan cheese and pre-made soups, contain MSG.
It's almost impossible to cut artificial flavor enhancers out of your diet completely, but you can take steps to reduce the amount you consume.
Eat natural foods you prepare yourself. Don't consume too many diet sodas. Instead, hydrate with water or decaffeinated tea.
If you crave something sweet, go ahead and have real sugar in moderation. If you give your body a little of what it wants, it's less likely to demand more at the next meal.
Tip 3: Learn to identify emotional eating triggers.
Emotional eating is a real problem for millions of people. Some people use food as a way to find a sense of fulfillment. Others use it to soothe themselves when they are in pain. This can lead to frequent strong cravings for "comfort food".
Kaiser Permanente just concluded a study on effective treatments for binge eating disorder. They found that food journals are a key element.
By recording what they ate and why, binge eaters were able to identify the events and thought patterns that led to overeating.
These findings can be seen in the April issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
Tip 4: Cheat (but only a little.)
If you find yourself demoralized by a craving that won't go away, give yourself permission to indulge a little. In the long-run, it's better to have that half-cup of ice cream than to keep denying yourself and obsessing over it.
Simply adjust your plan to include a little more exercise that day, or take away extra calories from another meal to compensate.
Tip 5: Have a medical exam.
Constant cravings can be a sign of a more serious condition, such as diabetes. A quick and inexpensive fasting blood sugar test will let you know if your blood glucose level falls within the normal range.
Diabetes is highly manageable when caught early, so be sure to have a screening if you have diabetic relatives, or if you experience increased hunger, thirst, or urination.
Junk food cravings can be significantly reduced by addressing the underlying health issues that sometimes cause them.