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How to Tame Junk Food Cravings

Why do we have junk food cravings? And why do we give into them, even when we know they aren't good for us? How can we stop these cravings?

Many people think they should have the willpower to avoid junk foods, and when they can't, they beat themselves up about it. They think of themselves as weak and that can perpetuate the cycle of giving in to cravings. However, there is more to the story than just willpower.

Did you know that food companies engineer their foods to keep the craving cycle going? They actually design their foods to taste the best so they can override our internal stop signal. That keeps up craving more and more. So we buy more and we eat more, and it's really hard to stop. We crave the foods even when we know it's going to make us maybe gain weight, lead to stomach aches, acid reflux, and more. But we still find ourselves saying, "I will just eat this one time" or "this is the last time I'm eating it". Or a very common one, "I just don't care, I'm going to eat it anyway". That guarantees that the unhealthy cravings cycle continues.

Marketing from big food companies entices us to buy their products. We try them and we get hooked and we continue to buy them over and over again. Of course the product has an ingredients list and a food nutrition label but what we really see is the billboard on the front of the box. It's that billboard that draws us in. It says "natural", it says "healthy", and has all these words to get us to buy it, even though it might not be the healthiest product. Or think about Oreos. Have you noticed how it seems there is a different flavor or color each month? They keep coming out with a special new flavor because they want to keep us buying their product. Same thing with M&Ms. There used to just be plain and peanut. Now how many different kinds of M&Ms are out there?! Coffee shops offer different seasonal flavors to keep us enticed too.

What is this taste system that can override our rational reasoning? It's a very precise combination of salt, fat, and sugar. Those three things combined tell our brain to eat another chip, finish the french fries, eat the entire box of cookies. This combination has been coined the "bliss point". It's well designed science that takes us to that bliss point and can override our brain's natural stop signals.

In contrast, think about a farmer who grows vegetables. Has the farmer invested money to find the bliss point so we can't stop eating broccoli? What about steak? There just comes a point where you are satisfied by those real foods. At some point you're full and satiated and not interested in eating more steak and broccoli even though it was a delicious meal. That's the difference with real food - you will be full and satisfied because it's giving your body the adequate nutrients that it needs.

So what are some things you can do to stay on track?

  • Awareness. It's so important to be aware of the unhealthy habits we find ourselves turning to time and time again. When you can elevate your unconscious decisions to your conscious brain then you're aware of the decisions you are making and can employ different strategies to change your default actions.

  • Have goals related to your health and nutrition. When you feel the urge to dive into junk food, stop and ask yourself if eating that is helping or hurting you in achieving those goals.

  • Be prepared! Have healthy snacks in the house, in the car, in your purse, at all times. (Things like nuts, fruit, little cherry tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, meat sticks.)

  • Plan ahead for the week with nutritious meals made of whole foods (i.e., things that are grown or raised, not manufactured or processed).

  • Try eating 3-4 meals a day that contain 4 oz. of meat or fish, a couple cups of vegetables, and one tablespoon of a healthy fat (like avocado oil).

Eating real food cooked in your own kitchen is the best way to outsmart these big food companies that are making the junk food we crave. Real food does not need to be engineered to taste good. Mother nature does that on her own for us!

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