Everyone has a love/hate relationship with junk food: it tastes amazing, but you know it’s not good for you. If you have tried to cut back on your junk food intake before, you also know how hard it can be to curb the cravings. So, let’s try to make it easier with the top ten ways to stop eating junk food.
10. Drink water
Water is everywhere, 60% of our body is literally made up of water; so, why are we all dehydrated? You may not notice it, but most of us are mildly dehydrated every day. In fact, on average, 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated as they are not drinking the recommended 10 cups of water a day. Americans are more likely to buy junk food like soda over water as it curbs their craving for sugar. This is a major issue as our body needs water to function properly. Water helps our body digest vitamins and nutrients, it detoxifies our liver and kidneys and helps carry waste away. On a smaller level, being dehydrated also creates cravings or hunger. You may think you’re hungry even though you just ate an hour ago, try drinking a glass of water and your hunger will probably go away. Your body was actually just craving water, not soda or junk food. Drinking a glass of water before you eat is also a great way to reduce cravings and lower your appetite so you don’t overeat or eat junk food afterward. So, if you’re feeling hungry or want to grab your favorite chocolate bar, try drinking water first, and see if that helps.
9. Get rid of all the junk food in your house
If you find yourself constantly snacking on junk food when you’re at home or work, you need to eliminate the source. If you don’t have junk food around you, you will be less likely to eat it. This is not to say that you can’t just go out and buy more or even have it delivered, but the work involved in doing so will likely put you off of the idea. The best thing to do is get rid of your junk food and replace it with a healthy alternative. If you like the crunch of chips, try buying apples instead. If you like chocolate, dark chocolate can be a healthier alternative. Or, if you like sweets, try drying your own fruit instead. Not having junk food doesn’t mean you have to stop snacking altogether, it just means you are more mindful about what you’re putting in your body. If you think the thought of throwing out all your junk food is too much, try to do it in stages. For example, if you eat a bag of chips and a chocolate bar every week, start by cutting out only one for a week or two, then cut out the other. This will help you and your body to slowly get used to eating less junk food. Soon, you won’t even crave it anymore!
8. Meal prep or plan
To differentiate, meal prepping is when you make multiple meals to eat throughout the week and meal planning is when you simply plan what you’re going to make or eat for the week. Meal prepping or planning your meals can help you in a number of different ways, but it can especially help with cutting out junk food. If you make healthy, balanced meals for the week, you won’t be as tempted to go to the nearest fast-food restaurant for a meal instead. We often gravitate towards junk food because it’s convenient and it doesn’t require a lot of work to pick up or get delivered. But, what could be more convenient than re-heating a meal you already made. If you dedicate a few hours on the weekend to cook for the whole week, your future self will thank you. If you really don’t have time to fully meal prep, meal planning is still beneficial. Meal planning will help you limit what you buy at the grocery store to only the essentials rather than buying junk food. It will also help you to have a delicious meal to look forward to instead of wondering what you should eat next. Ultimately, meal planning and prepping will save you both time during the week, and money from overeating or eating junk food.
7. Try to get more sleep at night
How many of you can say that you get enough sleep every night? Probably not many! In fact, it is estimated that 50 to 70 million Americans have sleep-related problems such as insomnia or sleep apnea. While there are many factors that contribute to sleep loss, our diet is a big one. A healthy, balanced diet can both help you fall asleep quicker and help you have better quality sleep. Similarly, if you are sleep deprived, studies have shown that people are more likely to eat foods that are high in calories, fat, and sugar. This is because a lack of sleep causes our body to crave calorie-dense food that will give it energy quickly to wake up. The problem with eating calorie-dense junk food is that the provided energy is not long-lasting, your body will burn it off quickly and you will end up feeling tired again. It is important to break this cycle by eating a healthy, balanced diet to help you fall asleep faster at night and curb cravings for junk food. Even if you are eating healthy food, try to stop eating at least two to three hours before bed. This will give your digestive system enough time to break down your meal and allow for a peaceful rest.
6. Avoid being hungry
Everyone has heard the saying: “Don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry!” and that’s because there is a lot of truth to it. Research has confirmed that going grocery shopping when you’re hungry can make high-calorie foods seem more tempting than they normally are. This is because if our body is hungry, it needs energy. So, you will crave food that will give you the most immediate energy which is usually calorie-dense junk food, not vegetables or fruits. You’ll likely also spend more money as you will think you need more food than you actually do when you’re hungry. The same goes for being hungry at all throughout the day. If you’re at work and get hungry before or after your lunch break, you will likely crave something quick and easy, like junk food, to snack on. The best way to avoid sneaking unhealthy snacks into your diet is to avoid being hungry. Eating well-balanced meals will help to fill you up and keep you full between meals. You can also eat more often, but have smaller meals. Many dieticians recommend eating five to six small meals throughout the day to keep your metabolism running which may actually help you lose weight as well. If you are eating every few hours, you should not get hungry, thus curbing any cravings for junk food. If you do feel hungry, try to have a small, healthy snack before you go into the grocery store to avoid splurging on junk food.
5. Eat nutritious food
There’s nothing worse than eating a meal or snack and twenty minutes later being hungry again. This is often the case when you eat junk food. This is because food that is not nutrient-dense will move through our body quickly, leaving us hungry again. Even though junk food has a lot of calories, it does not have a lot of nutrients. This is why you should stick to healthy, nutritious food instead. Two Oreos are equivalent calorie-wise to 15 cups of spinach, which one do you think will fill you up more? Foods that are high in either protein or fiber are great choices to keep you full throughout the day. This can include foods like fish, meat, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole grains. Try to balance your meals by including a variety of these foods. It is typically recommended to include the three core food groups in your meal: a quarter of your plate should be protein, another quarter carbohydrates, and half vegetables. So, a balanced meal could consist of a piece of chicken (or maybe tofu if you’re vegetarian), some brown rice, and some vegetables such as broccoli. Eating nutritious food like this will also stop you from snacking on junk food throughout the day as nutritious, balanced food will keep you full. While these foods may not be as appealing to you as junk food is, you will feel better in the long run.
4. Have more fruit if you’re craving sugar
Many people crave junk food as it typically has a lot of sugar. Eating sugar is one of the quickest ways to get energy to your body which is why we crave it when we’re hungry or missing other aspects from our diet. If we don’t have enough protein, for example, it will cause your blood sugar to rise and fall abnormally, resulting in a sugar craving. One of the best ways to counteract this is to eat natural sugars. Doing this is almost easier than eating junk food as all fruit contains some natural sugar. Fruit is sometimes even nicknamed “nature’s fast food” as you can eat most fruit on the go with little to no preparation. Fruit contains glucose, which raises blood sugar, and fructose which does not. Although manufacturers typically recreate glucose or fructose in their food, since it is processed and manufactured, our bodies metabolize them quicker. This often leaves people with a “sugar crash” if they eat too much. Instead, cut up fruits with a high sugar content like mangoes or watermelons to eat at work or school when you have a sugar craving. Don’t try to replace fruits with things like fruit juice or fruit snacks either as manufacturers tend to heavily sweeten these products. Stick to a good old apple or banana instead!
3. Try to limit stress in your life
This may be a hard tip to follow since there can be a variety of things in your life stressing you out, but stress can actually cause you to eat more junk food. When you are stressed, your brain will release a stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is most commonly produced in a fight or flight situation when we feel threatened either physically or emotionally. In turn, cortisol can then make people crave sugary, fatty, and salty foods as our brain believes it needs fuel to fight the threat that is causing the stress. The good news here is that “stress eating” is a real thing, so you don’t need to feel bad about it. But, it can be preventable. When you’re stressed, try replacing junk food with a healthier stress management tool. This could be going for a walk or run, meditating, doing yoga or other exercises, talking it out with a loved one, or doing something creative like journaling or painting. If this doesn’t help and your stress eating persists, you may want to consider talking to a doctor or mental health professional. They will be able to suggest healthier coping methods and can offer the necessary emotional support that you may be lacking in your life.
2. Mindfully eat
Many of us mindlessly eat because we are often eating in a rush to get to work or school or rushing to get a meal in before we have to do something else. Being more mindful while we’re eating can help us to gain control over our eating habits. Mindful eating has actually been shown to promote weight loss, improve overall mood, and reduce binge eating of junk food. There are many different ways to be mindful while eating, mostly involving meditation. But, it can be even easier than that. Try to eat slowly without distractions, so turn off all devices and just enjoy your food and company if you have it. This will allow you to appreciate your food more and hopefully steer you away from junk food as you will be more aware of what you’re putting in your body. Eating slowly will also give your body time to digest the food. If you eat too fast, your body won’t realize your full until you’ve already eaten too much. Try to also be mindful of why you’re eating. Are you grabbing that bag of chips because you’re actually hungry or do you just want to snack on something? If you stop and ask yourself this question before eating something, you may realize that you’re not actually hungry and you’re only eating because you’re bored. Try to distract yourself with a fun activity or maybe going for a walk to get your mind off food.
1. Start a new routine
You may have heard the words “It takes 21 days to form a habit” before. This is unfortunately a myth since it could take anywhere from 18 days to 254 days to form a new habit depending on what that habit is. The good news is that the average amount of time it takes to form a new habit is 66 days, not 21. In around three months, your new routine or habit could become automatic to you. So, starting a routine to eat healthier and cut out junk food could change your life in three months or less. Your routine can consist of anything, but should mainly focus on replacing junk food with healthier foods or habits. For example, if you always have some sort of dessert after dinner, try to change that habit to having fruit after dinner instead. Oranges are a great place to start as they can be sweet to curb your sugar craving and also aid in digestion. Once you start consistently eating fruit after dinner instead of junk food as your dessert, your body will get used to that and start to crave the fruit instead. Another habit you could add to your routine is when you feel a craving for junk food, drink water, or chew a piece of gum instead. Water may help take away your hunger and gum could help curb your sweet or salty cravings. Some experts believe that food cravings only last three to five minutes, so if you distract yourself with something else in that time, your craving should go away.