What to Do When You Crave Junk Food: 10 Ways to Curb Cravings
We can all crave various junk foods every once in a while, but when the cravings start to infringe on your daily life and become all-consuming, it’s time to address the underlying causes—and how to deal with them.
Cravings are intense, often uncontrollable urges or desires to eat a particular food—and they’re not usually for grilled chicken or kale. Most people crave “junk food”—processed foods high in sugar, salt, fat, or refined carbohydrates (or a combination of all four).
Although some cravings are normal, many people feel overwhelmed with their cravings and feel that they are impacting their health or weight loss goals. If you feel like you just can’t get your cravings under control, try these ten tips to kick them for good.
10 Ways to Curb Cravings for Junk Food
Our bodies often confuse thirst with hunger, meaning that an intense craving might actually mean that you need to hydrate. If you think you’ve been under-drinking fluids today, drink a large glass of water and see if your cravings subside.
Research found that middle-aged or older adults who drank water before meals had a reduced appetite and ate fewer calories during that meal, facilitating 4.4 more pounds of weight loss during a 12-week study.
Still feeling peckish for popcorn or craving cookies after drinking water? Keep moving down the list of tips.
2. Protein and Fiber First
Protein and fiber are highly satiating, keeping us fuller for longer. Eating protein and fiber at the beginning of your meal can reduce the desire to eat unhealthy foods. These two macronutrients increase fullness by lowering ghrelin levels, our primary “hunger hormone” that tells us to keep eating.
In one study of overweight men, those who increased their protein intake to 25% of daily calories had a 60% reduction in overall cravings and a 50% reduction in the desire to snack at night.
High-protein foods include meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, and tofu, while fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
3. Fermented Foods
While you may not think that a spoonful of sauerkraut could solve your sugar cravings, many people find precisely this to be true.
Although there is no published research on this topic, eating a bite or two of fermented foods like refrigerated pickles, kimchi, kefir, or sauerkraut can immediately curb cravings for sugar or refined carbohydrates.
Plus, these sour foods are loaded with beneficial probiotics that can balance your gut microbiome, which can help regulate your mood and cravings in the future.
4. Take a Walk
If you’re sitting at home with the kitchen full of junk food mere steps away, it can be difficult to fight those cravings—we’re only human, after all. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” is very accurate when it comes to cravings, and taking a walk outside is a great way to distance yourself from the food in question. Not only does walking physically distance you from the food, but it can also improve your mood, which is helpful in cases of emotional eating.
5. Eat Regularly
The word “hangry” exists for a reason—and we all know that going too long without eating can cause extreme binges when you finally have a chance to eat. Many foods are easier to consume high quantities of in one sitting (lookin’ at you, entire bag of potato chips), so ensuring we aren’t going too long without eating can reduce these binge sessions.
Plus, waiting too long between meals can disrupt your blood sugar, causing low blood glucose that increases cravings. While everyone is different, eating every four hours or so is a good place to start.
6. Consider Supplements
Several compounds are thought to reduce cravings, with pretty solid evidence to back them up:
- Spinach extract: This is a lesser-known supplement extracted from the thylakoid membranes of green plants like spinach. Thylakoids have been found to delay fat digestion by inhibiting lipase, increasing the levels of satiety hormones like CCK and GLP-1, and reducing ghrelin activity. One study with overweight women found that taking 5 grams of spinach extract reduced cravings for chocolate and high-sugar foods by 87 to 95%, leading to more significant weight loss.
- Chromium: Chromium picolinate has been shown to impact blood sugar management, appetite, food intake, and cravings. Research with overweight women found that taking 1 mg of chromium picolinate led to reduced food intake, hunger levels, and cravings for fatty foods.
- Berberine: Berberine is known for its role in blood sugar management, as it activates the AMPK pathway, which pulls glucose from the blood into cells for energy. It’s also been shown to suppress appetite—in research with mice, berberine reduced overall food intake by 47.5%.
7. Get Enough Sleep
If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter or tried to skimp by on just a few hours of sleep, you know that your first choice of food is typically not green smoothies and salads—you’re going for the donuts, breakfast burritos, or pancakes.
Research has shown that just one night of poor sleep can drastically increase your cravings for sweet or carb-loaded foods the next day. This is because a lack of sleep can affect hunger hormones like leptin and ghrelin, increasing cravings for unhealthy foods.
So, while the tip to get enough sleep may not help you right in this moment of cravings, trying to focus on increasing your quality of sleep each night can curb your cravings in the future.
8. Manage Your Stress
Easier said than done, we know! Chronic stress can drastically increase your cravings for unhealthy comfort foods, so stress management is critical for curbing cravings.
Research shows that women under stress eat significantly more calories and experience more cravings than women who aren’t stressed. Plus, stress increases cortisol levels—a hormone linked to belly fat gain.
Stress management can include meditation, deep breathing or breathwork, yoga, exercise, therapy, journaling, or other self-care activities that you enjoy.
9. Practice Mindful Eating
Eating in front of the TV or while scrolling through Instagram are surefire ways to overeat. Conversely, mindful eating involves increased awareness of the sensations related to eating (like sight, smell, and taste) and how full or hungry you are. Rather than mindlessly eating whatever is in front of you, you learn to distinguish between cravings and true hunger.
Most people who eat more mindfully eat less at each meal, become more in tune with their bodies, and have fewer cravings for unhealthy foods.
10. Don’t Deprive Yourself
Last but not least, overly restricting foods makes us more likely to crave them—for most people, that is. While some people do okay with cutting things entirely out of their lives, the majority of us don’t like to feel deprived. When we add occasional treats, we’re less likely to crave and binge them later. This is why most diets fail—because people can’t keep up with the high levels of restriction, and it backfires.
It’s normal to have cravings every now and then, and occasional indulgence is fine. The key is to make most of your choices healthy, leading to a balanced and sustainable diet.
When the cravings just won’t quit, try eating more protein and fiber, hydrating, snacking on fermented foods, walking, and considering supplements like spinach extract or berberine. General lifestyle tips to practice in your day-to-day routine to reduce cravings in the future include eating regularly, getting enough sleep, managing your stress, not overly restricting, and practicing mindful eating.
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