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How to control your food cravings and stop eating junk food

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You’ve no doubt heard this phrase -- you may even have said it yourself: “[Insert unhealthy food here] is my weakness.” Some of our most common food cravings include sugar, chips, alcohol and fast food, although they can also include things like pasta, caffeine or milk. The cravings can be strong and hard to resist, and it might even feel like your logical “I should eat the salad” half is in a losing battle with your “Must. Have. Fries!” half. And the more you try to talk yourself out of it, the stronger the urge becomes.


There’s good news! It is possible to win out over your cravings, and the first step is to understand where they come from.

What causes food cravings?

If you’ve ever stood in the checkout lane at the supermarket, repeating to yourself “You do not need the candy bar,” while at the same time reaching for the candy bar, it can feel like a complete failure of self-control. The truth, though, is that there’s a lot more going on in your brain, and understanding what’s happening physiologically can go a long way toward eliminating not only the craving, but the side helping of guilt that often comes with it.


There’s no question that the body is a complex organism, and it’s really difficult to keep all systems functioning at optimal levels at all times. So when one system gets out of rhythm or needs a little more of a mineral or nutrient, a craving is your body’s way of letting you know.


Here are a few of the most common cravings, and what they might signal:

  • Chocolate: You may be low in magnesium, or in need of caffeine. Chocolate may also be the junk food of choice if you’re suffering from PMS, and that goes double if you’ve trained your body to see chocolate as the go-to response for certain negative emotions.
  • Salty snacks: If you’re craving peanuts, pretzels or other salty snacks, it could signal dehydration. It doesn’t matter how you got there (sweating, sickness, or too much coffee or alcohol, for example), craving salt is your body’s way of saying your electrolytes are out of whack.
  • Sweets: If you can’t walk away from the dessert menu, it may mean that your blood sugar is too low. This can happen if you eat too much starch, not enough protein, or if you’re tired. You may also find yourself craving sweets if you’re on a low-carb diet.
  • Carbs: An irresistible urge to eat pasta for dinner can stem from a few different sources: your body may need more energy, or your brain may need a mood boost. Carbs not only help regulate blood sugar, they also stimulate the release of serotonin, often called the “happiness chemical.” 
  • Junk food: Our bodies can release dopamine and other pleasure-reward chemicals in response to junk food, which means that McDonald’s can be really and truly addictive. Junk food cravings can also stem from childhood memories or emotional triggers like sadness or stress.


Every craving has a source, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s physiological. The mind, body and soul are connected in more ways than we can imagine, and an imbalance in one area of your life could present itself as a craving for a particular food. Are you dealing with stress in any area of your life, like your family, job or finances? There’s a reason for the common idea that ice cream is the cure for sadness -- a wave of happiness chemicals are released when you eat high-sugar foods, too.

What can you eat to stop cravings?

One way to stop eating junk food when you crave it is to replace it with a healthier version of whatever your body needs. 

Instead of eating chocolate to raise your magnesium, reach for other mineral-rich foods like nuts or leafy greens. (And if it has to be chocolate, make sure it’s dark chocolate.)


If you’re craving sugar, exchange the candy bar for the natural sugar that comes in whole fruits like oranges or strawberries. 


And if you just have to hit up the fast food drive-thru, order the grilled chicken instead of the fried, and the fruit cup instead of the fries.

Generally speaking, foods that are dense, high in protein and packed with nutrients are the quickest way to rebalance your body. Protein bars, good fats like hummus or yogurt, or naturally sweet fruits can have the same effect without all the extra calories. 


Another way to get past strong cravings is to drink water. Thirst can actually present itself as hunger, so just the simple act of drinking water could help the craving to pass. 

Other ways to stop craving unhealthy foods

A craving that starts with food doesn’t necessarily have to end that way. If you find yourself staring into the pantry at your favorite bag of chips, close the door and get out of the house. Even a few minutes of exercise can not only help distract you, it can also help get your body back in sync.


Another way to eliminate cravings without eating is to try and find ways to reduce your emotional triggers -- are there things in life that stress you out? Are you feeling inadequate in your job or relationships? Building self-confidence can help you see that you don’t need sweets to feel good about yourself. The next time you crave a chocolate bar, spend 10 minutes meditating instead.


Finally, become mindful of your food habits. The old adage about not going to the grocery store hungry is true -- be conscious about how and when you shop, and try to stick to the store’s outer walls (the longer a food item can sit on one of the center shelves, the more processed and preserved it is.) When you eat, be conscious of every bite. Don’t snack absent-mindedly in front of the TV. And if you find yourself losing track of your snacking, keep a journal that records every bite.


If your struggle with cravings has caused you to gain weight, a personal trainer can help you get back on track. You’ll not only learn the best exercises for your body type, but also the best foods for supplementing your hard work in the gym. Call for a free consultation today! 



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