Watch this amazing video to understand the real repercussion that eating junk food can have on your health.
You know the drill. You come home from a stressful day at work and immediately inspect the cupboard for whatever will give you immediate satisfaction. Better yet, on the way home, you hit the drive-through for a bag of salty fries and a coke, or a filling milkshake. Why do we keep eating foods that we know are not good for us?
Would we do the same with taking other risks? When you think about it, eating junk food is very risky, especially if you habitually succumb to such cravings. Check our post What’s The Calorie Cost Of Eating That Junk Food?
In order to “kick the junk food habit”, it is helpful to understand where these cravings come from. What goes on in our brains to create such strong cravings? Is it physiological, or, is it willpower? It is about a lot more than willpower.
Even if we have inherited cravings for high calorie foods from our hunter-gatherer prehistoric ancestors, we are bombarded by non-nutritious sweets, salty snacks, and high saturated fatty foods and do not need these foods for our survival. What happens in our brains when we eat these foods? There must be some very powerful reward, or we wouldn’t have such a struggle with those junk food cravings.
When you eat a typical junk food snack or meal, your brain actually rewards you by releasing “feel-good” chemicals, such as dopamine and endorphins. Two biggies in triggering junk food cravings are lack of sleep and stress.
A lack of sleep can contribute to these cravings. A 2013 study by U.C. Berkeley highlighted a correlation between insufficient sleep and cravings for high calorie unhealthy snacks and junk foods. What they found was “that high-level brain regions required for complex judgments and decisions become blunted by a lack of sleep, while more primal brain structures that control motivation and desire are amplified”, according to Mathew Walker, professor of psychology and neuroscience at US Berkeley and author of this study published August 6, 2013 in “Nature Communications” journal. In other words, sleep deprivation stimulated a strong reward response in the individuals who were studied.
Stress impacts cravings for junk food by stimulating the release of “feel good” opioid neurotransmitters as well as appetite stimulating chemicals which make you want to eat more fat and sugar (i.e. like having the “munchies”). Research also leads to the conclusion that stress also stimulates the reward response in people by driving a strong desire for comfort foods, which are often unhealthy.
Whatever the trigger is, once you tread down the path of being a junk-food junkie, other mechanisms are at play, such as the science and marketing behind the food industry. According to James Clear, writer for the Huffington Post, the two key elements are the sensations of eating the food (how food feels in your mouth and how it smells) and the actual ingredients in the food, or combination of fat, carbs, protein, salt, etc. I’ll bet that your mouth is watering right now, just reading this!
For example, I crave a particular snack that is crunchy, melts in my mouth, and is easily devoured in no time. These “crunchy pea snacks” are specifically designed to do just that…to “melt in my mouth” leaving me feeling like I hardly at anything when I actually ate half the bag or more in one sitting!
So, if we are biologically and chemically driven to eat junk food, over-marketed to by the food industry, and struggling to change our eating habits, what can we do?
8 Ways to Kick the Habit:
- Avoid your triggers (be aware of what triggers you…..boredom at work, stress, fatigue, out with friends and drinking alcohol, too much coffee, rewards). The first thing on your list is to clean out the cupboards. Yes, throw out those chips, pretzels and sodas. If you are struggling with adding a cookie to your coffee meeting, then stop meeting at the coffee shop. If time of day is your trigger (i.e. late at night), then don’t stay up so late, or make sure that you have healthier options available.
- Try substitutions for all or some of what you crave (a spoonful of almond butter vs. cookies after dinner). It may seem obvious, but at a party, fill up on those carrots and cherry tomatoes before even thinking about chips and dip. Instead of a calorie-laden coffee drink, try a low-fat milk latte or green tea. If coffee is a trigger for you to snack, then avoid coffee and fill up an extra glass of water with a slice of lemon. Trading an apple for a donut might sound like torture, but once you establish the habit, it will be much easier. What about a handful of fresh blueberries instead of cookies?
- Eat a balanced meal/snack (fats, carbs, proteins). This will help curb your cravings for sweets afterwards. Having healthy fats and some protein will contribute to your feeling satiated and satisfied.
- Eat regularly to avoid blood sugar crashes and running to the vending machine. Keep snacks in your drawer or fridge at work that will maintain stable blood sugar, such as almonds or a hard-boiled egg or Greek yogurt. Carry a healthy energy bar with you in case of blood sugar emergencies. Many energy bars have a good balance of carbs, proteins, fats. Avoid the ones that are mostly all carbohydrates.
- Prepare your food ahead of time. Keep sliced veggies in your refrigerator ready to dip in hummus, and you won’t need to revert to dipping bread or crackers. Take a hard-boiled egg with you to help bridge the gap between meals. Have dinner prep already done before you get home from work and are tired and lazy and want to take the easy way out.
- Place “value” on what you choose to eat and put into your body. Do you really need that bag of chips or that chocolate chip cookie? How does it serve your body? If you value what you put into your body, you will learn to respect your body more and eat healthier.
- 80/20 rule? Can you apply it? Eat healthy 80 percent of the time and let yourself indulge the other 20. Even better, try the 90/10 rule!
- Find pleasure in healthy eating. This suggestion falls into the realm of “mindful eating” because finding pleasure in healthy eating requires that you be mindful of the experience of eating healthy foods.
Ok, something I do to deal with my cravings. I just brush my teeth right after I finish eating. I love the freshness of a clean mouth, but more than that, the mint flavor also stops any food craving I might have. Mint is actually a natural appetite suppressant. Carina
And you, how do you deal with your cravings? Please share with us your tips and tricks here in the comments, and if you find this article helpful, share it with your friends in social media.
By Sue Bream yoursimplehealthylife.com
Meme´s photo copyright: voronin76 / 123RF Stock Photo (Meme was made by yoursimplehealthylife.com)