10 Ways to Train Your Brain to Hate Junk Food
If unhealthy, processed food, is sabotaging your weight loss efforts, outsmart junk food cravings with these clever tricks.
Why do we crave unhealthy food?
As explained in the recent New York Times Magazine piece, “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food,” there’s no denying that junk food cravings are powerful, physiological reactions—and, apparently, carefully and strategically developed by food manufacturers. Many of our favorite supermarket snacks are made with the “perfect” amounts of added sugar, salt, fat, and other chemicals designed to make us want more. But you can steer clear of processed food by eating as many healthy, whole foods as possible, and the less junk food you eat, the less you want. Try the following tips and see if they work for you. (Take a bite out of one of these delicious snacks that dietitians swear curb their sugar cravings!)
Practice the five-ingredient rule
If there are more than five ingredients on a food label—a red flag for food processing—don’t buy it. (Or if you do, consider it a treat instead of an everyday purchase). This is an easy way to avoid impulse buys like flavor-blasted chips or pre-made cookies when food shopping.
Aim for three colors
A 2012 Cornell study found that people prefer three food items and three different colors on their plates, compared with more or less of either category. So instead of reaching for a candy bar, snack on nuts (loaded with healthy fats), fruit slices, and a small square of dark chocolate to get a healthy variety of colors, textures, and nutrients. (Make sure you know these seven science-backed tricks to stop your food cravings for good!)
Break your routine
It only takes a few weeks to form a habit. So if you always associate 3 p.m. with a trip to the vending machine, start a tradition to walk around the block for five minutes instead. This may kick your craving altogether. Or try one of these 30 healthy eating tips that will not only change your eating habits, they will change your life!
Make healthy food your treat
One of the best, easiest desserts? Stash red grapes in the freezer, and cap off dinner with something sweet without kick-starting sugar cravings. (Here’s what your food cravings say about your health!)
Keep the healthy stuff handy
Store healthy foods you want to eat more front and center in your fridge and out on your countertops. Snack foods are so easy to dig into—you just rip open a bag. If you had, say, red peppers all sliced and ready to go, they’re all the more tempting to dip into hummus.
Know your trigger foods
Whether you’ve got a sweet tooth for chocolate and red velvet anything or love salty treats like pretzels, know the foods that send you down the spiral of junk food binging. You’ve already accomplished half of the battle by identifying them. Keep them out of the house. (Try one of these 49 healthy snacks to curb your every craving whether it’s sweet, salty, or savory!)
Gross yourself out
One surefire way to consume less processed food is to learn more about what you’re really eating. Here are a few that make us cringe: Those frozen “grilled chicken” breasts get their marks from a machine infused with vegetable oil. The preservative BHA is added to processed food like Tang, Kool Aid, and breakfast sausage even though Health and Human Services consider it a likely carcinogen. The vitamin D3 added to many yogurt brands is manufactured from sheeps’s grease. And the “natural flavor” in BBQ Baked Lays is made with milk and chicken powder. Yuck!
Chew more than you need
Adam Melonas, renowned chef and founder of UNREAL candy (along with Nicky Bronner, a 15-year-old determined to “unjunk candy”) shared this smart tip: “If you can make people chew more, they’ll eat less.” Next time you sneak in a treat, chew slowly and consciously. Wait until you finish one bite to take the next. (This is the secret you to need to stop nighttime stress-eating!)
Cut back on the junk food gradually
It’s true that eating sugar begets eating more sugar because it dulls your taste buds, which is why you keep reaching for more sugary foods to reach that same level of satisfaction. But cutting back on the junk food can actually have the opposite effect. David Katz, MD, a nutrition expert at the Yale School of Medicine told NDTV that if you eat less of junk food, you’ll need less of it to score a rush from it. He suggests this easy trick: cut down on your bad eating habits in baby steps. For instance, if you take three sugars in your yea, reduce it to two sugars for a few weeks, then work your way down to one. Soon, you’ll notice that you only need small amounts to satisfy your craving.
Eat one raisin mindfully
Leslie Korn, PhD, an expert in mental-health nutrition and author of the cookbook The Good Mood Kitchen swears by this 5-minute or less trick: eating one raisin! First, pick up the raisin, examine its texture and shape, and sniff it. Then place the raisin on your tongue, move it around in your mouth and start to chew it slowly. As you swallow it, remain still as you imaging the raisin moving throughout your body. When you’ve finished eating the raisin ask yourself “What does my body really need?” Mindful eating helps boost your parasympathetic dominance, a chemical reaction that slows down your heart rate and breathing. But eating mindfully also helps increase your levels of the anti-anxiety neurotransmitter GABA, which stabilizes your appetite and improves digestion. (Here’s how you can kiss your junk food cravings goodbye with this one healthy snack!)