If you’re having trouble figuring out how to stop eating so much junk food, you’ll find the best strategies to do just that.
I’m sure you’ll agree with how hard it can be to quit eating fast and junk food. Many of us just love to eat junk food like pizza, cheeseburgers, coke, chips, ice cream, etc. But curbing these junk food cravings so you can lose weight is a hard habit to break.
Junk food is everywhere! There’s so much temptation such as TV shows, Instagram, Pinterest, and constant advertisements. No wonder it’s incredibly difficult to stay on track. Every time we see an attractive image of food blood rushes to the part of our brain associated with taste (1).
There are other factors that can cause you to eat more than you should. Then stress, lack of sleep, mood, family members, and even hormones can all add to the temptation to binge on junk food.
Portion control is going to be key to losing weight as we make over 200 food decisions every day (2). Should you eat that cookie or broccoli? These small decisions throughout the day add up only making it more difficult to stay on track.
You can easily use some proven strategies to train your brain not to crave junk food anymore so you stop eating it. Here you’ll find the best ways I’ve found how to stop eating so much junk food so you can start losing weight.
Why do you eat so much junk food?
For many people, junk food is simply too delicious to resist. The salty, sweet, or savory flavors are instantly gratifying, and can often be quite addictive. Junk food is often very affordable, quick, and convenient, making it a go-to choice for busy people on the go.
However, there are also some less-than-obvious reasons why people may eat junk food. For example, some research suggests that junk food can actually help to reduce stress levels. Your brain actually releases the feel-good reward hormone dopamine after eating junk food. This trains your brain to want to consume more fast and junk food in the future to get the same brain reward from dopamine.
You can’t stop eating junk food because your brain builds a tolerance to this dopamine release (3). The more junk food you eat day after the day then the more you’re going to feed this addiction. Then having to go through the withdrawal of giving up junk food can be too unbearable for most.
Everybody loves food and we’re wired to eat more than we should as often as we can. Our brains are wired to want to eat high-calorie, sweet, fatty, and carb-rich foods like pizza and cheeseburgers.
Back in the caveman days food wasn’t readily available at all times, we’d have to forage for food. When we came upon some food we’d eat until our bellies couldn’t eat anymore. And the more fatty calorie-dense foods we could find the better. We’d pack on the pounds after eating it which would give us a belly full of fat that could help us survive through the winter.
That was great back then so our bodies evolved to eat this way. Nowadays this doesn’t work since it’s so easy to overeat these junk foods with them being so cheap and easily accessible at all times.
Extreme calorie restriction also doesn’t work very well for most (4). You really just need to find out how to stop food cravings. You can only go so long by cutting your calories before your body panics. Next thing you know you’re binge eating everything in sight.
No Junk Food for a Month Results
So what happens when you stop eating junk food even for a month? You’ll naturally start to have more energy and a better mood. You sleep better and wake up feeling energized and refreshed. And of course, you’ll lose weight fast.
Just cutting out junk food alone results in losing 10 pounds for most people. The weight will quickly start to come off once your get rid of the junk food. You’ll cut out a lot of the daily calories and carbs from your diet by eliminating junk food.
You’ll feel awake and more lively during the day after avoiding junk food. This is especially true for sugar which can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes that zap you of your energy. Your mood will greatly improve as you wake up feeling more refreshed, relaxed and positive since your body was able to properly recover and rejuvenate from a night of quality sleep.
An additional benefit from giving up junk food for a month many might not think about is better gut health. Junk food is full of processed and refined ingredients like seed oils that are harmful to your gut health. Upset stomachs, gas, bloating, and constipation can all come from consuming too much junk food. But once you quit the junk food your gut health will improve and you won’t have an upset stomach and the cravings will greatly diminish (5).
You’ll actually end up saving money by not going out to buy fast food so much. You’ll be able to stretch your dollars a lot further by picking up whole foods at the grocery store and meal prepping meals. You’ll develop greater discipline and feel better in control of yourself. And you won’t have to rely on junk or fast foods to make you feel good.
It might be hard right at the beginning as you start to cut out the junk food. Just know that it’ll get easier as you start to overcome these urges to binge eat junk food. With time you’ll eventually be able to eat a little bit of junk food without binging and then recover by getting right back on track.
How to Stop Eating Junk Food and Sugar
It can be hard at first to give up the junk food since you’ve built a tolerance to the instant dopamine reward from eating junk food. But there are some science-backed ways you can use to stop eating so much junk food.
Making better priorities with your eating is the foundation of it all. Proper food planning is what’s going to keep you from overeating during the day. When you have your healthy lower calories meal already planned and set for the day it makes it a lot easier to stay on track (6).
To break the junk food addiction you’re going to have to train your brain to eat healthily. Eating junk food is a vicious cycle as you only want to eat more and more of it. As you build a tolerance you might have started only eating a couple of scoops of ice cream but the next thing you know you’re eating the whole pint (7).
Years of eating junk food have rewired your brain circuits to crave the reward from eating junk food. Eating normal healthy foods isn’t going to be as pleasurable at first as eating junk foods.
The best thing you can do to break the junk food addiction and gain self-control with food is to go cold turkey. Sticking to your guns by not eating any junk food is going to be key to kicking the habit for good. We all know what it’s like to just tell yourself you’ll only have a few bites but then a major backslide is inevitable.
How long does it take to stop craving junk food?
The worse your diet has been with overeating junk foods then the harder and more time it’ll take to break the habit. But it’ll take anywhere from a few to 10 days before you’re really able to stop craving junk foods. If you’ve been eating junk foods for years (or decades) then it’ll take some time to train your brain that these foods are bad and not as enjoyable and comforting as it thinks.
Now let’s get into the best strategies for avoiding reliance on fast and junk food…
Increase Your Feelings of Fullness
Satiety is the level of fullness you feel in your belly. There are some tricks you can use to make yourself feel fuller longer so you don’t eat as much junk food. You’ll have fewer cravings for junk food the fuller overall you feel (8).
Eating more fiber and protein will increase your satiety. Protein is a lot more satiating than carbs or fats since it suppresses your “hunger hormone” ghrelin (9). The more ghrelin you have then the hungrier you’re going to feel. So lowering your ghrelin levels naturally by eating more protein is key.
Some good protein choices are:
- low-carb protein shake
Next is to start eating more fiber to “fill out” your stomach so you feel fuller for longer. Fiber not only improves your digestion and gut health but it’s a great way to boost satiety.
A study by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found adults who doubled their vegetable intake had greater hunger satisfaction (10). They also lost more weight compared to the group eating fewer veggies. The fiber in vegetables (the non-digestible part) is what will help your belly feel fuller longer (11).
Some high-fiber foods you can eat include:
- Brussels sprouts
Hydrate Your Body
It’s crazy to think about but a lot of the times you’re feeling hungry your body is actually just thirsty. Your body confuses dehydration with hunger and causes you to want to eat. Lowering these hunger feels is critical to kicking the junk food addiction (12).
Your body has a hard time telling the difference between hunger and thirst. Thirst signals are weak which is why it’s so easy to mistake thirst for hunger. Try to stay ahead of dehydration by not waiting until you’re thirsty before drinking water.
Here’s a good rule of thumb for staying properly hydrated. Take half your body weight and that’ll be the minimal amount of fluid ounces you should be drinking daily.
So if you weigh 150 pounds then you should be drinking at least 75 fluid ounces daily. Try to drink 1-2 glasses of water after waking up in the morning since your body has likely become dehydrated overnight.
Start carrying a water bottle with you throughout the day too. It’s an easy way to make sure you have a readily available hydration source.
Drink a tall glass of water about 15-20 minutes before the next time you’re about to eat a meal It’ll help to curb your appetite so you don’t overeat. Drinking some water before eating won’t mess with your digestion and will lower those junk food cravings.
Eat More Healthy Fats
Healthy fats are also satiating like protein and help to eliminate sugar and unhealthy carb cravings. Healthy fats have been found by studies to reduce the cravings for bad junk food carbs like white bread and soda (13).
It’s too bad fat has been unjustly blamed for weight gain in the past few decades. Healthy fats help to stabilize your blood sugar but bad carbs from junk foods put it on a roller coaster ride. When your blood sugar crashes your body will crave more sugary and carb junk foods to bring it back up quickly.
Artificial sweeteners might contain zero calories but they can cause you to crave even more sweet sugary foods. And even drinking diet soda can cause belly fat. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine found eating artificial sweeteners can lead to weight gain as they fuel sugar cravings (14).
When you eat these artificial sweeteners your body is expecting calories to come along with it. When there aren’t any calories it causes your body to crave more of them.
Instead of the sugar and refined carbs, you should instead try these best healthy fat food choices. Eating fat will not only fill your belly, but it’ll also keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day
Reduce Frequency Of Eating
One of the best and most logical ways to kick the junk food habit is to reduce the frequency when you eat them. If you’re used to eating junk foods for 3 meals a day then you’ll make some great progress by only eating junk foods for 2 meals a day.
From there you can cut it down to only one meal per day and then eventually zero. Studies have found this is a lot more effective at reducing junk food cravings than just cutting down on the amount you’re eating each time (14).
If you want to reduce your cravings for junk foods then it’s most effective to decrease how often you eat them. It’ll be a lot more effective than eating them just as often but reducing portion size.
Try using intermittent fasting in the mornings to instantly eliminate any possibility of eating junk foods during your fasting window. This will kickstart you on the right track towards reducing your frequency of eating junk foods.
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Reduce Stress and Improve Sleep
Sometimes when you’re feeling hungry you’re really craving comfort and a release from stress.
Why are you really hungry? You could be craving to eat your favorite comfort foods because you’re feeling stressed, nervous, depressed, lonely, anxious, etc.
We all have certain foods that are comforting to us. We then eat these foods to fight off the feelings of sadness or longing. Also to satisfy an emotional need for connection.
When you’re stressed you’ll crave those comforting junk foods of old to make you feel better. It’s best to reduce your stress the best you can with other more healthy and active methods.
A 2011 study by McGill University found that those who were tempted with images of their favorite foods could fight off the feelings when they thought about their favorite activities.
Instead of eating a pint of ice cream when you’re feeling down try taking your dog for a walk or taking a yoga class at the gym. Even calling a friend or loved one can help you get out of the cycle of emotional eating.
We learn to eat for comfort when we’re kids. It all starts with giving a screaming child a lollipop to keep them quiet.
By improving your sleep quality you’ll be able to handle your stress much easier. Sleep deprivation has been found to cause a loss of self-control. Plus studies have found you’ll crave junk foods after a poor night sleep.
If you have trouble with managing your stress then the adaptogens in a greens powder can help your body strengthen its stress response.
Keep It Out Of The House
Ever hear the saying, “Out of sight out of mind?” It’s 100% true as research has found the harder junk food is to get to the less likely you’re going to be to eat it.
A little extra effort like having to use a chair to reach the junk food on the top shelf will decrease the odds you eat it. Any extra work involved makes you think twice if it’s actually worth it.
This is a great opportunity to talk yourself out of eating that extra food. Sometimes laziness is better for you than lust.
I have a rule that if it’s in the house then you’re going to eat it. There have been so many times I wished I was able to eat my favorite junk food. The only thing keeping me was I didn’t put it in the house in the first place. Otherwise, you can bet I would’ve eaten it.
Try putting out healthy snacks like veggies and nuts on the kitchen counter instead of M&M’s and cookies. When it’s out of the house then it won’t be so easy to eat.
Meal Prep Ahead of Time
Another easy way to make sure you stop eating so much is to start making your own food from scratch. This alone will help to ensure you keep out any sugar, refined carbohydrates, or processed foods.
It’ll take a little more time to make your food but that’ll be the whole point in keeping from eating a lot. Cooking your own food will give you pride over your meal as you stop eating out so much and buying pre-made foods. There’s something incredibly satisfying about sitting down to eat a meal you made yourself. We take more pride in things we have to work for.
You’ll automatically eliminate the bad foods from making your own foods. Most pre-made foods have additives that will keep you coming back for more and more. Your body will never be satisfied eating those bad foods. You’ll crave more and more of them to get the nutrients your body’s missing.
You can swap out bad ingredients in recipes for good ones too. For example, I like to swap out traditional flours for either almond or coconut flour. You’ll make your meal 10X’s healthier this way.
I like to batch together my meal prepping for the week on Sundays. This way you’ll start the week on the right track. It’s easier than you think to make your own meals. You’ll also be able to control your portions by placing your meals into Tupperware.
This is one of the tricks bodybuilders use to make sure they’re eating the right meals during the day. All you have to do is open the fridge and the food is right there ready to eat. No thinking or willpower is involved. The trick is not letting yourself get hungry otherwise you’ll search out junk foods.
Boost Your Brain Health
The health of your brain is going to play a major role in your ability to resist junk food cravings. The better you’re able to maximize your brain health the more self-restraint you’ll have for junk food snacking.
There’s a part of your brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex that is associated with self-constraint. But when researchers were able to temporarily deactivate this part of the brain self-constraint went out the window.
So taking care of your brain health can play a big factor in not giving in to junk food temptations. Eating healthier foods, sleeping better, managing stress, and reducing alcohol consumption can all improve your brain health.
Mindfulness activities like meditation, breathing, gratitude, and positivity can all improve your brain health. Exercising regularly is one of the best things you can do to boost brain health. Exercise releases feel-good hormones in the brain like serotonin and provides a sharper memory and thinking.
You don’t have to go to the gym to exercise if that’s not your thing. You can walk your dog, go on a hike, dance, ride your bike, or do any number of physical activities other than going to the gym.
Reducing inflammation caused by a bad diet will also improve your brain health. Kicking out the junk foods alone greatly diminishes inflammation in your body and brain. Eating more real and natural whole foods should make up the bulk of your diet. Get rid of refined and processed foods… if it has a label then don’t eat it.
The Last Word
Now you’ve found some ways to stop eating junk food it’s time to put them into action.
If you’re ready to start now and immediately kick out the junk food for good for a while then it’s best to go cold turkey. Resisting the urge to even have a few bites of junk food will keep you from falling off the wagon and binge eating.
But if you think it’ll be way too hard for you to give up junk food cold turkey then you can start by reducing the frequency of how often you eat it. Just lowering the portion size isn’t going to be nearly as effective as reducing how often you eat junk food.
Then it’s time to add in ways to improve your self-restraint systems like improving brain health, exercising, reducing stress, and improving sleep. Throw away all the junk food in the house so you don’t have access to it. Meal prep your meals ahead of time so you have them ready to go. Don’t allow yourself to wait until you get hungry since you’ll be more likely to pick up some junk food.
Getting rid of the junk food addiction isn’t the easiest for some but it also isn’t impossible. The longer you’ve been eating junk food then the harder it can be. But I can promise you that you’ll lose weight, feel better, have more energy, and be so proud of yourself once you’re able to kick the junk food addiction.
Josh Schlottman, CSCS CPT
Josh holds a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and he’s a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) by American Council on Exercise. He’s worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the high school and college levels. He has over 15 years of experience as a personal trainer and nutrition coach. He is also the author of The Flat Belly Formula. He strives to bring inspiration and results for people to live healthier lives through smart diet and exercise.
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