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16 Thoughtful Ways to Tackle Junk Food Cravings

Are you constantly fighting the allure of unhealthy snacks? Do you find yourself reaching for a bag of chips or a candy bar when stress levels rise?

Our brains are hardwired to crave calorie-dense foods, which foods like ice cream, donuts, and deep-fried anything can monetarily satisfy. However, giving in to these cravings can lead to weight gain, nutrient deficiencies, and other health issues.

Junk food cravings are a common issue and can be a slippery slope towards unhealthy eating habits. However, with some mindful and thoughtful strategies, you can overcome these cravings and make healthier choices. Here are 14 ways to tackle junk food cravings.

1. Plan Your Meals

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Plan your meals and snacks ahead of time, focusing on nutritious options. Create a shopping list to stay on track and avoid unhealthy impulse buys. There are plenty of healthful, easy, and delicious recipes available online to help you plan your meals even if you’re short in time, money, or cooking skills. You can also make them in bulk so that you have healthy options available at all times.

With a plan in place, you will be less likely to go to McDonald’s to buy a hamburger or grab an ice cream from the freezer. After a long day, it’s tempting to take the easy route and grab fast food, but you’ll be more likely to stick with healthier options when you have a plan.

2. Keep Healthy Snacks on Hand

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Keeping healthy snacks readily available can help you resist junk food cravings. When hunger strikes, reach for an apple or carrot sticks instead of a candy bar or chips. Nuts, hummus, and Greek yogurt are great options that satisfy your cravings while providing essential nutrients. Keep these snacks at home, at work, or in your car to have healthy alternatives that are easily accessible.

Eating when you’re hungry and filling your belly with high-fiber, fat, and protein snacks will keep you full longer and help you avoid overeating later.

3. Grocery Shop on a Full Stomach

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Going to the grocery store hungry is a recipe for disaster. You will be more likely to make impulsive food choices that are based on cravings rather than nutrition. When you are full (or at least satiated), your brain makes better decisions and can resist the temptation of junk food aisles.

Head to the store with your grocery list after a quick snack or a meal to ensure that you stick to your plan and make healthier choices.

4. Stock up on Healthy Food Items

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A great way to resist the siren call of junk food is by maintaining a well-stocked pantry of nutritious options. Get fresh fruits, leafy greens, legumes, and other vitamin-packed foods during grocery trips.

Carefully read the ingredient labels – it’s likely highly processed if it reads like a chemistry experiment and the ingredients are not clear or hard to pronounce. Opt for nutrient-dense foods that’ll keep your cravings in check and your health on the right track.

5. Keep Unhealthy Foods Out of Sight

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Out of sight, out of mind. Research indicates that the visibility and accessibility of junk like chips, chocolates, and donuts can lead to mindless snacking. We’ve all found ourselves making repeated trips to the treat bowl simply because it’s there in the middle of the kitchen.

Stash these tempting treats in less reachable spots, like the pantry or a higher shelf, to curb this habit. Alternatively, consider donating or discarding them if you’re up for the challenge. Or better, avoid buying them altogether. 

6. Know Your Triggers

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Whether you have a sweet tooth for ice cream or love salty snacks, you should identify which foods can trigger you. Which foods do you eat when you are feeling down or feel bored?

We are all wired differently, have different food relationships, and enjoy different flavors. Once you figure it out, keep those foods out of your home as much as possible.

7. Incorporate Fruitful Alternatives

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When those sweet cravings strike, opt for a refreshing bowl of blueberries, juicy watermelon, or succulent mangoes. These fruits are far healthier than brownies or donuts, and their natural fibers help stabilize blood sugar levels, preventing those dreaded sugar crashes.

Fruits are bursting with essential vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, and hydration. While it might take some adjustment initially, choosing fruits over sweets will become second nature, gradually reducing your cravings for junk food. 

8. Try Protein Power

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Being mindful about your protein intake can also help you stop eating junk food. Protein can make you feel full and kill your desire for comfort food. Consume enough protein from healthy sources like vegetables, beans, fish, and nuts. If you still aren’t getting enough, adding protein powder to your smoothies or yogurt can be a great option.

The average adult female needs 46 grams of protein, and the average male needs 56 grams—something that many are not getting. Boost your protein intake with a smoothie or snack of hummus and carrots to beat those cravings. For context, an ounce of nuts contains approximately 7 grams of protein, a cup of milk or a half-cup of cooked beans provides about 8 grams, and a 3-ounce serving of chicken or salmon offers around 20 grams.

9. Include Healthy Fats in Your Diet

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Not all fats are bad; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. These fats are essential for your overall well-being and optimal nutrient absorption and can even help curb cravings for junk food. Incorporate sources of healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil into your meals. These fats provide satiety, flavor, and essential nutrients. 

Many people are afraid of fat because it is calorie-dense. However, that’s actually the point. When you eat foods that are denser in calories, your body will become full quicker and stay full longer. This means you’re less likely to reach for junk food later because you’re still satisfied with your nutritious meal.

10. Get Enough Sleep

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Studies show a correlation between the lack of sleep and junk food cravings. When you are sleep-deprived, your body produces more ghrelin (the hormone that makes you hungry) and less leptin (the hormone that makes you feel full). This leads to an increased appetite for high-calorie, unhealthy foods.

Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to reduce these cravings.

11. Learn Effective Stress Management Skills

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If you are one of those who fill their emotional needs through their stomach, you know it’s not the right way (but it’s a habit). Awareness and a plan to better manage stress can be effective in ditching this bad habit.

It’s time to enhance your stress management skills rather than depend on food for emotional relief. Explore a range of activities like yoga, walking, running, socializing, journaling, deep breathing, meditation, or reading. The key is discovering what resonates most and empowers you to manage stress effectively.

12. Shift Your Mindset

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Sometimes, all you need is a change in your mindset. Changing how you think about and relate to food can be a total game-changer.

If you would like to start with an easy practice, then every time you look at junk food, remember that eating these unhealthy foods has negative consequences (weight gain, illnesses). Or even better- focus on the positive. Remind yourself how the good foods you put in your body are helping you thrive and feel your absolute best.

Focusing on how eating better is helping you rather than feeling deprived will make all the difference.

13. Try a 30-Day Junk Food Detox Challenge

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It may be an unusual way of getting rid of junk food, but it is effective: try a 30-day no-junk food challenge or a 30-day no-sugar challenge.

Thirty days is long enough to change a bad habit to a good one, so it is worth trying to develop better eating habits. After 30 days, you can re-evaluate how you feel and adjust your heath goals to match. Consider grabbing an accountability partner to keep you on track, too!

14. Share Your Goals With Your Loved Ones

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As just mentioned, accountability is necessary. Share your goals with a friend or family member who can help keep you on track and provide support when cravings strike. They can help remind you of the reasons why you want to ditch junk food and encourage healthier alternatives. If they join you on the journey, even better! Having a buddy can make it more fun and motivating.

15. Practice Moderation

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The good news is that indulging in your favorite treats is sometimes okay. The key is moderation. You can have small portions of junk food on special occasions rather than completely depriving yourself.

Total restriction can lead to binge eating, which will ultimately work against your efforts. The goal is to find a balance and incorporate healthy habits into your lifestyle while still enjoying the foods you love in moderation.

16. Reward Yourself 

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Set up a reward system for yourself when you make healthy choices. It motivates you to stick to your goals and celebrate your achievements. However, make sure the rewards align with your goals and do not involve food.

Some ideas for non-food related rewards could be buying a new outfit, treating yourself to a spa day, or taking a trip.

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