The good news is that the research shows that the less junk food you eat, the less you crave it. As you gradually begin to consciously make healthier food choices, the craving for a pizza or a samosa has seemingly reduced. This transition period is known as “gene reprogramming.”
Whatever you want to call it, the lesson is the same: if you can find ways to gradually eat healthier, you’ll start to experience the cravings of junk food less and less. Here are three strategies that might help.
1. Use the “outer ring” strategy and the “5 ingredient rule” to buy healthier food.
The best course of action is to avoid buying processed and packaged foods. If you don’t own it, you can’t eat it. Furthermore, if you don’t think about it, you can’t be lured by it.
We’ve talked about the power of junk food to pull you in and how memories of tasty food in the past can cause you to crave more of it in the future. Obviously, you can’t prevent yourself from ever thinking about junk food, but there are ways to reduce your cravings.
First, you can use my “outer ring” strategy to avoid processed and packaged foods at the grocery store. If you limit yourself to purchasing foods that are on the outer ring of the store, then you will generally buy whole foods (fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, etc.). Not everything on the outer ring is healthy, but you will avoid a lot of unhealthy foods.
You can also follow the “5 ingredient rule” when buying foods at the store. If something has more than 5 ingredients in it, don’t buy it. Odds are, it has been designed to fool you into eating more of it. Avoid those products and stick with the more natural options.
2. Eat a variety of foods.
The brain craves novelty.
While you may not be able to replicate the crunchy/creamy contrast of an Oreo, you can vary your diet enough to keep things interesting. For example, you could dip a carrot (crunchy) in some hummus (creamy) and get a novel sensation. Similarly, finding ways to add new spices and flavors to your dishes can make eating healthy foods a more desirable experience.
Moral of the story: eating healthy doesn’t have to be bland. Mix up your foods to get different sensations and you may find it easier than eating the same foods over and over again. (At some point, however, you may have to fall in love with boredom.)
3. Find a better way to deal with your stress.
There’s a reason why many people eat as a way to cope with stress. Stress causes certain regions of the brain to release chemicals (specifically, opiates and neuropeptide Y). These chemicals can trigger mechanisms that are similar to the cravings you get from fat and sugar. In other words, when you get stressed, your brain feels the addictive call of fat and sugar and you’re pulled back to junk food.
We all have stressful situations that arise in our lives. Learning to deal with stress in a different way can help you overcome the addictive pull of junk food. This could include simple breathing techniques or a short guided meditation. Or something more physical like exercise or making art.