8 Ways to Beat Your Junk Food Habit

8 Ways to Beat Your Junk Food Habit

I love junk food, and I can’t stop craving it!

If you can identify with this, you’re not alone. Of the more than 600,000 food products – note I said food products, not food – 80 percent have added sugar.

We went from eating about 10 pounds of sugar per person, per year in 1800 to 152 pounds of sugar (and 146 pounds of flour) per person, per year today. Think about it: On average we eat about one pound of sugar every day!

Those sugar-loaded foods literally become drugs: doses of sugar and flour that hijack our metabolism and make us fat and sick.

Many patients tell me once they dive into a box of chips or cookies, they literally can’t stop eating. Have you ever wondered why you would devour a box of cookies but you wouldn’t binge on wild salmon?

The reason isn’t because you lack self-discipline or are weak-willed. You are not emotionally weak or lazy. You are biologically addicted to sugar, and willpower doesn’t work here.

The good news is that I have something that does work. But let’s take a quick look at what created that addiction.

The Science of Sugar Addiction

A powerful study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition proves that higher-sugar, higher-glycemic foods are addictive in the same way as cocaine and heroin.

Dr. David Ludwig and his colleagues at Harvard proved that foods with more sugar - those that raise blood sugar quickly or have what is called a high-glycemic index - trigger a special region in the brain called the nucleus accumbens. This is your brain’s pleasure center that, when activated, makes you feel good and drives you to seek out more of that feeling. This area becomes ground zero for conventional addictions such as gambling and drug abuse.

The study ultimately proved two things:

  1. Your body responds quite differently to different calories, even if the protein, fat, carbs, and taste are exactly the same.
  2. Foods that spike blood sugar are biologically addictive. That addiction triggers a vicious cycle of hunger and cravings that sets the stage for diabesity and other chronic diseases.

Constantly eating sugary foods causes a spike in your blood sugar, which in turn, activates your brain’s pleasure center. This triggers more cravings, and drives you to seek out more and more of the substance that gives you a “high.”

You become powerless against your brain’s hardwired response to seek out pleasure. No wonder you feel trapped!

Evolutionarily, we are programmed genetically to crave sugar and refined carbs. When we evolved as hunter-gatherers, we would binge on berries and honey when we could find it, so we would store fat for the upcoming winter.

That served us well when we hibernated and slept all winter, but that doesn’t happen today. Today we eat all winter: Not just naturally sugar-rich foods, but also the trillion Frankenfoods our ancestors wouldn’t have recognized.

The Right Mind Shift to Fight Cravings

Making the right choices to opt for real, whole, unprocessed foods becomes crucial to ditch the junk food habit, but so do your emotional triggers and emotional health.

Whenever you get a strong desire for a chocolate chip cookie or other junk food, ask yourself two questions:

  1. What am I feeling?
  2. What do I need? What we need does not involve stuffing your face, I can assure you of that.

We have a chance today to stop and detox, not only from junk food, but also from junk thoughts. We must de-clutter our bodies and our minds.

Breaking these addictions and rewiring your brain is easier than you might think. It doesn’t take weeks or months. These eight strategies can help:

  1. Eat real food. You need to eat fat and protein for each of your meals. Whole foods carbohydrates like veggies, legumes, nuts and seeds are perfectly healthy. Broccoli is broccoli. Processed, sugary junk foods are not real foods. They set the stage for sugar addiction and all its ugly consequences.
  2. Steady blood sugar levels. Eat a nutritious breakfast with some protein like eggs, protein shakes, or nut butters. Studies repeatedly show that eating a healthy high-protein breakfast helps people maintain weight loss. Also, have smaller meals throughout the day. Eat every three to four hours and have some protein with each snack or meal (lean animal protein, nuts, seeds, beans). Avoid eating three hours before bedtime.
  3. Ditch sugar. Go cold turkey. If you are addicted to narcotics or alcohol you can’t simply just cut down. You have to stop for your brain to reset. You must eliminate refined sugars, sodas, fruit juices, and artificial sweeteners from your diet. These are all drugs that fuel sugar addiction.
  4. Reduce stress. Stress eating and junk food go together. When you’re feeling stressed, you’re more likely to reach for that bag of chocolate chip cookies or whatever your vice might be. Learn to address the root cause of your stress and address it with something like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing
  5. Exercise smartly. The next time you get a hankering for something sweet, walk it off… Literally! Besides creating a healthy distraction to avoid nose-diving into a pint of butter pecan ice cream, exercise tapers cravings and raises feel-good endorphin levels.
  6. Determine whether food sensitivities could be causing your cravings. We often crave the very foods that we have a hidden allergy to, including gluten, dairy, and sugar.
  7. Sleep well. Ever notice you’re hungrier for something sugary after a terrible night’s sleep? Studies show lack of sleep increases cravings.
  8. Implement crave-cutting supplements. These include vitamin D and omega-3s. Also consider taking natural supplements for cravings control. Glutamine, tyrosine, and 5-HTP are amino acids that help reduce cravings. Stress-reducing herbs such as Rhodiola rosea can also help. Chromium balances blood sugar and can help take the edge off cravings. Glucomannan fiber is very helpful to reduce the spikes in sugar and insulin that drive cravings and hunger.

Have you conquered your junk food addiction and regained your health (while losing stubborn belly fat) with whole, real, unprocessed foods? What did you find most challenging about overcoming this addiction? Share your story below.

Practicing Physician, Scholar, New York Times Best Selling Author

Comment by LindaE101
November 11, 2015
What about stevia that doesn't impact blood sugar (they say)? I'm trying to lose weight, so I need to limit sweetening (or making palatable) with fruit.
Comment by cityofnosun
November 08, 2015
I eat a 5-6oz gala apple every day for a mid morning snack. I have seen mini apples that are probably half the size of what I eat. How do I know if I under or overdo it on apples? Meaning, if I eat a 6oz. apple in the morning and another of the same size in the afternoon, would that be too much? Or are the few ounces in weight difference insignificant in nutrition value? I am trying to fine tune my weekday diet as clean and nutritionally sound as possible.
Reply by sister.charlee
November 11, 2015
As the old adage goes, 'an Apple a day keeps the Dr at bay.' According to the stats in MyFitnessPal, 1 Apple has 80 cal, 170 mg potassium, 5 mg fiber, 21 mg NATURAL sugar. I encourage you to keep up the good work. The only change I'd make for variety is to chop up, toss in nutribullit, add a 1-2 scoops of vanilla Body Fortress whey protein. Add a handful of kale or romaine, and you've got yourself a great health drink!
Reply by CLHolmes
November 11, 2015
Be sure to exclude apple seeds if you put apples in your NB. They could make you very ill, or very dead under certain circumstances (body weight, amount ingested, etc). Unlike the sweet tang of the fruit, the tiny black seeds found in an apple’s core are another story. They contain amygdalin, a substance that releases cyanide when it comes into contact with human digestive enzymes.
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