When faced with the mid-afternoon slump, what foods do you normally reach out for? If your answer is something super salty and crunchy (potato chips!) or incredibly sweet and chewy (chocolate-coated doughnut, perhaps?), find relief in the fact that you are not alone.
There is a reason you crave junk food in times like these. A colossal amount of funds are injected into research and development in order to identify the ‘bliss point’ of junk food. This bliss point is the moment where the specific ingredients in a food (it could be fat, salt or sugar) are at their optimum point of tastiness.
The flavours in junk food are meant to mouth-watering and tantalising. When people tell you that junk food is addictive, it’s sort of true. The more that you eat, the greater your hankering.
But all is not lost! Here are some practical steps you can take to manage your junk food cravings—and maybe say goodbye to them once and for all!
One way to avoid temptation is to avoid the junk food aisles in the supermarket all together. And yes, it’s entirely possible to do so!
Did you ever notice that fresh produce and perishables—the stuff you want—are usually situated around the perimeter of the store? Which means that you can buy your meats, dairy, fruit and vegetables just by shopping around the edges of the store and avoiding all the aisles in the middle, where the giant-sized bag of potato chips lie. The next time you go to the supermarket, you know you can bring your list of healthy groceries and stick to it.
Another rule of thumb when it comes to avoiding the processed grub: if the ingredients list contains a whole lot of items that you cannot identify or pronounce, put it right back on the shelf. After some time sticking only to the unprocessed, healthy foods, you will find your urge to reach out for junk food start to wane; your waistline will start taking your desired form!
Plan Your Meals & Snacks
When it is lunch or tea and your belly is complaining, you are more likely to give into temptation. However, by preparing and packing a healthy meal and snack beforehand, you are much more likely to survive what researcher call ‘food-cue reactivity’, a conditioned response to the olfactory, visual and aural prompts in your surrounding environment.
Consider creating a weekly meal plan on the weekend. Not only can you buy the ingredients you need for the week, you can also prepare larger portions of easy, healthy meals that you can put in the freezer and that you can grab on the go.
For a snack, you can prepack individual portions of mixed nuts, a healthy fat, or have some fruit that’s washed and ready to go such as apples, bananas and grapes that are easy to carry.
Here’s an added incentive: by packing your lunch and snack, you’ll probably find yourself saving money in the long run!
Alter Your Perception
It seems that our mind can truly be a powerful thing. Just like our brain can be ‘tricked’ into believing an optical illusion to be true, it seems that we can also trick our brain into changing the way we think and feel about something.
One 2013 study, for instance, trained their subjects to view their favourite junk food in a negative way. Some participants would try to imagine that they were already feeling terribly full, while some imagined that the food had been contaminated. Others told themselves that consuming the food would make them fat or that they could save the food for later. The results: participants’ cravings for their junk food of choice reduced significantly. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to try!
Reduce Your Stress Levels
For many, stress is a major trigger when it comes to junk food cravings. When we’re feeling pressured, a bag of cheese puffs may seem like the only thing that can calm you down and give you the energy boost you need. While that may feel like the case right at the beginning, cheese puffs are really empty calories that will send you on an inevitable crash that will leave you feeling worse than you started.
It’s important to make peace with your relationship with food and accept that you are consuming junk food as a distraction from your problems, whatever they may be. Take the urge to reach for the unhealthy stuff and opt for a healthier way to manage your stresses. These include going for a walk or a run, signing up for regular yoga and/or meditation class, practising deep breathing exercises, meeting up with trusted friends, and finding a creative outlet such as painting, pottery or knitting.
Everyone is different, so take time to explore, have fun and learn what best suits your needs and temperament. If you do find yourself overwhelmed by stress at any point in time, remember that it is absolutely okay to make an appointment with a therapist.
Don’t Skimp On Sleep
In today’s world, most people aren’t actually putting in their fair share of sleep hours. Sleep can really do a number on your general well-being. It causes fatigue and low moods, and has also been linked to poor eating habits and cravings for junk food.
Treat yourself with the love and care that you deserve by making sure you get at least eight hours of sleep per night. Turn off all the ‘noise’—TV, tablet, mobile phone, social media—at least an hour before bed and adorn your bed with freshly laundered sheets. Sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs bite!