iStock_000013851318XSmallDo you ever wonder why you can’t stay away from junk food?  I mean…what is it that makes it so irresistible?  It’s definitely not the nutritional value I can tell you that.  In fact, the more junk food you eat, the more likely you are to feel lethargic and unmotivated.  Even though most of us know what the ramifications of junk food overload are, we still eat the stuff!  WHY? What is the allure with these foods and how do you get it under control?

First, there is something you need to know.  Junk food is addictive.  When I say addictive I mean that we can develop “dependency-like” behaviors towards food based on how their chemical make up impacts the receptors and hormonal responses in the brain and body.

The main content in most junk food can be divided into three main groups: salt, sugar and fat which can all be “addictive” especially when artificial versions of these are used in the right combinations.  In addition to these three main ingredients, food additives such as preservatives, food coloring, and artificial flavorings can also have negative influences on your health.

This isn’t rocket science so far, right?  But there is more to the story on these simple truths.  For one, junk food is processed food.  Last time I checked I didn’t see any doughnuts growing on trees or candy bars being picked from the ground.  And therein lies our second problem:  Not only are junk foods main ingredients highly addictive, but in our modern culture processed food is just standard fare.  Eating out of a bag, box, or vacuum sealed container is pretty normal even for the healthiest eaters among us.  The fact that these foods are created in factories by huge companies that make huge profits formulating the products to “flavor perfection” doesn’t cross our minds because it’s normal to eat them.

Did you know that food manufacturers employ neuropsychologists not only to study our psychological reaction to different formulations of junk food, but also collaborate with food scientists to create the perfect ratio of sugar, salt and/or fat to create maximum appeal in the mouth and the mind.  In the soda industry this is called the “bliss point”.  (Yes, this is an actual term used in food industry!)

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Some People Do Wish Doughnuts Grew On Trees I Guess! (GROSS!!)

Not only is junk food formulated to be addictive, it is packaged and marketed to children, teens and adults based on meticulous research ranging from age and socioeconomic status to brain physiology.  From marketing language to packaging, the food industry is targeting us at every turn.  Think about how foods are laid out in grocery and convenience stores…on the ends or at the height of a child’s eye!  Add to that the language used on the packaging and it is a slam dunk for the food companies!

Example:  The other day I was looking at the ingredients list on a box of snack crackers I purchase on a regular basis to eat with hummus and something caught my eye.  The words “irresistible snacking” popped out at me for the first time.  Irresistible snacking!?!?  These are supposed to be healthy crackers!

How healthy is that for anyone and what does it even mean?  Does it mean I’ll be stuffing my face and rushing to the store to buy more tomorrow?  I am certain it doesn’t mean healthy, balanced eating that leads to proper weight control, blood sugar levels and etc.

What can you do to fight the cravings caused by genius marketing tactics combined with highly addictive processed versions of salt, sugar & fat???  Here are 10 basic strategies to point you in the right direction:

Ten Strategies To Stop Cravings

    1. Stay hydrated – hunger is often mistaken for thirst so DRINK UP (I mean water people).
    2. Get plenty of sleep – lack of sleep especially over long periods of time can cause hormones to trigger our appetites and reduce energy levels.  This often leads to unnecessary snacking and junk food cravings.
    3. Alternative methods for stress management – stress is something we all experience but some handle it differently than others.  If you are struggling with your weight, take a look at how you manage stress..do you eat to curb difficult feelings?  If so, finding alternative ways to manage emotions could help you lose weight and control cravings
    4. Recognize the pattern – try to pay attention when food binges happen.  What triggered the binge (e.g. stress, emotional, lack of sleep)?  Why couldn’t you stop (e.g. no stress management, hadn’t eaten all day)?
    5. Plan ahead – don’t wait until you are starving to figure out what to eat.  Don’t leave the house without a basic plan for your meals and snacks.
    6. Eat enough during the day – waiting until the end of the day to eat a large meal leads to overeating…eat normally during the day and lighter in the evening
    7. Small changes over long period of time – if you do have issues with binge eating/snacking, don’t expect yourself to change instantly.  Make a plan for gradual changes and take baby steps.  Over time these baby steps will lead to a giant leap!
    8. Treat yourself like you have an addiction – so many of my clients come down on themselves when they overeat junk food.  It’s more effective to understand the circumstance that caused the binge than to reprimand yourself after it happens.
    9. Be kind to yourself – if you have a binge, be kind to yourself and get back on track.  Don’t waste time with words of self defeat or the idea of giving up your goal.  Just get back on track and treat yourself the same way you would treat a lifelong friend.
    10. Educate yourself on how these foods can negatively impact your health – once you find out that these foods are addictive, it helps take the self-defeat and self-blame out of the picture.  Instead of emotionally attacking yourself, the facts about food addiction allow you to be rational about why you binge and make new, rational choices about how to change.

Just remember, these foods are addictive and food companies formulate them to be even more appealing to you on a physiological level.  So, when implementing strategies to curb your food cravings, be kind to yourself.  Be patient and have a plan of attack when or if things go really bad!  If you would like to learn more about food industry and the various tactics they use to create addictive foods I recommend reading the book: Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss, an investigative reporter for the New York Times.