The average American consumer is hounded by advertisements that are oozing with food appeal that automatically triggers their cravings. You must have come across slogans that convince people that they can’t stop.
When you dig beneath the surface and try to understand the science and thought process behind these advertisements, you come across the science behind these foods and how their manufacturers trigger intense cravings and hunger pangs.
An unhealthy combination of salt, sugar, and fats is what makes these foods irresistible. Most of us have had an experience where we weren’t able to put a bag of chips down. These carefully manufactured junk foods don’t only entice appetite, they trigger strong physiological reactions that keep you wanting more and more.
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Playing the Reward System
Human beings have an inherent reward system where the brain “rewards” the body by releasing “feel good” chemicals such as dopamine in turn for an action that encourages survival.
Since eating is essential for survival, it appeases our reward system. When you feed this part of your brain with foods that are chemically designed to cause a more powerful reaction in the reward system, cravings become harder to ignore.
This is why we often find more pleasure in a bottle of coke than water.
Secondly, junk food is delicious. The amount of salt, sugar and fat along with other food-grade chemicals found in junk food is meant to impart a flavor that keeps us going back for more.
Combine that with advertisements that make people hungry, a higher percentage of the population is likely to indulge in their cravings. This can be quite dangerous as junk food has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and other health risks. A study suggests that people can form full-blown chronic addictions to fast food – much like an addiction to substances of abuse.
How to Train Your Brain to Hate Junk Food
No matter how strong your cravings, there are ways you can trick your brain into hating junk food. Here are some tips that will help you along the way:
Cutting out sugar
Cutting out sugar from diet is a difficult undertaking. The type of sugar most commonly found in junk food is inexpensive and a powerful flavoring agent. This is why, from carbonated drinks to fast food, it is found in all junk foods. When you consume junk foods every day, you get unhealthy amounts of sugar.
Often sugar is the cause of enhanced cravings for junk food. Cutting out on sugar little by little will reduce your brain’s dependence. Start by replacing unhealthy sodas with juices and then water. Similarly, replace chips and other processed foods with home-cooked meals.
Going off of the last tip, swap out an unhealthy junk food you like with a healthier alternative. If potato chips are your vice, replace them with a healthier alternative with less salt, sugar and fat like kale chips.
If you like French fries, replace them with baked sweet potatoes, white rice with whole grains like whole oats or quinoa.
One important point to remember here is to start replacing items at a slower pace. Instead of going cold turkey, replace one unhealthy junk food every 10 days or so. This will give your brain enough time to start adjusting.
Pay attention to labels
It’s understandable that not everyone will be able to quickly switch to an all-organic and whole meal plan to replace junk food. From time to time, you’ll have to buy a can of something or a pack of the other. In this case, pay attention to the label on the back of the packaging.
There are two things to consider a. ingredients and b. nutritional values. With the latter, look at the composition of carbs, fats, sugar and salt. As for ingredients, the red flag to look for is the presence of more than five ingredients.
Slowly build up the habit of always checking labels on junk food to remind yourself of how bad that food is for you.
Remind yourself of how unhealthy junk food is
Reading labels is one way to do it. There are several ways you can reinforce dislike against junk food. One of the most effective ways to do that is by educating yourself. If scientific journals are not your cup of tea, there are plenty of documentaries, easy-to-read articles, podcasts, and books that break down the harms of junk foods.
The second way of doing this is with an experiment. Junk food and fast food are prone to making people feel more sluggish, tired, and sickly. Try eating mostly junk food for one day and then predominantly healthy food for another. Journal how you feel after every meal both days. You will feel the difference yourself.
When dehydrated and getting an inadequate intake of water for your body, our brains can confuse thirst for hunger. And when these sudden hunger pangs strike, junk food is the most accessible.
When a craving hits you out of nowhere, try drinking a large glass of water instead. This will help you suppress that craving and you’ll get enough water. Carry a bottle of water with you anywhere you go and drink a glass before every meal.
Don’t go hungry for long periods
Have healthy snacks accessible and eat proper meals to refrain from being extremely hungry for long periods. When you’re working with an empty stomach for the majority of your day, intense hunger can push you to consume junk food compulsively.
This is why people advise not going to the grocery store on an empty stomach.
Put effort in the meals you make at home
Humans are visual beings. When we eat, we eat with our eyes first and then our mouths. The sensory experience of fast food and junk food is what makes it even more appealing.
If you want to successfully increase your intake of home-cooked meals, put in effort to make them more visually appealing. Try to include more colors and different complementary textures to replicate that sensory experience.
When you have an option to choose where and what you want to eat and you’re hungry, fast and delicious is where our brains go. You want something instantly and enjoy it without having to prepare it yourself after a long day.
You can break this habit by planning and preparing your meals for the week or at least the next three days beforehand. When you know what you’re going to eat and have it accessible, you’ll be less likely to be tempted by junk food.
When you’re trying to break this cycle and introduce healthier foods into your routine and training your brain to hate junk food, UnCraveRx can be of assistance. With nutritional coaching and behavioral support accessible, you can simplify your journey to a healthier version of you. Reach out to us to find a provider.