The opportunity to buy junk food is constant. True story, I was printing papers at FedEx and there was a whole section of candy and chocolate near the check out. Seriously, how is that remotely necessary?! How long are people at FedEx that they need to eat something?! But I digress…
My point is, it’s super easy to pick up a habit of snacking on processed junk, and insanely hard to stop as you’re always confronted with it. We know we shouldn’t grab that chocolate bar at the checkout, but it’s 5pm and dinner isn’t in the immediate future. Adding a small bag of chips to our salad order at lunch is only .69 cents more and they look so good!
It probably feels like an impossible habit to break, and you may feel destined to cave for a small oder of chicken nuggets every time you drive past Wendy’s to pick up your son from school. Here’s the thing; you are in more control than you think.
At this point in my life, I eat real whole foods near the desired 80% of the time. I reserve my treats for indulgences I deem worthy – I’m looking at you Black Dog Gelato! – and haven’t ordered a fast food burger in over a decade. Before you click away thinking, “yeah, but you don’t understand, my cravings are out of control!”
Notice I said, “at this point in my life”. When I was in high school I frequented the Golden Arches near my house regularly, craving a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Ordering one day, I remember thinking, “these are not good for me”. I quickly decided I’d go on a fast food burger strike. I didn’t set an end date, but figured a few weeks, and I’d reward myself when I felt sufficiently accomplished.
After about 2 months of debating when I should have one, I thought, “you deserve one now, it’s been so long!” Then a realization hit me I didn’t anticipate. It didn’t feel like a reward.
Here’s what I learned in those 2 months about breaking a junk food habit.
It Takes Time
Whether you’re going cold turkey (I honestly don’t really recommend that, but some personality types do better abstaining as opposed to moderating), or cutting down on a junk food, know that the first few days and possibly weeks will be the toughest. I know that doesn’t sound like a positive, but keeping in mind that the intense feeling to cave will lessen, makes it easier to power through.
Cravings are entrenched in memories, and the more you give in – having chips with lunch, buying a sweet treat along with your coffee – the more you reinforce the memory of the taste. Have you ever bought a treat you haven’t had in a long time, then want it again the next day? It’s top of mind and you think if you just have it again you’ll be satisfied which we know isn’t entirely true.
Know that it will be hard at the beginning, but it will only get easier! With that in mind, let’s look at the next strategy.
This is especially useful in the beginning when your habit has a strong hold on you. Plan for those times you’re most likely to fail, when you know you’ll be the most vulnerable.
There are 3 main ways to plan ahead:
Replace it – Make a short shopping list of healthy snacks that could satisfy the junk food habit you’re trying to break. For example, if it’s chips, go for almonds for that salty crunchy combo. For a non-food replacement, try a different activity. If you find you get a snack attack around 3pm, try taking a quick walk outside, stopping by a coworkers desk, or do some yoga if you have the privacy (or aren’t embarrassed!). Your goal is to distract yourself until the intensity dissipates.
Avoid it – Drive a different route so you don’t have the option of pulling into the drive thru. Make coffee to go at home so you aren’t tempted by the chocolate muffins at the counter of the coffee shop. And, for the love of all that’s healthy, do not keep your trigger foods in the house!!
Support yourself – Let your friends and family know that you’re trying to cut out [enter favorite junk food here] so if they could not offer it to you it would be a huge help. Get a craving buddy who you can text or call when you feel you’re about to cave, who is prepared to talk you down when you need it.
Again, you won’t need all of these tactics even a few weeks from now. Once you’ve been out of the habit for a couple months you won’t need such strong distractions or outside support.
Ask the Magic Question
When unhealthy habits take hold, you’re very much living in the moment. You’re not thinking of your future self and how she will feel after the burger/cupcake/chips are all gone. When you feel yourself brushing off your good intensions to satisfy your craving habit, ask yourself this; is this worth it?
Simple as it seems, pausing for just a moment to truly check in with yourself and think about if what’s in your hand is actually going to satisfy you can be enough to stop you. Picture how you’ll feel after it’s gone.
Sometimes, the answer may be, “Yes! This is completely worth it!” and that is totally fine. The purpose of this question is to break you from the habit of giving into cravings as soon as they hit.
Habits are routine and we fall into them without thought. You drive one route over another because it’s what you always do just like you grab a box of candy at the movies because you always do. Stopping to think about it will break you from your trance and put you in touch with your real hunger cues.
Above all, be kind to yourself. Breaking a junk food habit is no easy feat, otherwise junk food companies wouldn’t be making billions! If you cave one day, remember that your next choice is a new start and go from there.
Have you tried to cut the junk food habit over and over again without much success? Health coaching can help by uncovering why it’s so difficult for you, while providing accountability and perspective to break it for good! Ready to get started? Email me today for a complementary discovery session. Samantha@simplywellcoaching.com