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How to get out of the habit of eating junk food?

How to get out of the habit of eating junk food?


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  • What causes habitual eating of junk food?
  • How can one get out of the habit of eating junk food?

Paul McKenna would be jumping on this question had it been a self-help question :)

Some of the causes/factors in habitual eating and strategies to combat habitual eating are described below.

Causes and factors of habitual eating

  • Excessive hunger may precipitate an episode of binge eating compared to average hunger levels (Haedt-Matt & Keel, 2011).
  • Negative moods, an immediate break-down of emotion and impulse regulation attempts can contribute to episodes of binge eating in Binge Eating Disorders (BED) (Munsch et al., 2012). Binge-eating behaviours can thus arise from negative moods as a substitution for positive strategies to alleviate those negative moods.
  • Depressive symptoms can predict the onset of overeacting and binge eating (Skinner et al., 2012). Similar to point two, these behaviours are a form of maladaptive coping mechanisms against negative affects.

Strategies to combat habitual eating

  • Cognitive Restructuring (CR) - Cognitive restructuring involves a problem-solving methodology where an individual identifies the maladaptive cognitions that are causing the unhelpful behaviour (Moffitt et al., 2012). This consists of rationalising and challenging disruptive thoughts that can cause the specific craving or binge eating behaviour. Moreover, it can involve the process of the replacement or modification of those disruptive thoughts into more healthy, positive thoughts.
  • Cognitive Defusion (CD) - Defusion from thoughts about food can improve the probability of distancing oneself from the temptation of food cravings (Moffitt et al., 2012). This involves acceptance (not passive resignation) of cravings and temptation of binge eating and build the experiential willingness to be open to these thoughts and temptations. For example, defusion would involve observing the thought associated with the craving - 'I notice I'm having the thought that I need to eat some chocolate' compared to a seemingly factual statement like 'I need to eat some chocolate'. The individual acknowledges the thought, thanks themselves and lets the thought dissipate in time.

References

  • Haedt-Matt, A.A. & Keel, P.K. (2011). Hunger and Binge Eating: A meta-analysis of studies using ecological momentary assessment. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 44(7), 573-578
  • Munsch, S., Meyer, A.H., Quartier, V. & Wilhelm, F.H. (2012). Binge eating in binge eating disorder: A breakdown of emotion regulatory process? Psychiatry Research, 195, 118-124
  • Skinner, H.H., Haines, J., Austin, S.B. & Field, A.E. (2011). A prospective study of overeating, binge eating, and depressive symptoms among adolescent and young adult women. Journal of Adolescent Health, 50, 478-483
  • Moffitt, R., Brinkworth, G., Noakes, M. & Mohr, P. (2012). A comparison of cognitive restructuring and cognitive defusion as strategies for resisting a craved food. Psychology & Health, 27(2), 74-90

Why We Mindlessly Eat Junk Food — and How to Stop

Getting into the habit of eating a certain snack while watching TV or some other activity could lead to mindless eating even when a person is full and even if the junk food tastes bad, a new study suggests.

The good news is the researchers have also found a way to override these eating habits.

"When we've repeatedly eaten a particular food in a particular environment, our brain comes to associate the food with that environment and make us keep eating as long as those environmental cues are present," study researcher David Neal, a psychology professor at University of Southern California, said in a statement.

In one experiment, scientists at the university handed out popcorn to people who were about to enter a movie theater. Participants either received a bucket of just-popped, fresh popcorn or stale, week-old popcorn.

The findings showed that participants who indicated they typically ate popcorn at the movies consumed about the same amount of popcorn, whether it was fresh or stale. [Top 10 Good Foods Gone Bad]

"People believe their eating behavior is largely activated by how food tastes. Nobody likes cold, spongy, week-old popcorn," said study researcher Wendy Wood, a professor of psychology and business at USC. "But once we've formed an eating habit, we no longer care whether the food tastes good. We'll eat exactly the same amount, whether it's fresh or stale."

Those participants who indicated they didn't usually eat popcorn at the movies ate much less stale popcorn than fresh popcorn.

A control group ate fresh or stale popcorn while watching movie clips in a meeting room. Without the theater setting acting as an eating trigger, even the habitual movie-popcorn eaters consumed much less stale than fresh popcorn.

This suggests that, because a meeting room is a space that is not usually associated with eating popcorn, the subjects paid more attention to the taste of the food, rather than just absentmindedly eating out of habit.

"The results show just how powerful our environment can be in triggering unhealthy behavior," Neal said.

Thankfully, researchers found a way to put an end to routine, "mindless eating" habits that doesn't require changing an eating environment. Simply disrupting automatic eating is enough to make a person become more aware of what — and how much — they are eating.

In a separate experiment, researchers once again gave participants stale and fresh popcorn before they entered a theater for a movie screening. The subjects were asked to eat the popcorn with either their dominant or nondominant hand. The moviegoers who used their nondominant hand ate much less of the stale than the fresh popcorn. This technique even worked on participants with strong movie-popcorn eating habits.

"It's not always feasible for dieters to avoid or alter the environments in which they typically overeat," Wood said. "More feasible, perhaps, is for dieters to actively disrupt the established patterns of how they eat through simple techniques, such as switching the hand they use to eat."

The study was published in the current issue of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

You can follow LiveScience writer Remy Melina on Twitter @remymelina. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience and on Facebook.


Yes, You Can Train Your Brain to Hate Junk Food

Could your brain ever want broccoli over brownies? If you’re done dishing out all explicit synonyms of “hell, no”, hear me out. Sadly, and much to the contentment of your taste buds, junk food companies have cracked the perilous code of flavour science. They’ve taken this science to extraordinary levels, magically mixing in the exact ratio of sugars, salts, fats and other chemicals that appeal to your psychological and physical reactions. In other words, these carefully orchestrated flavors make you go “How is this soooo good, what sorcery is this? Must. Buy. More.”Maybe it’s time to update your brain's biological software, and yes, it’s all possible! Side note - let it not be known that I’m dreaming of cinnamon buns whilst writing this. Recent study at Tufts University and Harvard Medical School has given an additional push to this thought and it’s pretty exciting to think that long-standing preferences can be re-engineered.“Food cravings are basically a habit,” explains study co-author Susan Roberts, PhD, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at Tufts. Like smokers who grow accustomed to getting their fix after meals or with their morning coffee, many people train their brains to expect junk foods at certain times of the day, Roberts explains.

The reason you crave high-calorie foods in the first place is because they do such a good job at satisfying hunger pangs. "If you eat M&M's, you're going to get this huge rush of sugar and fat that's easily digested and soothes your hunger now," says Roberts. "Your brain gets used to the idea that this chocolate taste is really good at fixing hunger, so that the next time you get ravenous, you'll want to go find it again."

In a small study, participants weren’t allowed to become hungry, since hunger is the driving force behind most of our unhealthy cravings. They achieved this by prescribing a satiating, low-calorie diet to them, a diet that included healthy proteins, high-fibre foods and low-glycemic fruits and vegetables.

After six months, MRI scans of their brains showed increased reward activity in response to nutritious, low-cal foods. More interestingly, their brains’ reward responses were muffled in the presence of unhealthy treats. The study says you can weaken brain associations by mixing treats with foods that have high protein or fiber so your treat is still absorbed but not as quickly digested.

But Can You Really Be Happy Eating Vegetables?

For most people, the thought of eating vegetables is depressing. This is especially true for those caught in cozy arms of junk food. But research conducted by the University of Warwick’s Medical School might put these gloomy feelings to rest. The study, which involved 14,000 participants in England aged 16 or over, found that those who ate five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day were the happiest.

Remarkably, the reverse was also true, the lower a person’s fruit and vegetable intake, the higher their chance of having low mental well-being. Dr. Saverio Stranges, the research paper’s lead author, who was positively surprised, said: “These novel findings suggest that fruit and vegetable intake may play a potential role as a driver, not just of physical, but also of mental well-being in the general population.”

So how exactly do you go on to beat your inner junk-demons and ensure your brain doesn’t rev up whenever someone as little as mentions the word ‘crunchy potato chips’ or ‘a crumbly pie’?

One simple rule that doesn’t require Sensei-like training. Whenever you’re about to purchase a product, flip it over to go over the ingredient list at the back. If there are more than five ingredients on the food label, don’t buy it. More than five ingredients should always sound the alarms and bring out the red flags in your brain, since it’s a sure-shot sign of food processing. If you do buy it, it’s best to consider it a treat and consume it occasionally.

2. It’s All About the Blood Sugar, Baby

Balancing your blood sugar is essential. Blood sugar highs and lows is what primitively drives you to reach out for that chocolate-laced muffin. When your blood sugar is low, you’ll eat anything, you’ll hear potato chips calling out your name and you’ll be too frenzied to think better. To better balance your blood sugar, eat a small snack every three to four hours. Needless to say, this snack should include a healthy protein, seeds or nuts.

3. Gross Yourself Out

An amateurish but effective trick is find out what’s going on in that amazing cupcake of yours. The red and pink dye used in foods are extracted from the Cochineal insects that come from the beetle family. Lanolin - an oily, sweaty secretion found on the outside of sheep's wool, is used to soften your chewing gum. Find out enough about what you’re really eating and the cringe factor will keep you away from processed food for a long, long time.(The Most Shocking Ingredients in Your Food)4. The Dull Sheen of Satisfaction

When you regularly consume sugar, salt and fats, it not only hooks you, it dulls your taste buds as well – making you eat more to reach the same level of satisfaction. But thankfully, the opposite it true too. The less of a food you eat, the less of it you need to score a rush, says David Katz, M.D., a nutrition expert at the Yale School of Medicine and author of ‘Disease Proof: The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well.’ The trick is to cut down in small steps. If you take three sugars in tea, add two sugars for a few weeks and then one for the next few. Over time, you’ll notice smaller amounts of these treats are enough to hit the spot.5. Load Up on the Real Stuff

According to Mercola, when you load up on addictive junk foods, your metabolism is stimulated to burn carbs as its primary fuel. As long as you’re in the primary carb-burning mode, you’ll keep craving junk food. The solution? Replace carbs with healthy fats. Easier said than done, yes – but once you replace processed junk with high-quality whole foods, the metabolic switchover will be well worth it.


The Bottom Line

Learning how to stop eating junk food is not as hard as you assume it is. Like everything else that is worth it in life, it requires planning and dedication for it to bear fruits/ If you cannot stop eating junk food and are craving control over this, try implementing the above-mentioned tips and tricks in your everyday and you shall master the issue at hand.

Sticking to a healthy diet based on your health needs, allergies and preferences is a great idea, however when combined with a workout plan that meets your goals, it might bring you significant benefits. Better mood, stronger muscles and endurance are just some. Check out the 20 Minute Full Body Workout at Home below.

DISCLAIMER:

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

SOURCES:

    (2018, mayoclinic.org) (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) (2020, oprahmag.com) (2017, healthline.com) (2019, verwywellmind.com) (n.d., sleepfoundation.org) (2020, medicinenet.com) (2012, psychologytoday.com) (2020, health.harvard.edu)
С. Kamau

Clare is an excellent and experienced writer who has a great interest in nutrition, weight loss, and working out. She believes that everyone should take an interest in health and fitness, as not only do they improve your way of life, but they can also have a significant impact on your health.
As a writer, her goal is to educate her readers about the ways they can reprogram themselves to enjoy exercise, as well as break free from bad eating habits. In her articles, Clare tries to give advice which is backed by scientific research and is also easy to follow on a day-to-day basis. She believes that everyone, no matter their age, gender, or fitness level, can always learn something new that can benefit their health.


What Happens to Your Brain When You Eat Junk Food (And Why We Crave It)

Most of us know that junk food is unhealthy. We know that poor nutrition is related to heart problems, high blood pressure, and a host of other health ailments. You might even know that studies show that eating junk food has been linked to increases in depression.

But if it's so bad for us, why do we keep doing it?

There is an answer. And the science behind it will surprise you.

Why We Crave Junk Food

Steven Witherly is a food scientist who has spent the last 20 years studying what makes certain foods more addictive (and tasty) than others. Much of the science that follows is from his excellent report, "Why Humans Like Junk Food."

According to Witherly, when you eat tasty food, there are two factors that make the experience pleasurable.

First, there is the sensation of eating the food. This includes what it tastes like (salty, sweet, umami, etc.), what it smells like, and how it feels in your mouth. This last quality -- known as "orosensation" -- can be particularly important. Food companies will spend millions of dollars to discover the most satisfying level of crunch in a potato chip. Their scientists will test for the perfect amount of fizzle in a soda. These factors all combine to create the sensation that your brain associates with a particular food or drink.

The second factor is the actual macronutrient makeup of the food -- the blend of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates that it contains. In the case of junk food, food manufacturers are looking for a perfect combination of salt, sugar, and fat that excites your brain and gets you coming back for more.

How Science Creates Cravings

There are a range of factors that scientists and food manufacturers use to make food more addictive.

Dynamic contrast. Dynamic contrast refers to a combination of different sensations in the same food. In the words of Witherly, foods with dynamic contrast have:

. an edible shell that goes crunch followed by something soft or creamy and full of taste-active compounds. This rule applies to a variety of our favorite food structures -- the caramelized top of a creme brulee, a slice of pizza, or an Oreo cookie -- the brain finds crunching through something like this very novel and thrilling.

Salivary response. Salivation is part of the experience of eating food, and the more that a food causes you to salivate, the more it will swim throughout your mouth and cover your taste buds. For example, emulsified foods like butter, chocolate, salad dressing, ice cream, and mayonnaise promote a salivary response that helps to lather your taste buds with goodness. This is one reason why many people enjoy foods that have sauces or glazes on them. The result is that foods that promote salivation do a happy little tap dance on your brain and taste better than ones that don't.

Rapid food meltdown and vanishing caloric density. Foods that rapidly vanish or "melt in your mouth" signal to your brain that you're not eating as much as you actually are. In other words, these foods literally tell your brain that you're not full, even though you're eating a lot of calories.

The result: You tend to overeat.

In his best-selling book Salt Sugar Fat, author Michael Moss describes a conversation with Witherly that explains vanishing caloric density perfectly.

I brought him two shopping bags filled with a variety of chips to taste. He zeroed right in on the Cheetos. "This," Witherly said, "is one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure." He ticked off a dozen attributes of the Cheetos that make the brain say more. But the one he focused on most was the puff's uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. "It's called vanishing caloric density," Witherly said. "If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there's no calories in it . you can just keep eating it forever."

Sensory specific response. Your brain likes variety. When it comes to food, if you experience the same taste over and over again, then you start to get less pleasure from it. In other words, the sensitivity of that specific sensor will decrease over time. This can happen in just minutes.

Junk foods, however, are designed to avoid this sensory specific response. They provide enough taste to be interesting (your brain doesn't get tired of eating them), but it's not so stimulating that your sensory response is dulled. This is why you can swallow an entire bag of potato chips and still be ready to eat another. To your brain, the crunch and sensation of eating Doritos is novel and interesting every time.

Calorie density. Junk foods are designed to convince your brain that it is getting nutrition, but to not fill you up. Receptors in your mouth and stomach tell your brain about the mixture of proteins, fats, carbohydrates in a particular food, and how filling that food is for your body. Junk food provides just enough calories that your brain says, "Yes, this will give you some energy," but not so many calories that you think, "That's enough, I'm full." The result is that you crave the food to begin with, but it takes quite some time to feel full from it.

Memories of past eating experiences. This is where the psychobiology of junk food really works against you. When you eat something tasty (say, a bag of potato chips), your brain registers that feeling. The next time you see that food, smell that food, or even read about that food, your brain starts to trigger the memories and responses that came when you ate it. These memories can actually cause physical responses like salivation and create the "mouth-watering" craving that you get when thinking about your favorite foods.

All of this brings us to the most important question of all.

Food companies are spending millions of dollars to design foods with addictive sensations. What can you and I do about it? Is there any way to counteract the money, the science, and the advertising behind the junk food industry?

How to Kick the Junk Food Habit and Eat Healthy

The good news is that the research shows that the less junk food you eat, the less you crave it. My own experiences have mirrored this. As I've slowly begun to eat healthier, I've noticed myself wanting pizza and candy and ice cream less and less. Some people refer to this transition period as "gene reprogramming."

Whatever you want to call it, the lesson is the same: If you can find ways to gradually eat healthier, you'll start to experience the cravings of junk food less and less. I've never claimed to have all the answers (or any, really), but here are three strategies that might help.

1. Use the "outer ring" strategy and the "5 ingredient rule" to buy healthier food.

The best course of action is to avoid buying processed and packaged foods. If you don't own it, you can't eat it. Furthermore, if you don't think about it, you can't be lured by it.

We've talked about the power of junk food to pull you in and how memories of tasty food in the past can cause you to crave more of it in the future. Obviously, you can't prevent yourself from ever thinking about junk food, but there are ways to reduce your cravings.

First, you can use my "outer ring" strategy to avoid processed and packaged foods at the grocery store. If you limit yourself to purchasing foods that are on the outer ring of the store, then you will generally buy whole foods (fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, etc.). Not everything on the outer ring is healthy, but you will avoid a lot of unhealthy foods.

You can also follow the "5 ingredient rule" when buying foods at the store. If something has more than 5 ingredients in it, don't buy it. Odds are, it has been designed to fool you into eating more of it. Avoid those products and stick with the more natural options.

2. Eat a variety of foods.

As we covered earlier, the brain craves novelty.

While you may not be able to replicate the crunchy/creamy contrast of an Oreo, you can vary your diet enough to keep things interesting. For example, you could dip a carrot (crunchy) in some hummus (creamy) and get a novel sensation. Similarly, finding ways to add new spices and flavors to your dishes can make eating healthy foods a more desirable experience.

Moral of the story: Eating healthy doesn't have to be bland. Mix up your foods to get different sensations and you may find it easier than eating the same foods over and over again. (At some point, however, you may have to fall in love with boredom.)

3. Find a better way to deal with your stress.

There's a reason why many people eat as a way to cope with stress. Stress causes certain regions of the brain to release chemicals (specifically, opiates and neuropeptide Y). These chemicals can trigger mechanisms that are similar to the cravings you get from fat and sugar. In other words, when you get stressed, your brain feels the addictive call of fat and sugar and you're pulled back to junk food.

We all have stressful situations that arise in our lives. Learning to deal with stress in a different way can help you overcome the addictive pull of junk food. This could include simple breathing techniques or a short guided meditation. Or something more physical like exercise or making art.

With that said, if you're looking for a better written and more detailed analysis of the science of junk food, I recommend reading the #1 New York Times best-seller Salt Sugar Fat.

Where to Go From Here

One of my goals with this article is to reveal just how complex poor eating habits can be. Junk food is designed to keep you coming back for more. Telling people that they "need more willpower" or should "just stop eating crap" is short-sighted at best.

Understanding the science behind junk food is an important first step, but I don't want you to stop there. I wrote a free 46-page guide called Transform Your Habits, which explains strategies for winning the battle against junk food and improving your eating habits. You can download it here.


How to Stop Eating Junk Food

This article was co-authored by Lyssandra Guerra. Lyssandra Guerra is a Certified Nutrition & Wellness Consultant and the Founder of Native Palms Nutrition based in Oakland, California. She has over five years of nutrition coaching experience and specializes in providing support to overcome digestive issues, food sensitivities, sugar cravings, and other related dilemmas. She received her holistic nutrition certification from the Bauman College: Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts in 2014.

There are 14 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 14 testimonials and 88% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status.

This article has been viewed 193,038 times.

Junk foods like potato chips, candy, cookies, and soda may make you feel momentarily happy, but they are not so good for your health. Kicking the junk food habit is easier said than done for many people, but there are some steps that will move you along the path to better eating habits.


In the long run, to have a healthy life in which sugar has less presence, you will have to cook a good part of what you eat, if not most of the time. However, if you have no experience in this, try to buy ready-made food that is as homemade as possible, like the one in some catering services.

This step is very important, for two reasons.

On the one hand, this habit will force you to eat much more natural foods, to make these form the basis of your diet. On the other hand, in this way you will link eating with a moment of the day that deserves your time and to which we must pay attention, which is the opposite of the snack concept that so often makes us fall into products full of refined sugar.

This is one of the tips on how to stop eating sugar that is more difficult because it requires effort, and for this it is almost mandatory that you plan day-to-day schedules in which you reserve approximately one hour a day to learn how to cook simple recipes that in the long run they will hardly require your attention.


The Bad Habit: Nighttime Noshing

Diet folklore suggests that eating at night is almost never a good idea if you want to lose weight. Although many experts say this old adage is pure myth, a new animal study backs up the idea that it’s not only what you eat but also when you eat that counts. Researchers at Northwestern University found that mice given high-fat foods during the day (when these nocturnal animals should have been sleeping) gained significantly more weight than mice given the same diet at night.

The Fix: The diet take-away here? After dinner, teach yourself to think of the kitchen as being closed for the night, and brush your teeth — you’ll want to eat less with a newly cleaned mouth. If a craving hits, wait 10 minutes. If you’re still truly hungry, reach for something small like string cheese or a piece of fruit.


How We See Food

I'm not a great cook, but I know what I like. Or do I? Research from Brian Wansink and colleagues may challenge our ideas about how we think of food. How do we behave at buffets? Can a clever name really encourage us to eat something ordinary? Will placement of food at a cafeteria really make a difference?

After studying behavior of Chinese Buffet patrons, this research group found that heavier individuals behaved differently from thinner diners. For example, thinner diners faced away from the buffet line, put their napkin on their lap, sat in a booth, took a smaller plate, used chopsticks, and browsed the buffet before serving themselves. Interestingly, thinner diners also left more food on their plates than obese or heavier individuals did at the end of the meal. Why would all of this matter? The napkin and booth behavior suggests that by making it less convenient to get up for seconds or thirds, diners may be able to regulate their food intake. Using a smaller plate and chopsticks and surveying the buffet allow you to monitor how much food you consume, and truly enjoy it, rather than taking a "little bit of everything". Lastly, if you face away from the buffet line, you are less likely to think about the food and get up for a refill. These little tricks may be worth considering if you often overindulge while eating at unlimited food restaurants. In addition, it gives insight into the mind of an eater. By making a few small changes, people will be less likely to overeat and thus leave the buffet pleasantly full, rather than stuffed. As my young cousin likes to say, "Guess why the turkey left the buffet. Because he was STUFFED!"

The way that food is described or labeled also affects how we consume it. In another study from this group, they set up an experimental kitchen in which they told people that culinary students worked. In this restaurant, patrons were served a bottle of wine for coming to the restaurant. If the waiter told the diners that the wine was from California, people rated the food and wine served to them as tasting better. However, if the waiter told the diners that the wine was from North Dakota (a region typically not considered a wine producer) the patrons rated the food and wine as being less appetizing. In reality, both wines were the same cheap red wine. Other findings suggest that naming a food something more creative ("Black Forest Belgian Chocolate Cake") is more likely to get people to buy the same product ("Chocolate cake"). Why is this? It seems that our early evaluations create a sort of "halo effect" over our entire dining experience. A California wine, before one even tastes it, is going to be seen as higher quality than a North Dakota wine. This then affects how you assess the food that follows this wine as being better-tasting after the better evaluated product. Keep that in mind as you eat your vegetables maybe you should start calling your green side dish "Fresh chopped spinach" or "Zeus' Greek salad". It may even make the rest of your meal more appealing!

Finally, Dr. Wansink also recommends placing fruit in a visible fruit bowl on your counter, if you'd like to eat more. Why? Sometimes whatever is most accessible and convenient will be the snack you choose. Dr. Wansink and his colleagues found that just by placing sodas and sports drinks in the back of a cooler behind milk and water, middle school students purchased more milk and fewer sodas. So if you'd like your children to eat more healthy foods, make them accessible. While this will not make it so that children completely stop eating junk food, it may help them add in some better options.

The important information to take away from these findings, is that our eating habits are often driven by much more than our taste preferences. A few simple steps can alter the way we see food, how good it tastes, and how much we choose to eat! This may have great implications for improving the diets of many overweight Americans.


2. Trick Your Mind

Sometimes, the technique mentioned above will not work alone. You’ll have to trick your mind. You’ll have to fool it.

As soon as you feel that you’re going to succumb to pressure, call your friend “procrastination.”

The first thing that I do is go to the “bathroom.” You don’t have to do that. It’s just my way of buying time to think about what to do next. Staying out of sight (going away from the TV) is out of mind. In that two minutes gap, I call a friend. If not, I go through my emails or messages that are awaiting my responses.

To “procrastinate like a pro, ” I often did chores. Ordering groceries online, practicing piano lessons, cleaning the coffee filters, doing laundry, vacuuming the house, etc., were also some of the tasks that kept me away from binge-watching.

Our mind is like a small kid. If we want our kids to forget about candy, we distract by offering something else. Likewise, we need to find a suitable distraction for our minds too.


Breaking Bad - How to Identify and Break Bad Habits

We have all thought at one point or another: “I really need to stop doing this.” Bad habits are common and most people have at least one while many have multiple. A bad habit is any repeated behavior that results in a negative or unwanted outcome. There are many kinds of bad habits and they vary in severity. Common ones for college students include procrastination and not sleeping enough. One study shows that many students are aware of their most serious bad habits but few understand the relationships between them. 1 For example, many understand that going to bed late and spending too much time on social media can lead to negative performance on class work, but not many understand how these bad habits exacerbate each other. A student may be going to bed late because they spend too much time on social media.

Getting rid of or replacing bad habits is not always an easy task. On average, it takes 66 days to form a new habit . 2 The time it takes to form a new habit may vary depending on the severity of the old bad habit and how long you’ve had it. You shouldn’t get discouraged by the time it takes to form a new habit, though. Any improvement in your lifestyle leads to an improvement in your quality of life, which is definitely worth the effort, especially if it helps you thrive in your college years. Here are several tips in identifying and breaking bad habits:

1. Don't try to break the bad habit right away.

Although you may be eager to break free of your bad habit, you shouldn't go after it right away. Instead, you should take 2 to 4 weeks to gather all the information you can about your bad habit such as: What triggers it? When does it happen the most? Does it happen in some places more than in others? It is important that you get a deep understanding of your bad habit and what brings you to do it that way you can fully address it. Having unknown triggers may hinder or completely stop you from kicking your bad habit without you even realizing.

2. Make many small changes, not one big one.

The best way to go about breaking bad habits to tackle it a little bit at a time. If your bad habit is spending too much time on your phone before going to sleep, don't try to reduce your phone usage to zero from one day to the next. Doing so will make it harder to break the habit and increases your chances of slipping back into it. Instead, try reducing the amount of time you allow yourself to spend on your phone every night or every couple of nights. Setting many attainable small goals will improve the chances of success.

3. Replace your bad habit by making a plan.

One of the most important steps to breaking bad habits is creating a plan ahead of time of what it is you are going to do when getting the urge to carry out the undesired behavior. Replacing the negative behavior with a positive one makes it easier to kick the bad habit than just doing nothing. Consider the bad habit of eating junk snacks. Every time you get the urge to eat junk food because you are hungry, grab a healthy snack instead of just going hungry. Simply not eating junk food will not change the fact that you are hungry, by replacing the type of food you eat you eliminate the negative aspect of the behavior while still satisfying your body’s craving. Your positive substitute may not fully satisfy you, but having one decrease the chances of you slipping back into your bad habit.

4. Change your environment

When taking the 2 to 4 weeks to learn about your bad habit and what triggers it, you should get an understanding of environmental factors that contribute to it as well. Maybe you procrastinate only when in your room. Maybe you go out to social events more than you should when around certain people. Once these environmental triggers are identified, you should make any lifestyle modifications necessary to reduce your exposure to them. Spend more time in the library or spend less time with certain people until your exams have passed. It may be difficult at first but you will find it easier to kick bad habits when you have less urges.

When embarking on any self-improvement journey, it is always best to have some company. Most people have bad habits and tendencies they want to change. You should partner up with one of your friends in getting rid of your bad habits. That way you can help each other achieve your goals by supporting and keeping each other in check. Besides being an extra pair of eyes making sure you keep in line, having someone put their faith you that you will help them better themselves can be a strong motivator. You will also get the bonus of strengthening your friendship with that person.

Bad habits are not always easy to get rid of or replace so you should understand beforehand that you may have slip-ups. If they occur, it is important to not feel defeated or lose hope. Just remember that there was a time in your life when you did not have the bad habit. You are not changing into a new person, you are changing back to who you used to be so you know it is possible. If there is a slip-up, learn from it. Ask questions such as: What triggered it? How could you have avoided the trigger? Use that information to help you in the future.

1 Alaraj, M. M., Kayal, H. W., & Banoqitah, E. (2018). An analysis into university students’ bad lifestyle habits and their effect on academic achievement. Journal of Advances in Social Science and Humanities, 4 (12), 430-441. https://doi.org/10.15520/jassh412376

2 Phillippa Lally Cornelia H. M. van Jaarsveld Henry W. W. Potts Jane Wardle. (2009). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 4 (6), 998-1009.


Why We Mindlessly Eat Junk Food — and How to Stop

Getting into the habit of eating a certain snack while watching TV or some other activity could lead to mindless eating even when a person is full and even if the junk food tastes bad, a new study suggests.

The good news is the researchers have also found a way to override these eating habits.

"When we've repeatedly eaten a particular food in a particular environment, our brain comes to associate the food with that environment and make us keep eating as long as those environmental cues are present," study researcher David Neal, a psychology professor at University of Southern California, said in a statement.

In one experiment, scientists at the university handed out popcorn to people who were about to enter a movie theater. Participants either received a bucket of just-popped, fresh popcorn or stale, week-old popcorn.

The findings showed that participants who indicated they typically ate popcorn at the movies consumed about the same amount of popcorn, whether it was fresh or stale. [Top 10 Good Foods Gone Bad]

"People believe their eating behavior is largely activated by how food tastes. Nobody likes cold, spongy, week-old popcorn," said study researcher Wendy Wood, a professor of psychology and business at USC. "But once we've formed an eating habit, we no longer care whether the food tastes good. We'll eat exactly the same amount, whether it's fresh or stale."

Those participants who indicated they didn't usually eat popcorn at the movies ate much less stale popcorn than fresh popcorn.

A control group ate fresh or stale popcorn while watching movie clips in a meeting room. Without the theater setting acting as an eating trigger, even the habitual movie-popcorn eaters consumed much less stale than fresh popcorn.

This suggests that, because a meeting room is a space that is not usually associated with eating popcorn, the subjects paid more attention to the taste of the food, rather than just absentmindedly eating out of habit.

"The results show just how powerful our environment can be in triggering unhealthy behavior," Neal said.

Thankfully, researchers found a way to put an end to routine, "mindless eating" habits that doesn't require changing an eating environment. Simply disrupting automatic eating is enough to make a person become more aware of what — and how much — they are eating.

In a separate experiment, researchers once again gave participants stale and fresh popcorn before they entered a theater for a movie screening. The subjects were asked to eat the popcorn with either their dominant or nondominant hand. The moviegoers who used their nondominant hand ate much less of the stale than the fresh popcorn. This technique even worked on participants with strong movie-popcorn eating habits.

"It's not always feasible for dieters to avoid or alter the environments in which they typically overeat," Wood said. "More feasible, perhaps, is for dieters to actively disrupt the established patterns of how they eat through simple techniques, such as switching the hand they use to eat."

The study was published in the current issue of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

You can follow LiveScience writer Remy Melina on Twitter @remymelina. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience and on Facebook.


How We See Food

I'm not a great cook, but I know what I like. Or do I? Research from Brian Wansink and colleagues may challenge our ideas about how we think of food. How do we behave at buffets? Can a clever name really encourage us to eat something ordinary? Will placement of food at a cafeteria really make a difference?

After studying behavior of Chinese Buffet patrons, this research group found that heavier individuals behaved differently from thinner diners. For example, thinner diners faced away from the buffet line, put their napkin on their lap, sat in a booth, took a smaller plate, used chopsticks, and browsed the buffet before serving themselves. Interestingly, thinner diners also left more food on their plates than obese or heavier individuals did at the end of the meal. Why would all of this matter? The napkin and booth behavior suggests that by making it less convenient to get up for seconds or thirds, diners may be able to regulate their food intake. Using a smaller plate and chopsticks and surveying the buffet allow you to monitor how much food you consume, and truly enjoy it, rather than taking a "little bit of everything". Lastly, if you face away from the buffet line, you are less likely to think about the food and get up for a refill. These little tricks may be worth considering if you often overindulge while eating at unlimited food restaurants. In addition, it gives insight into the mind of an eater. By making a few small changes, people will be less likely to overeat and thus leave the buffet pleasantly full, rather than stuffed. As my young cousin likes to say, "Guess why the turkey left the buffet. Because he was STUFFED!"

The way that food is described or labeled also affects how we consume it. In another study from this group, they set up an experimental kitchen in which they told people that culinary students worked. In this restaurant, patrons were served a bottle of wine for coming to the restaurant. If the waiter told the diners that the wine was from California, people rated the food and wine served to them as tasting better. However, if the waiter told the diners that the wine was from North Dakota (a region typically not considered a wine producer) the patrons rated the food and wine as being less appetizing. In reality, both wines were the same cheap red wine. Other findings suggest that naming a food something more creative ("Black Forest Belgian Chocolate Cake") is more likely to get people to buy the same product ("Chocolate cake"). Why is this? It seems that our early evaluations create a sort of "halo effect" over our entire dining experience. A California wine, before one even tastes it, is going to be seen as higher quality than a North Dakota wine. This then affects how you assess the food that follows this wine as being better-tasting after the better evaluated product. Keep that in mind as you eat your vegetables maybe you should start calling your green side dish "Fresh chopped spinach" or "Zeus' Greek salad". It may even make the rest of your meal more appealing!

Finally, Dr. Wansink also recommends placing fruit in a visible fruit bowl on your counter, if you'd like to eat more. Why? Sometimes whatever is most accessible and convenient will be the snack you choose. Dr. Wansink and his colleagues found that just by placing sodas and sports drinks in the back of a cooler behind milk and water, middle school students purchased more milk and fewer sodas. So if you'd like your children to eat more healthy foods, make them accessible. While this will not make it so that children completely stop eating junk food, it may help them add in some better options.

The important information to take away from these findings, is that our eating habits are often driven by much more than our taste preferences. A few simple steps can alter the way we see food, how good it tastes, and how much we choose to eat! This may have great implications for improving the diets of many overweight Americans.


Breaking Bad - How to Identify and Break Bad Habits

We have all thought at one point or another: “I really need to stop doing this.” Bad habits are common and most people have at least one while many have multiple. A bad habit is any repeated behavior that results in a negative or unwanted outcome. There are many kinds of bad habits and they vary in severity. Common ones for college students include procrastination and not sleeping enough. One study shows that many students are aware of their most serious bad habits but few understand the relationships between them. 1 For example, many understand that going to bed late and spending too much time on social media can lead to negative performance on class work, but not many understand how these bad habits exacerbate each other. A student may be going to bed late because they spend too much time on social media.

Getting rid of or replacing bad habits is not always an easy task. On average, it takes 66 days to form a new habit . 2 The time it takes to form a new habit may vary depending on the severity of the old bad habit and how long you’ve had it. You shouldn’t get discouraged by the time it takes to form a new habit, though. Any improvement in your lifestyle leads to an improvement in your quality of life, which is definitely worth the effort, especially if it helps you thrive in your college years. Here are several tips in identifying and breaking bad habits:

1. Don't try to break the bad habit right away.

Although you may be eager to break free of your bad habit, you shouldn't go after it right away. Instead, you should take 2 to 4 weeks to gather all the information you can about your bad habit such as: What triggers it? When does it happen the most? Does it happen in some places more than in others? It is important that you get a deep understanding of your bad habit and what brings you to do it that way you can fully address it. Having unknown triggers may hinder or completely stop you from kicking your bad habit without you even realizing.

2. Make many small changes, not one big one.

The best way to go about breaking bad habits to tackle it a little bit at a time. If your bad habit is spending too much time on your phone before going to sleep, don't try to reduce your phone usage to zero from one day to the next. Doing so will make it harder to break the habit and increases your chances of slipping back into it. Instead, try reducing the amount of time you allow yourself to spend on your phone every night or every couple of nights. Setting many attainable small goals will improve the chances of success.

3. Replace your bad habit by making a plan.

One of the most important steps to breaking bad habits is creating a plan ahead of time of what it is you are going to do when getting the urge to carry out the undesired behavior. Replacing the negative behavior with a positive one makes it easier to kick the bad habit than just doing nothing. Consider the bad habit of eating junk snacks. Every time you get the urge to eat junk food because you are hungry, grab a healthy snack instead of just going hungry. Simply not eating junk food will not change the fact that you are hungry, by replacing the type of food you eat you eliminate the negative aspect of the behavior while still satisfying your body’s craving. Your positive substitute may not fully satisfy you, but having one decrease the chances of you slipping back into your bad habit.

4. Change your environment

When taking the 2 to 4 weeks to learn about your bad habit and what triggers it, you should get an understanding of environmental factors that contribute to it as well. Maybe you procrastinate only when in your room. Maybe you go out to social events more than you should when around certain people. Once these environmental triggers are identified, you should make any lifestyle modifications necessary to reduce your exposure to them. Spend more time in the library or spend less time with certain people until your exams have passed. It may be difficult at first but you will find it easier to kick bad habits when you have less urges.

When embarking on any self-improvement journey, it is always best to have some company. Most people have bad habits and tendencies they want to change. You should partner up with one of your friends in getting rid of your bad habits. That way you can help each other achieve your goals by supporting and keeping each other in check. Besides being an extra pair of eyes making sure you keep in line, having someone put their faith you that you will help them better themselves can be a strong motivator. You will also get the bonus of strengthening your friendship with that person.

Bad habits are not always easy to get rid of or replace so you should understand beforehand that you may have slip-ups. If they occur, it is important to not feel defeated or lose hope. Just remember that there was a time in your life when you did not have the bad habit. You are not changing into a new person, you are changing back to who you used to be so you know it is possible. If there is a slip-up, learn from it. Ask questions such as: What triggered it? How could you have avoided the trigger? Use that information to help you in the future.

1 Alaraj, M. M., Kayal, H. W., & Banoqitah, E. (2018). An analysis into university students’ bad lifestyle habits and their effect on academic achievement. Journal of Advances in Social Science and Humanities, 4 (12), 430-441. https://doi.org/10.15520/jassh412376

2 Phillippa Lally Cornelia H. M. van Jaarsveld Henry W. W. Potts Jane Wardle. (2009). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 4 (6), 998-1009.


The Bottom Line

Learning how to stop eating junk food is not as hard as you assume it is. Like everything else that is worth it in life, it requires planning and dedication for it to bear fruits/ If you cannot stop eating junk food and are craving control over this, try implementing the above-mentioned tips and tricks in your everyday and you shall master the issue at hand.

Sticking to a healthy diet based on your health needs, allergies and preferences is a great idea, however when combined with a workout plan that meets your goals, it might bring you significant benefits. Better mood, stronger muscles and endurance are just some. Check out the 20 Minute Full Body Workout at Home below.

DISCLAIMER:

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

SOURCES:

    (2018, mayoclinic.org) (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) (2020, oprahmag.com) (2017, healthline.com) (2019, verwywellmind.com) (n.d., sleepfoundation.org) (2020, medicinenet.com) (2012, psychologytoday.com) (2020, health.harvard.edu)
С. Kamau

Clare is an excellent and experienced writer who has a great interest in nutrition, weight loss, and working out. She believes that everyone should take an interest in health and fitness, as not only do they improve your way of life, but they can also have a significant impact on your health.
As a writer, her goal is to educate her readers about the ways they can reprogram themselves to enjoy exercise, as well as break free from bad eating habits. In her articles, Clare tries to give advice which is backed by scientific research and is also easy to follow on a day-to-day basis. She believes that everyone, no matter their age, gender, or fitness level, can always learn something new that can benefit their health.


2. Trick Your Mind

Sometimes, the technique mentioned above will not work alone. You’ll have to trick your mind. You’ll have to fool it.

As soon as you feel that you’re going to succumb to pressure, call your friend “procrastination.”

The first thing that I do is go to the “bathroom.” You don’t have to do that. It’s just my way of buying time to think about what to do next. Staying out of sight (going away from the TV) is out of mind. In that two minutes gap, I call a friend. If not, I go through my emails or messages that are awaiting my responses.

To “procrastinate like a pro, ” I often did chores. Ordering groceries online, practicing piano lessons, cleaning the coffee filters, doing laundry, vacuuming the house, etc., were also some of the tasks that kept me away from binge-watching.

Our mind is like a small kid. If we want our kids to forget about candy, we distract by offering something else. Likewise, we need to find a suitable distraction for our minds too.


The Bad Habit: Nighttime Noshing

Diet folklore suggests that eating at night is almost never a good idea if you want to lose weight. Although many experts say this old adage is pure myth, a new animal study backs up the idea that it’s not only what you eat but also when you eat that counts. Researchers at Northwestern University found that mice given high-fat foods during the day (when these nocturnal animals should have been sleeping) gained significantly more weight than mice given the same diet at night.

The Fix: The diet take-away here? After dinner, teach yourself to think of the kitchen as being closed for the night, and brush your teeth — you’ll want to eat less with a newly cleaned mouth. If a craving hits, wait 10 minutes. If you’re still truly hungry, reach for something small like string cheese or a piece of fruit.


Yes, You Can Train Your Brain to Hate Junk Food

Could your brain ever want broccoli over brownies? If you’re done dishing out all explicit synonyms of “hell, no”, hear me out. Sadly, and much to the contentment of your taste buds, junk food companies have cracked the perilous code of flavour science. They’ve taken this science to extraordinary levels, magically mixing in the exact ratio of sugars, salts, fats and other chemicals that appeal to your psychological and physical reactions. In other words, these carefully orchestrated flavors make you go “How is this soooo good, what sorcery is this? Must. Buy. More.”Maybe it’s time to update your brain's biological software, and yes, it’s all possible! Side note - let it not be known that I’m dreaming of cinnamon buns whilst writing this. Recent study at Tufts University and Harvard Medical School has given an additional push to this thought and it’s pretty exciting to think that long-standing preferences can be re-engineered.“Food cravings are basically a habit,” explains study co-author Susan Roberts, PhD, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at Tufts. Like smokers who grow accustomed to getting their fix after meals or with their morning coffee, many people train their brains to expect junk foods at certain times of the day, Roberts explains.

The reason you crave high-calorie foods in the first place is because they do such a good job at satisfying hunger pangs. "If you eat M&M's, you're going to get this huge rush of sugar and fat that's easily digested and soothes your hunger now," says Roberts. "Your brain gets used to the idea that this chocolate taste is really good at fixing hunger, so that the next time you get ravenous, you'll want to go find it again."

In a small study, participants weren’t allowed to become hungry, since hunger is the driving force behind most of our unhealthy cravings. They achieved this by prescribing a satiating, low-calorie diet to them, a diet that included healthy proteins, high-fibre foods and low-glycemic fruits and vegetables.

After six months, MRI scans of their brains showed increased reward activity in response to nutritious, low-cal foods. More interestingly, their brains’ reward responses were muffled in the presence of unhealthy treats. The study says you can weaken brain associations by mixing treats with foods that have high protein or fiber so your treat is still absorbed but not as quickly digested.

But Can You Really Be Happy Eating Vegetables?

For most people, the thought of eating vegetables is depressing. This is especially true for those caught in cozy arms of junk food. But research conducted by the University of Warwick’s Medical School might put these gloomy feelings to rest. The study, which involved 14,000 participants in England aged 16 or over, found that those who ate five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day were the happiest.

Remarkably, the reverse was also true, the lower a person’s fruit and vegetable intake, the higher their chance of having low mental well-being. Dr. Saverio Stranges, the research paper’s lead author, who was positively surprised, said: “These novel findings suggest that fruit and vegetable intake may play a potential role as a driver, not just of physical, but also of mental well-being in the general population.”

So how exactly do you go on to beat your inner junk-demons and ensure your brain doesn’t rev up whenever someone as little as mentions the word ‘crunchy potato chips’ or ‘a crumbly pie’?

One simple rule that doesn’t require Sensei-like training. Whenever you’re about to purchase a product, flip it over to go over the ingredient list at the back. If there are more than five ingredients on the food label, don’t buy it. More than five ingredients should always sound the alarms and bring out the red flags in your brain, since it’s a sure-shot sign of food processing. If you do buy it, it’s best to consider it a treat and consume it occasionally.

2. It’s All About the Blood Sugar, Baby

Balancing your blood sugar is essential. Blood sugar highs and lows is what primitively drives you to reach out for that chocolate-laced muffin. When your blood sugar is low, you’ll eat anything, you’ll hear potato chips calling out your name and you’ll be too frenzied to think better. To better balance your blood sugar, eat a small snack every three to four hours. Needless to say, this snack should include a healthy protein, seeds or nuts.

3. Gross Yourself Out

An amateurish but effective trick is find out what’s going on in that amazing cupcake of yours. The red and pink dye used in foods are extracted from the Cochineal insects that come from the beetle family. Lanolin - an oily, sweaty secretion found on the outside of sheep's wool, is used to soften your chewing gum. Find out enough about what you’re really eating and the cringe factor will keep you away from processed food for a long, long time.(The Most Shocking Ingredients in Your Food)4. The Dull Sheen of Satisfaction

When you regularly consume sugar, salt and fats, it not only hooks you, it dulls your taste buds as well – making you eat more to reach the same level of satisfaction. But thankfully, the opposite it true too. The less of a food you eat, the less of it you need to score a rush, says David Katz, M.D., a nutrition expert at the Yale School of Medicine and author of ‘Disease Proof: The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well.’ The trick is to cut down in small steps. If you take three sugars in tea, add two sugars for a few weeks and then one for the next few. Over time, you’ll notice smaller amounts of these treats are enough to hit the spot.5. Load Up on the Real Stuff

According to Mercola, when you load up on addictive junk foods, your metabolism is stimulated to burn carbs as its primary fuel. As long as you’re in the primary carb-burning mode, you’ll keep craving junk food. The solution? Replace carbs with healthy fats. Easier said than done, yes – but once you replace processed junk with high-quality whole foods, the metabolic switchover will be well worth it.


How to Stop Eating Junk Food

This article was co-authored by Lyssandra Guerra. Lyssandra Guerra is a Certified Nutrition & Wellness Consultant and the Founder of Native Palms Nutrition based in Oakland, California. She has over five years of nutrition coaching experience and specializes in providing support to overcome digestive issues, food sensitivities, sugar cravings, and other related dilemmas. She received her holistic nutrition certification from the Bauman College: Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts in 2014.

There are 14 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 14 testimonials and 88% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status.

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Junk foods like potato chips, candy, cookies, and soda may make you feel momentarily happy, but they are not so good for your health. Kicking the junk food habit is easier said than done for many people, but there are some steps that will move you along the path to better eating habits.


What Happens to Your Brain When You Eat Junk Food (And Why We Crave It)

Most of us know that junk food is unhealthy. We know that poor nutrition is related to heart problems, high blood pressure, and a host of other health ailments. You might even know that studies show that eating junk food has been linked to increases in depression.

But if it's so bad for us, why do we keep doing it?

There is an answer. And the science behind it will surprise you.

Why We Crave Junk Food

Steven Witherly is a food scientist who has spent the last 20 years studying what makes certain foods more addictive (and tasty) than others. Much of the science that follows is from his excellent report, "Why Humans Like Junk Food."

According to Witherly, when you eat tasty food, there are two factors that make the experience pleasurable.

First, there is the sensation of eating the food. This includes what it tastes like (salty, sweet, umami, etc.), what it smells like, and how it feels in your mouth. This last quality -- known as "orosensation" -- can be particularly important. Food companies will spend millions of dollars to discover the most satisfying level of crunch in a potato chip. Their scientists will test for the perfect amount of fizzle in a soda. These factors all combine to create the sensation that your brain associates with a particular food or drink.

The second factor is the actual macronutrient makeup of the food -- the blend of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates that it contains. In the case of junk food, food manufacturers are looking for a perfect combination of salt, sugar, and fat that excites your brain and gets you coming back for more.

How Science Creates Cravings

There are a range of factors that scientists and food manufacturers use to make food more addictive.

Dynamic contrast. Dynamic contrast refers to a combination of different sensations in the same food. In the words of Witherly, foods with dynamic contrast have:

. an edible shell that goes crunch followed by something soft or creamy and full of taste-active compounds. This rule applies to a variety of our favorite food structures -- the caramelized top of a creme brulee, a slice of pizza, or an Oreo cookie -- the brain finds crunching through something like this very novel and thrilling.

Salivary response. Salivation is part of the experience of eating food, and the more that a food causes you to salivate, the more it will swim throughout your mouth and cover your taste buds. For example, emulsified foods like butter, chocolate, salad dressing, ice cream, and mayonnaise promote a salivary response that helps to lather your taste buds with goodness. This is one reason why many people enjoy foods that have sauces or glazes on them. The result is that foods that promote salivation do a happy little tap dance on your brain and taste better than ones that don't.

Rapid food meltdown and vanishing caloric density. Foods that rapidly vanish or "melt in your mouth" signal to your brain that you're not eating as much as you actually are. In other words, these foods literally tell your brain that you're not full, even though you're eating a lot of calories.

The result: You tend to overeat.

In his best-selling book Salt Sugar Fat, author Michael Moss describes a conversation with Witherly that explains vanishing caloric density perfectly.

I brought him two shopping bags filled with a variety of chips to taste. He zeroed right in on the Cheetos. "This," Witherly said, "is one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure." He ticked off a dozen attributes of the Cheetos that make the brain say more. But the one he focused on most was the puff's uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. "It's called vanishing caloric density," Witherly said. "If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there's no calories in it . you can just keep eating it forever."

Sensory specific response. Your brain likes variety. When it comes to food, if you experience the same taste over and over again, then you start to get less pleasure from it. In other words, the sensitivity of that specific sensor will decrease over time. This can happen in just minutes.

Junk foods, however, are designed to avoid this sensory specific response. They provide enough taste to be interesting (your brain doesn't get tired of eating them), but it's not so stimulating that your sensory response is dulled. This is why you can swallow an entire bag of potato chips and still be ready to eat another. To your brain, the crunch and sensation of eating Doritos is novel and interesting every time.

Calorie density. Junk foods are designed to convince your brain that it is getting nutrition, but to not fill you up. Receptors in your mouth and stomach tell your brain about the mixture of proteins, fats, carbohydrates in a particular food, and how filling that food is for your body. Junk food provides just enough calories that your brain says, "Yes, this will give you some energy," but not so many calories that you think, "That's enough, I'm full." The result is that you crave the food to begin with, but it takes quite some time to feel full from it.

Memories of past eating experiences. This is where the psychobiology of junk food really works against you. When you eat something tasty (say, a bag of potato chips), your brain registers that feeling. The next time you see that food, smell that food, or even read about that food, your brain starts to trigger the memories and responses that came when you ate it. These memories can actually cause physical responses like salivation and create the "mouth-watering" craving that you get when thinking about your favorite foods.

All of this brings us to the most important question of all.

Food companies are spending millions of dollars to design foods with addictive sensations. What can you and I do about it? Is there any way to counteract the money, the science, and the advertising behind the junk food industry?

How to Kick the Junk Food Habit and Eat Healthy

The good news is that the research shows that the less junk food you eat, the less you crave it. My own experiences have mirrored this. As I've slowly begun to eat healthier, I've noticed myself wanting pizza and candy and ice cream less and less. Some people refer to this transition period as "gene reprogramming."

Whatever you want to call it, the lesson is the same: If you can find ways to gradually eat healthier, you'll start to experience the cravings of junk food less and less. I've never claimed to have all the answers (or any, really), but here are three strategies that might help.

1. Use the "outer ring" strategy and the "5 ingredient rule" to buy healthier food.

The best course of action is to avoid buying processed and packaged foods. If you don't own it, you can't eat it. Furthermore, if you don't think about it, you can't be lured by it.

We've talked about the power of junk food to pull you in and how memories of tasty food in the past can cause you to crave more of it in the future. Obviously, you can't prevent yourself from ever thinking about junk food, but there are ways to reduce your cravings.

First, you can use my "outer ring" strategy to avoid processed and packaged foods at the grocery store. If you limit yourself to purchasing foods that are on the outer ring of the store, then you will generally buy whole foods (fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, etc.). Not everything on the outer ring is healthy, but you will avoid a lot of unhealthy foods.

You can also follow the "5 ingredient rule" when buying foods at the store. If something has more than 5 ingredients in it, don't buy it. Odds are, it has been designed to fool you into eating more of it. Avoid those products and stick with the more natural options.

2. Eat a variety of foods.

As we covered earlier, the brain craves novelty.

While you may not be able to replicate the crunchy/creamy contrast of an Oreo, you can vary your diet enough to keep things interesting. For example, you could dip a carrot (crunchy) in some hummus (creamy) and get a novel sensation. Similarly, finding ways to add new spices and flavors to your dishes can make eating healthy foods a more desirable experience.

Moral of the story: Eating healthy doesn't have to be bland. Mix up your foods to get different sensations and you may find it easier than eating the same foods over and over again. (At some point, however, you may have to fall in love with boredom.)

3. Find a better way to deal with your stress.

There's a reason why many people eat as a way to cope with stress. Stress causes certain regions of the brain to release chemicals (specifically, opiates and neuropeptide Y). These chemicals can trigger mechanisms that are similar to the cravings you get from fat and sugar. In other words, when you get stressed, your brain feels the addictive call of fat and sugar and you're pulled back to junk food.

We all have stressful situations that arise in our lives. Learning to deal with stress in a different way can help you overcome the addictive pull of junk food. This could include simple breathing techniques or a short guided meditation. Or something more physical like exercise or making art.

With that said, if you're looking for a better written and more detailed analysis of the science of junk food, I recommend reading the #1 New York Times best-seller Salt Sugar Fat.

Where to Go From Here

One of my goals with this article is to reveal just how complex poor eating habits can be. Junk food is designed to keep you coming back for more. Telling people that they "need more willpower" or should "just stop eating crap" is short-sighted at best.

Understanding the science behind junk food is an important first step, but I don't want you to stop there. I wrote a free 46-page guide called Transform Your Habits, which explains strategies for winning the battle against junk food and improving your eating habits. You can download it here.


In the long run, to have a healthy life in which sugar has less presence, you will have to cook a good part of what you eat, if not most of the time. However, if you have no experience in this, try to buy ready-made food that is as homemade as possible, like the one in some catering services.

This step is very important, for two reasons.

On the one hand, this habit will force you to eat much more natural foods, to make these form the basis of your diet. On the other hand, in this way you will link eating with a moment of the day that deserves your time and to which we must pay attention, which is the opposite of the snack concept that so often makes us fall into products full of refined sugar.

This is one of the tips on how to stop eating sugar that is more difficult because it requires effort, and for this it is almost mandatory that you plan day-to-day schedules in which you reserve approximately one hour a day to learn how to cook simple recipes that in the long run they will hardly require your attention.