Expert Tips to Break Free of Your Junk Food Cravings

If you crave processed foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat, you aren’t alone. These foods are addictive, much in the same way that drugs are.

They can trigger cravings that can send you off on a binge. And if you try to cut them out of your diet, you could find yourself suffering symptoms of withdrawal.

“I don’t think sugar is more addicting than cocaine, but I do think sugar is addicting,” said addiction expert Mark Gold, a keynote speaker at UCSF’s recent Sugar, Stress, Environment, and Weight Symposium.

At the symposium, he and other experts addressed ways to help you break free of your cravings. Here are some of the tips they shared…

Know your triggers: If you don’t know what initiates your cravings, you can’t address it. So, pay attention to those moments when your cravings start. Once you’ve got it figured out, try and take control of the triggers as soon as possible.

 Learn to tolerate cravings: Kerri Boutelle, a UC San Diego professor of pediatrics and psychology, notes that if you ride out your cravings they’ll diminish over time. You can also gain more control over your favorite foods by looking and smelling them… but only taking a small taste.

Plan your meals: Try and follow the dietary guidelines that recommend eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains… and less salt, sugar and saturated fat.

Replace addictive foods with foods you like but don’t struggle with: Make sure to choose healthy foods you truly like, and stay away from the ones you don’t. “You should enjoy eating. You’re not going to stick to a diet of gruel and broccoli,” said Ashley Gearhardt, assistant professor of clinical psychology at the University of Michigan.

If you do fall into an occasional junk food binge, don’t beat yourself up over it.

Food cues can be hard to avoid. And it takes time to learn what your triggers are. So if you have a lapse, consider it part of the learning process and plan on doing better next time.

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