Everyone is different. But here are a few tricks I have found helpful in getting free from processed foods so I can stay on a whole-foods plant-based diet.
- Why emotional eating often isn’t the only issue
- Satiation and food volume versus Caloric Density
- What to eat and why to eat it
- What foods to avoid triggering cravings and binging
- Why we overeat when we are full
- What foods cause cravings and what foods don’t
- Why juicing and blending can cause cravings
- Fasting and cravings
- Raw foods and cravings
- dehydrated foods and junk food cravings
- The spectrum of susceptibility to junk food cravings
- How mindful eating cuts junk food cravings
Understanding Junk food cravings
Many diets suggest moderation for junky foods. The diet experts suggest we have one cupcake or one cookie or a small handful of potato chips.
But this primes the brain to want more of the hyper-palatable food and gives you intense cravings that can only be resisted for so long before you binge or give up the “moderation-diet” and “cheat.”
These foods trigger more hunger rather than less hunger because they are so refined they over stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain and also throw off our hunger signals by being bereft of nutrients our bodies are looking for.
The reason we can’t have just one
Foods that contain concentrated sugar, corn syrup, or flour of any kind are highly concentrated toxic substances. They are more like straight up drugs than foods because they are so concentrated. These foods trigger the pleasure centers and dopamine receptors in the same way heroin does.
These foods can also trigger high amounts of insulin, which can cause leptin to be blocked in the brain stem, which causes hunger to rise the more you eat. Leptin is the hormone that tells you it is time to stop eating.
Your brain on sugar, flour, and oil does not get this signal to stop eating. Instead, you feel hungrier the more you expose yourself to these food-like substances.
And the longer you try to resist overeating, the more the urge builds up until you go into binge mode wiping out months of discipline in a single week.
Emotional eating isn’t the only reason we overeat on processed foods
I used to think my junk food cravings were strictly due to emotional eating.
I thought I was overeating or having cravings because of a deep-seated hunger for emotional needs is not being met. It was valid to some extent. But even after years of therapy, I had the same problems with eating.
The missing key for me was processed food addiction
There is nothing wrong with self-examination and getting in touch with your emotions. And sometimes we eat for emotional reasons.
But physical addiction plays a big part in the problem of eating when we don’t want to.
Focusing on just the emotions is like looking at the picture frame instead of the actual content of the frame.
Emotions might not be the only reason you are overeating or struggling with cravings for junk foods and refined foods. You know you don’t want to be eating.
With a few simple tweaks, you can make peace with your food for once and for all and lose whatever weight you need to lose.
I struggled for 30 years trying to eat moderately and eat healthy foods and get rid of junk food cravings while going to therapy and working on myself endlessly.
Once I found a few simple food secrets, I finally became free from junk food cravings, and have been able to stay on a healthy whole foods diet easily.
I lost 40 pounds in the first six months after not being able to lose any weight for over ten years.
I no longer have to worry about food at all when I am not eating it or preparing it!
This is a miracle for me!
I used to struggle with junk food cravings daily, especially in the evenings.
Once you know a few simple facts about how your body and brain work, it sets you free!
Satiation and satiety come from whole foods
Why diets don’t work
Satiation happens when you are eating and feel full enough and satisfied.
Satiety is when you feel full and happy and don’t have cravings for 4 to 6 hours after eating. When your stomach empties, it is time to feel naturally hungry again and eat.
Certain foods can trigger more hunger as you eat them, causing you to overeat at every meal while other foods signal the body to feel full and satisfied because of bulk, water, fiber, nutrient levels.
The principle of calorie density
We eat instinctively eat food by weight and want to eat the same volume daily.
Humans naturally eat and want to eat an average of 3 to 6 pounds of food per day, depending on the size of the person, of course. The secret to staying thin happy and healthy is what is in your 3 to 6 pounds of food per day.
Dr. Barabara J. Rolls explains volumetrics
The Secret to Ultimate Weight Loss by Chef AJ is an excellent resource for learning about food volume.
By using chef AJ’s system-grid, you can eat high-volume nutrient-rich foods that are the lowest in calories and highest in nutrients.
She suggests eating green leafy veggies at 100 to 200 calories per pound first thing every meal, including breakfast.
Nest on the calorie density chart is fruit at around 300 calories per pound.
Next comes legumes, whole grains, starchy veggies like sweet potatoes at around 200 to 400 calories per pound.
Lastly, Chef AJ puts high-calorie foods like nuts seeds, avocado. These are around 800 calories per pound. She suggests having a small portion of that higher calorie food as a condiment.
She removes animal products, refined foods, and oils from the diet altogether. These foods can range anywhere from 1000 to 5000 calories per pound.
You may not want to be as absolutist as Chef AJ is. But by keeping those higher calorie foods out of your daily diet, you can lower your cravings and lose weight consistently.
Portion control leaves out a big piece of the puzzle
The concept of eating a smaller volume of food to lose weight is flawed.
Dieting and caloric restriction alone is not the answer as you probably have already noticed.
The maxim “Moderation in all things” should be changed to:
moderation in healthy things and zero use of toxins
We have been taught to eat a small volume of food while keeping processed foods in the diet.
You may be familiar with the idea of only eating the amount of food that is the size of your fist etc.
But tiny portions only make sense for denatured, processed high-calorie foods, not water-rich fiber-rich veggies.
Sure, tiny portions of refined foods work in the short run, but it isn’t sustainable. Getting a little taste of processed food three times a day just primes the taste buds for more.
Tiny portions and calorie counting lead to binging and cravings and compensation for malnourishment in the long run.
The body instinctively wants to eat the same weight and volume of food every day this is why dieting on refined foods backfires every time.
The body wants bulky foods
We are designed to eat high-fiber whole plant foods, and This is why so many people end up searching through the kitchen for more food after dinner.
The body knows when you try to cheat it out of the phytonutrients, fiber, and volume it was designed for.
We are naturally built to eat big, bulky plant-based foods that are filling and satisfying and full of the nutrients we need.
Stretch, and nutrient receptors help decrease junk food cravings
Another reason for cravings is that the body is searching for missing nutrients to trigger a feeling of satiation in its nutrient receptors as well as its stretch receptors.
To feel satiated, we need to eat enough food to stretch the stomach so that the stretch receptors in the stomach get the signal that it is time to stop eating.
When we diet on refined foods without much fiber or water and eat tiny portions to lose weight, we do not get this natural satiation signal.
When we diet for months or years, eating less food volume than the body naturally wants to eat eventually, we binge and gain all the weight back and more in a short time.
Rebound weight gain after processed foods dieting is normal and to be expected.
Visual food satiety signals
We also get messages from visually seeing the food and knowing ahead of time that we are going to be satiated. When we see a plate full of lots of food, our brain is already reassured that we are going to be fed enough food.
If we see a plate with a tiny amount of food, this stimulates repressed feelings of lack and panic. We feel depleted and starved of nutrients. Thus we gradually begin eating more of the processed foods that are too high in calories gain the weight back.
We feel deprived, and it is natural to break down eventually and binge after prolonged dieting on small volumes of foods that are not that healthy.
When we force ourselves to eat tiny amounts of processed foods, we frustrate the essential need for the stomach to be full of high-fiber, water-rich plant matter at each meal.
Eventually, the stomach that was surgically shrunk often stretches out again to take in the typical bulk of food, we are designed to take in. The problem is most people continue to eat the same processed foods while trying to eat smaller amounts of them.
Once they go back to average volumes of processed junk foods, they inevitably gain back the weight they lost and then some.
A note on gastric bypass and food volume
Surgical removal or tying off of part of the stomach does not work long term because we are fighting our natural inclination to eat several pounds per day of water-rich fiber-rich whole foods that will keep us healthy slim and free of cravings.
Sure, surgery works for some people. But it is dangerous and often leads to complications. Why not try a whole foods diet first?
Gastric bypass surgery is not the answer because it makes the stomach too small ever to get the satiation feeling we need to have to feel healthy and happy about eating.
Why oil is not a food
Oil damages the endothelial cells of the intestinal lining and coats your tongue, so it actually dulls the taste of food, so you need more food and more salt to enjoy the food. The reason we like oil is that it also stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain, similar to the way sugar and flour do. It takes about 5 kilograms of olives to make one liter of oil. This is another highly palatable, unnaturally concentrated food that can contribute to junk food cravings.
Any type of oil is 4000 calories per pound and 120 calories per tablespoon, as opposed to the 100 to 200 calories per pound for veggies. This is not a healthy food. Organic coconut oil and olive oil are not foods for humans. Whole olives and coconuts are excellent foods for humans in small amounts.
Oil is one of the main reasons people have trouble losing weight and keeping it off. I was surprised at first how easy it is to cook delicious meals without oil.
There is a spectrum of susceptibility to junk food and refined food
Telling yourself to just have a “little bit” of toxic trigger food is like telling a drug addict to have a “little bit” of heroin or an addicted smoker to smoke less, or an alcoholic to just drink one drink per day.
For some people, this would work to ration the amount of toxic food. If they have had a healthy diet most of their life and are genetically just not inclined to notice food very much some people can eat only one potato chip or just one cookie and be slim all their lives. But this is at the low end of the bell curve. Most people fall somewhere in the middle. Medium to high susceptibility. When you look at who is still slender, it is either young people who are not fat yet or a few rare individuals who are not sensitive.
If you are not an alcoholic, for instance, you can have one drink a day, and it is no big deal. If you are not sensitive to refined foods, you might be able to have refined foods once in a while.
There are a few people who are not that interested in food, and they stay thin eating a mostly healthy diet with little bits of junk food thrown in.
Moderation doesn’t work for most of us
But if you look around any place, there are humans you will see many fat people who cannot use restraint when it comes to junk food and just a few thin people who may be on diets, or they may still be young enough and active enough that it hasn’t caught up with them yet.
Rarely you will see an ancient person who has stayed thin, vital, and healthy all their life drinking one drink and having a tiny bit of junk food every day.
Mostly you will see people with brains that cannot handle moderation, and that is why most people in our culture are overweight heading toward obesity.
Abstinence is the key to being thin and healthy and free of cravings
This might sound like bad news, but after the detox or withdrawal phase, it is beautiful to be free from junk food cravings.
If you have a brain that is triggered by refined foods, it’s better to stay away from these triggers for good.
The reason these foods are so hard to stop eating once you start is that they are designed to be hyper-palatable so you will eat more of them.
The food industry adds, sugar, flour, oil, salt, and other addictive chemicals to foods because they know people will buy more of it so they can make more money off of us.
hyper-stimulating foods, refined foods with flour, sugar high salt, and oil are everywhere. These foods over stimulate pleasure centers in the brain and cause junk food cravings.
Why blending and juicing may harm your brain
Anything ground into flour or sugar or blended into a “super healthy green smoothie” or protein shake should be avoided.
Yeah, I hear your groans of disbelief.
I “smoothied” and juiced for years and years every morning thinking I was doing something healthy.
I would add raw cacao, kale, moringa, spirulina, and every other super green protein powder I could find, thinking this was the healthiest way to eat.
Powdered food, and ground up food, and juices get into the bloodstream too rapidly. This affects blood sugar causing insulin to spike, causing weight gain. Smoothies also mess with the body’s sense of caloric density and the stomach’s stretch reflex.
If you have been downing the protein powder or the raw greens with bananas and dates smoothies, you may be causing junk food cravings and binges later in the day and evening.
Don’t break down the fiber in your food with metal blades
The fiber in food comes in soluble and none soluble forms. We need both the resistant starch and the soluble fiber, and it needs to be in its original form to keep the plant sugars from entering the bloodstream too rapidly and messing up your blood sugar. Fiber creates a matrix or wall in the gut that slows down the absorption of the sugars through the intestinal walls.
The blender blades that grind the smoothie break down the fiber too far so that everything goes into your system too fast. This causes insulin spiking and dopamine overstimulation and messes up your brain and can keep it from healing.
The goes for juicing. Although green juice is an excellent delivery system for nutrients, it messes with the body’s sense of fullness and can cause cravings down the road if you do it consistently.
And we are taught to do juicing for a week or a month even or “do it every morning because it’s so darn healthy”!
I was shocked to find this out about juicing and blending food.
This stuff is hyper-stimulating to the system in a similar way to junk foods. We just are not designed to take in food this way.
I had failed a raw foods diet and the Fuhrman diet because I was juicing and blending like crazy thinking this was so healthy, and it would finally make me thin and happy and free.
Only to find myself giving in to cravings for junk food every time after months of forcing down smoothies and green juices.
Always eat your food don’t drink it
Chewing your food helps get rid of junk food cravings. It also helps supply the natural enzymes from your saliva for digestion by chewing thoroughly. Try going without smoothies, protein powders, and juicing for a couple of weeks and see how you feel.
Eating real food causes your metabolism to go up to digest the high-fiber plant material.
Studies have been done on smoothies and juicing as opposed to eating tons of high fiber whole plants. They found that a whole plant-based diet caused neurogenesis in adults by stimulating the hippocampus and the olfactory bulb, that is new brain cells growing!
“Interestingly, food texture also has an impact on AHN (Adult hippocampal neurogenesis); rats fed with a soft diet, as opposed to a solid/hard diet, exhibit decreased hippocampal progenitor cell proliferation. The authors hypothesize that chewing resulting in cell proliferation is related to corticosterone levels . Interestingly, independent studies have shown impairment in learning and memory abilities with similar soft diets [59, 114].” from this study.
Darn it! It was so easy and efficient to blend and juice everything.
I don’t know about you, but I got the whole Juice Feasting program and tried it diligently several times.
I thought, and many people in the raw food movement believe this is the ultimate diet. In some circles juicing is considered the most refined and best thing you can do for yourself and the goal is to eventually live on juice alone!
But it turns out juicing is not healthy long term.
People get great results with juicing and blending at first because it is so much better than what they were eating.
But any diet that it cuts out all the flour and sugar will give excellent results at first. But you bounce back to your old fat self unless you eat whole real plant foods and lots of them.
Another thing that can cause junk food cravings is dehydrated foods
Eating a lot of dates and other dried fruits is around 3000 calories per pound as opposed to the regular water-rich fruits, which are about 300 calories per pound.
The same goes for those raw dehydrated flax seed crackers and all the expensive packaged dehydrated raw foods products that are supposed to be super healthy. They can actually make you hungrier. They are costly raw junk foods.
A note about natural sweeteners and junk food cravings
Natural sweeteners like stevia can also be a problem for some people, triggering cravings.
I used to use it in my lemon and lime water every day, and I would get cravings. Now that I don’t use it anymore, I have been able to be fully satisfied with clean whole plant-based foods without cravings.
How to get rid of junk food cravings with mindful eating
The Benefits of mindful eating
- Helps you have more energy
- Enables you to heal depression
- Helps you lose weight
Eat slowly without distraction from tv, music, reading, checking your email, playing games on your phone, texting, talking on the phone. Get satisfaction out of all the flavors. This is hard to do at first, but it becomes gratifying, and you find yourself eating less after a few weeks.
Wait for the food to go into the stomach before you put the next bite of food in your mouth. This way, you are really tasting your food thoroughly and experiencing each bite, and giving your body time to assimilate.
Eat about two handfuls of food, enough to fill the stomach about two-thirds of the way full and allow room for digestion. If you still feel hungry, wait five minutes to see if it is real hunger or it may just be a habit to have seconds.
If it is real hunger, you will be able to tell naturally and go back for another helping. But take a few minutes to check in.
Overweight people are not getting satisfaction from food, so they need hyper flavorful food. It’s a vicious cycle. You become exposed to hyper-palatable foods as a child with minimal real whole foods, and this messes up your pallet, so you can’t enjoy the delicate flavors of natural foods. Eating real foods is not satisfying at first, but your taste buds grow in new every two weeks, so after a while, you will enjoy natural flavors.
Allow about 4 to 6 hours between each meal so that the stomach is completely empty each time you eat. This will vary from person to person. in our culture there is food everywhere all the time, at meetings at meals, at movies, on street corners we snack regularly, and so we need more exciting flavors to make the food palatable because we are not truly hungry.
Once you allow yourself to become hungry between meals and have all the flavors available at each meal and thoroughly enjoy each bite you will not crave more food, and you will naturally start to eat less. you will have a more delicate pallet and find yourself satisfied with less food.
Deepak Chopra has a helpful chapter on mindful eating from the Ultimate Deepak Chopra Collection on audible if you want to learn more.
Why whole foods are best for humans
Whole plant-based foods have all the flavors our brains are seeking and craving.
According to Ayurveda, there are six flavors that our body needs to have at each meal: sweet, salty sour, bitter, pungent, and astringent. Pungent is any kind of spice. Bitter flavors come from greens, and astringent is the flavor from beans, lentils, and other legumes.
In the standard diet in this country, we focus on just the first three flavors, with sweet, salty, and sour if you look at fast foods, like French fries you have salty sweet and a little sour, or cupcakes, candy bars, sweet and a little salt.
Your system is looking for the rest of the flavors to complete the nutrient puzzle. The more salt, sweet and sour you eat the hungry you are and the more likely you will overeat in search of the missing flavors.
Greens for breakfast provides the bitter flavor first thing in the morning instead of a predominantly sweet breakfast sets you up to be free from cravings all day.
A note about raw foods diets
They work for a few rare people. But without beans, legumes whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, and sweet potatoes, and squash you are left with fruits, veggies and nuts and seeds. Most people eat a ton of fat combined with dried fruit or a ton of regular fruit with a diet based mostly on bananas because they are the most calorie dense fruit.
This does not work well for humans. Unless you have time and inclination to graze on veggies all day this is not practical, joyful, or healthy.
I hear you groaning in disappointment if you are a perfectionist like I was.
I loved the idea of a perfect raw foods diet.
I thought it was The Answer (with a capital A) to all my food problems and cravings and health problems and depression and exhaustion.
I wanted to eat an “enzyme-rich” all natural, unheated, perfect raw-foods diet (with lots of cleansing and fasting and juicing in between).
This is a slippery slope that leads to ill health and rebounding like crazy for most humans. I have known a few rare people who thrive on this diet. But most people fail and gain a lot of weight on the rebound.
It sounded like it made so much sense until I tried and tried and tried and still had cravings for other foods.
The reason people end up with cravings is all the juices and smoothies and salads and nuts and heaps, and heaps of fruit and dried fruit and raw crackers will send your brain into craving mode.
You will not get enough weight and volume without overeating fruit or too many nuts.
Raw food diets leave out the legumes, beans, and starches that most healthy cultures get the bulk of calories. The China Study, blue zone diets long-term studies have found that people who live the longest eat a base of starches: whole grains or potatoes or sweet potatoes or other tubers of some sort with lots of veggies a little fruit and a miniscule amount of meat.
Humans have big brains that need lots of calories from these starches and beans. Unlike other primate animals, we cannot thrive on leaves and berries. We are the only primate with salivary amylase in our saliva for breaking down starches. We have evolved to digest huge amounts of carbohydrates.
A note about fasting
I know intermittent fasting is all the rage in some circles. But fasting may not be as great as it seems because, for most people, this leads to binging later.
If you are prone to binging and cravings, fasting may not be for you. It may only make you so hungry you binge when you do finally eat.
The body instinctively and naturally wants to make up for the time spent not eating. We were built for feast and famine. This is how humans colonized the whole planet.
We can live in almost any climate and survive on virtually any type of food source even if it isn’t optimal. We can store fat in good times to survive the bad times. Yay!
But what about when there is food available all the time, and there are no famine times?
Waiting too long to eat may make you stuff yourself. Then you feel remorseful and think there is something wrong with you.
Then you may punish yourself by fasting even longer the next round.
“Let me just do a full 24 hours or 48 hours next time to get rid of all this food and feel clear”.
This is a slippery slope for most normal healthy humans who have absolutely nothing wrong with them. This is how we are designed
I know there are a lot of stories of people who have healed themselves of all kinds of illnesses through fasting/juicing/blending/cleansing.
I love fasting for meditation. It makes the mind clear very quickly. I started absolute fasting, that is without water one day a week when I was 14. I had met a cute boy who did it.
Then I learned to water fast for a week at a time.
But the more I did this, the more I rebounded. I went from 110 pounds to 184 over 3 years of struggling to stay on a raw foods diet and doing lots of fasting.
Only when I started nourishing myself and got rid of the triggers did the weight start to fall away naturally and effortlessly.
The more you mess with your eating, the more you mess with your metabolism.
if you want to fast for health reasons check out True North Health Center
But you can get the same clear mind through eating clean whole foods without the rebound binging.
Instead of dry fasting or water fasting or juice feasting or intermittent fasting, all you need to do is eat real, whole plant-based foods three times a day.
Without snacks in between
Leave out all the refined foods, including oils, protein powders, sugar, flour, and maybe try going off animal products and see how you feel after a couple of weeks.
If you are eating every 4 to 6 hours, you are probably going to need to be eating three meals per day. On a whole-foods plant-based diet, you will probably need three meals to get enough calories to survive and thrive. Though if you want more space between meals you could try two larger meals per day and a more extended period of not eating.
The bottom line for stopping junk food cravings
Abstain from processed foods, and you will not want them anymore within a short time. Once you start eating whole foods and cut fractionalized foods out of your diet (any kind of powdered food like sugar, flour of all types including whole grain) you will not crave this stuff.
Recommended experts and eating systems
Even healthy diets can throw you off by suggesting recipes with whole wheat flour products, stevia, honey, dried fruit, smoothies so be aware and make changes as needed.
Dr. Joel Fuhrman is a great diet based on getting the highest level of nutrients, mostly plant-based with some meat if you want it. He has tons of success stories from patients who have gotten free of junk food cravings on his site. He suggests some smoothies and dried fruit so you might want to skip those recipes until you get cravings handled.
Dr. McDougall is excellent for people who don’t have any sensitivities to sugar or flour. He emphasizes plant-based nutrition with high amounts of whole grains and potatoes as well as greens and fruits. I find his ratios of starches to other nutrients easier to follow than Dr. Fuhrman, who does not emphasize grains and potatoes as much.
McDougall suggests staying off oil but allows pasta, bread, flour, and some sugar along with your plant-based diet. So you might have to tweak his recipes.
He doesn’t understand how damaging sugar and dried fruit can be to a lot of people because he has been thin all his life and never been very susceptible to cravings.
He also doesn’t want to scare people away from eating a plant-based diet by creating too many restrictions. He has loads of success stories on his site.
Susan Pierce Thomson at Bright lines eating is brilliant, and it is an excellent program for getting rid of junk food addiction. She understands that flour and sugar act as drugs on the brain of many people. But she doesn’t get that oil is highly refined food and is a trigger for a lot of people to binge.
I tried the Bright lines boot camp program, but I have modified it to eating mostly whole foods that don’t trigger cravings and have upped the volume of low-calorie diets, so I am satiated at every meal.
She starts people out on small portions for faster weight loss. For me can lead to cravings and binging because she doesn’t understand eating by volume and weight the way chef AJ does. She recommends weighing all your food, or you can eyeball it. But I find I don’t need to weigh the food because I am eating a large proportion of greens that fill half the plate and a small amount of protein and starch that fill a quarter of the plate respectively.
I read the comments in the Facebook group and see people struggling with cravings who are still eating meat, dairy lots of salt and oil, while I am not struggling anymore or experiencing cravings.
I understand why she keeps oil and salt and meat in the program to make it accessible to more people, and this is good because that does work for some people who are not as sensitive to trigger foods.
Spudfit Program for Food Addiction. Spudfit is an excellent program for overcoming food addiction, but he is like McDougall in that doesn’t realize the dangers of added sugar and flour of any kind for many people. I have tried his program and read the comments from other participants. Spudfit is safe, but you are missing out on a lot of essential nutrients by doing a mono diet.
When people end his program, they often rebound and gain the weight back. So do his plan but then implement the right foods for your body regardless of what he says about that.
Chef AJ is brilliant. For junk food cravings and addictions. She is a Food addict who has a program I have not taken yet. She also has a book. It is only available in paperback and not kindle, unfortunately.
She understands the impact of flour, sugar, oil, and other refined foods on junk food cravings, but she may be too extreme for you, allowing no nuts or salt at all. So again, you might have to tweak her recipes.
I love her program and added the bright lines program idea using three meals a day without snacking.
She came up with a brilliant chart for calories of food by weight and has excellent videos on food volume by weight, so it is clear why you want to eat and not juice or blend your food.
I use some products that are very low salt, and I eat small amounts of nuts and seeds and take an algae-based EFA supplement. She mentions that she has anxiety in one of her videos, which she controls with exercise. I wonder if this is because she is too low in essential fatty acids.