Whether you're a fitness enthusiast or just beginning a diet, you've probably come across urges and cravings at some point. Junk food won't help you progress toward your health and fitness goals. It tastes good though. Marketing companies know that. Your brain knows that. So how can we avoid the temptation to eat unhealthy food and stop craving junk food?
Here are a few strategies and ideas to try.
To avoid food temptation, we need to understand how it comes about
We become tempted by food that's easily accessible and within easy reach.
Take the following example, imagine this is your day:
You've finished work for the day and you arrive home tired and hungry. It was a long day, things didn't go to plan and became pretty stressful. Your energy is low and you just feel like sitting on the couch. You definitely don't feel like cooking.
Your roommate/partner/family member has just walked in the door with a pizza. It's from your favourite local restaurant. You can smell it, you're salivating as it smells amazing!
There's more than they can eat on their own.
Now, given this situation, you only really have one choice. One decision to make:
To eat the pizza, or to not eat the pizza.
Most people, under normal circumstances, would choose to eat it.
You've literally been FORCED to make this decision.
You probably weren't even thinking about pizza on your way home from work. It wasn't on your mind when you walked in your front door.
But when you see and smell the pizza, you're forced to think about it. You are forced to make a decision.
Circumstances make it difficult to avoid food temptation
I've gone on record before to say that junk food has its place in a healthy diet. You don't need to never eat pizza again. And, eaten occasionally, a little bit of what you like can be good for your adherence to your diet or meal plan.
However, once you see and smell food, you're forced to make a choice about eating it. It becomes hard to avoid food temptation when you can see and smell it and are salivating over it.
To eat the pizza, or to not eat the pizza
In the above example, your situation is making you think about pizza. It's even convenient for you - it's been brought to you. And it's warm and ready to eat.
It would take a truckload of willpower to turn it down.
Now, think about the following situation:
You arrive home from work after another tough day.
This time, you're home alone and no one is bringing any food your way.
You have flour in your pantry along with a packet of active dried yeast. There's a tin of tomatoes sitting on the shelf too. In your fridge, you have cheese and some vegetables. There are also some packets of deli meat too.
Now, given this scenario, you could still enjoy a lovely fresh pizza. However, you are much more likely not to.
Why is it easier to avoid food temptation this time?
Firstly, you might not even think of pizza. It's not on your mind. There's nothing around you forcing you to think about pizza.
Secondly, there's considerably more effort involved in making a pizza from scratch.
Given this situation, your surroundings are not making you think of pizza.
Even if you were to crave pizza, it would take time and effort to make. It's inconvenient for you.
You're more likely to consider an easier option, even if it's less delicious.
Human nature is to go for the easier option, not necessarily the best option.
Using human psychology to avoid food temptation and resist cravings
We can use what we know about how our brain works to our advantage.
If we are watching what we eat and looking to make our diet healthier, we can manipulate our brain.
We can manage our surroundings and environment to make sticking to our diet easier.
Ideally, we can avoid getting ourselves into a situation where we're forced to make a choice.
Managing and manipulating your circumstances allows you to:
All it takes is a little planning and some minimal attention and maintenance.
Some ways to manage your circumstances so you can learn how to avoid temptation to eat unhealthy food
The tips below are designed to be just simple guidelines. You can use them to improve your surroundings so that it makes avoiding food temptation that little bit easier. In doing so, you'll find you are better able to stick to your diet plan.
It's worth remembering that there are many more tactics and strategies you can use. The below are just examples of some of the easiest to put in place which tend to reap the biggest benefits.
If you don't want to eat it, don't buy it
As we learned from the earlier examples, if food is not immediately in front of you, you're less likely to eat it.
If you don't have easy access to unhealthy food, you're probably not going to eat it.
In most cases, the best way to avoid food temptation is not to buy unhealthy food in the first place.
Personally, I love ice cream. I'm particularly fond of Magnum Almond Tubs - they're my major guilty pleasure. I know if I have some in my freezer, I'll eat it.
So, the best method for me is to make sure it's not in my freezer. I don't buy it very often.
I know I can still have ice cream if I want to. Often, I'll buy a tub when there's a Formula 1 Grand Prix coming up that I'm going to watch.
I don't feel deprived or missing out by restricting my intake. Instead, I feel in control and can choose to have ice cream or leave it.
Out of sight, out of mind
Similarly, if you want to avoid the temptation to eat unhealthy food, keep it out of reach.
Make it more inconvenient. Avoid being forced to decide between eating it or not.
For example, potato chips, chocolate bars, lollies and cakes are often problem foods. They're high in calories and low in nutrition. Furthermore, they're unlikely to fill you up.
So if you have them in the house, put them somewhere inaccessible and out of sight. If it's less visible and less convenient, you'll be less likely to eat it.
If you have ice cream - you might want to tuck it at the back of your freezer, underneath the mound of other frozen foods and vegetables you have in there. Similarly, if it's biscuits or chocolate bars - stash them right at the back of the pantry, perhaps on the highest, most inconvenient shelf. Put something else in front of them so you're not confronted by the eat/don't eat decision every time you open the door.
Avoid the temptation to eat unhealthy food by filling up on healthy food
We can flip the last point around and use it to our advantage.
While we want all the unhealthy food out of reach and out of sight, the opposite is true for the healthy stuff.
For instance, move your fruit bowl to a prominent place on your kitchen counter or dining table. Make it easy to see and get to.
In your fridge, keep the vegetables front and centre. Make them the first thing you see when you open the door. Put the less healthy stuff near the back, or even stash it in the crisper drawers.
You're far more likely to go for something easily accessible, at eye-level or just below than something tucked away, behind something else, that you need to crouch down to even see.
Invest in some opaque storage containers or tins
Taking the out-of-sight concept a little further, pack items away where they're less appealing.
Put the biscuits, lollies and other bad stuff in tins or opaque plastic containers.
On the other hand, put your fruit, vegetables and other healthy snacks in clear see-through canisters. Better yet, have them out in the open if possible.
Variety may be the spice of life, but not if you're trying to avoid food temptation
Studies show we tend to eat more of those things there's greater variety in. For example, at a buffet, when faced with lots of choices and options we'll tend to overeat and consume larger portions.
On the flip side, if there's only one choice, we're more likely to choose a smaller amount.
Again, put human psychology to work.
If you are going to keep junk food or unhealthy snacks in your house, stick to just one kind. One option only, not multiple flavours or varieties.
Conversely, when it comes to fruit and vegetables - keep a WIDE variety available. Lots of different types, colours and options will make you eat more of them.
Another way to avoid food temptation around the house is to eat mindfully
Limit your distractions at mealtimes. No phone, no TV, no streaming content on your devices.
Just you and your food. Perhaps some conversation with those around the table.
When we are better able to focus on what we are eating, our appetite is more under our control.
We are less likely to overeat and will find it easier to avoid reaching for junk food and snacks later.
Make convenience foods more inconvenient
If you do choose to go with a takeaway food option, have a strategy for your portion control.
Don't bring all the food to the dining table or the couch if that's where you're eating.
Instead, portion a suitable amount onto your plate in the kitchen. Then bring the plate to the table, leaving the excess food behind on the counter.
This way, you are far less likely to keep adding more food to your plate. Additionally, you're more inclined to eat mindfully and register subtle changes in your appetite and satiety signals.
You can use this same tactic when it comes to snacks like potato chips, chocolates or lollies.
If you are going to eat them, take out your intended portion from the packaging AND THEN PUT THE PACKET AWAY. Put it back where you got it from, ideally tucked out of reach as we mentioned earlier.
Walk away with your portioned amount and eat it.
Whatever you do, don't eat straight from the packet or the box.
If you're a serial snacker, avoid food temptation by staying out of the kitchen
As the saying goes, 'If you can't stand the heat...'
If you have tendencies to snack or graze at food, stay away from it. Don't hang out in the kitchen or near the fridge door.
Instead, find somewhere else in your home to get comfortable. Make it inconvenient for you to get up and seek out unhealthy food.
How to avoid the temptation to eat unhealthy food for good
Ultimately, we can sum up the above tactics in a neat little summary.
Decide which foods you want to eat more of. Make these healthy foods:
For foods you want to eat less of, you should make them:
What can you do to avoid junk food temptation?
I'll leave you with a further two points to consider. In general, adopting both these tactics will put you well on your way to a healthier diet.
Shop for groceries smartly and regularly
As we mentioned above - if you buy something, at some point you're going to eat it.
So make sure you buy healthy things, and you'll eat healthy food.
By managing your food environment right at the source, you can take control of your circumstances right at the source. Make sure you buy a broad range of the healthy foods you want to eat more of.
Likewise, limit (or avoid altogether) junk foods and unhealthy snack items.
Once home from the supermarket, take the time to sort through your items. Position them carefully, as we discussed above, to give you the best chance of managing your food cravings.
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Learn to cook and prepare your food from scratch
If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
By taking the time to prepare your food in advance, you'll make healthier options much more convenient.
As we discussed above, convenience is key to busting junk food cravings.
Avoid food temptation by making healthy food convenient and unhealthy items inconvenient.
When you become hungry, the intense cravings are more likely to take hold. If you have something healthy prepared and ready to go, you'll find it much easier to avoid junk food temptation.
Now you don't have to go into full-on 'meal prep mode', although it's great if you can. However, you can start by just cooking what you normally cook, but doubling the amounts.
For example, if you're cooking something from scratch - buy and prepare extra. You can then portion and freeze the extra servings to save for another time. You'll save bags of time too.
It doesn't take that much longer to prepare 8 servings of something as opposed to 4. Maybe 5 or 10 minutes extra prep time. But the cooking time is likely to be much the same, if only a little longer. However, when it comes to reheating, you'll skip all the prep and cooking time completely.
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How to stop craving junk food completely
Like any behaviour change, it will take time and practice. However, by managing our circumstances and food environment, we can avoid giving in to junk food temptation.
We are the sum of our surroundings - the people and the circumstances in which we live.
Take some time and pour over the various methods given above. Find one you can implement today and start there.
Decide how you are going to put the rest into place. By managing these factors, your willpower won't be put to the test as frequently.
Smart decisions now can stop snap decisions later.