We’ve all had junk food cravings that make us want to throw away most of our boring and healthy habits. It starts the moment you decide you want to start off the week correctly by eating plenty of proteins and veggies. Two days later you’re hit by vicious junk food and sweet cravings that result in binging.
Men’s Health spoke with two neuroscientists who explained that there’s four stages to fatty food cravings. The first part of this cycle begins with the urge to have junk food, which can be triggered by a McDonald’s commercial, a comment from a friend or walking past Burger King. Your reward-focused areas begin to feel some stimulation from dopamine and opioids neurochemicals.
The second part of the cycle starts when the process becomes physical, pulling in your orbitofrontal cortex into the mix, who works hard to remind you of all those delicious junk foods you’ve had in the past. Part three involves decision making, and it’s the moment when your self-control checks in or doesn’t. Your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex begins to make calculations; how bad can it be to have this junk food? If you are hungry or sleepy you’ve basically lost this battle already.
The fourth and final stage of the cycle is when you take a bite of the food, which will trigger all of your senses and make it really hard to resist eating an entire box of fries.
Here are some recommendations that’ll help you battle through these stages and train your body against these cravings.
The sooner you intervene the better
Don’t wait until you’re taking a bite of the burger to second-guess your decision. The easiest way to avoid eating junk food is to detect the cycle explained above early, checking in the minute you get the craving and making plans. Distract yourself by walking around, watching something engaging or doing some work. Try to get involved in an activity that demands some brain power in order to distract yourself more successfully.
Put barriers between you and your craving
If you walk or drive past a fast food place on your way back from school or work, take a different route and avoid the building. In your house, hide sweets and fatty foods in places that are not easily found. Just don’t take it too far and end up with a rodent infestation.
Focus on the downsides of having that junk food
According to brain imaging studies, it helps if you picture your junk food in a disgusting place, like over a filthy floor. These exercises make you second guess your decisions and reconsider having a bite of the food.
Train your discipline
When it comes to long term practices that can help you prevent cravings, studies have found that regular work out sessions strengthen your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, making your brain stronger and strengthening your discipline.