- Quitting junk food isn’t something you can accomplish overnight.
- Start by cutting out one food or drink that makes you feel out of control.
- Set an alarm or establish a replacement behavior to get ahead of your regular cravings.
Most processed foods are designed to be addictive — even more so than drugs and alcohol in some cases, award-winning journalist Michael Moss explains in his latest book, “Hooked: Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions.”
In “Hooked,” Moss unpacks the insidious ways food companies play to our most basic urges surrounding what we eat. We instinctually prefer foods that are sweet, cheap, and full of empty calories, so the processed foods industry has evolved to feed our tastes.
People who eat a lot of processed foods have a greater risk of dying early from cardiovascular disease, heart attack, or stroke, according to a 2020 study. The same study revealed that the more processed foods you eat, the worse the health risks become.
It’s never too late to start cutting out some of the processed foods in your diet. Even if it feels like your cravings are out of your control, there are a few simple steps you can take to start kicking your junk food addiction and living a healthier life.
Start by cutting out one major problem food
Changing one thing can make the super-sized task of quitting junk food feel more manageable, Moss said at the Environmental Working Group’s CleanCon 2021.
“Identify the worst trigger food in your life that really causes you to lose control, and try to deal with that first,” he said.
In the Moss household, soda was the first to go. The author’s two boys loved sugary drinks, but these days they can get “almost as excited” about plain seltzer, he said.
The family has been successful at eliminating sweetened soft drinks, and Moss said they can feel good about that accomplishment rather than worrying about every aspect of their diets.
Distract yourself before your craving hits
There are unhealthy foods you indulge in from time to time, and then there are the snacks that feel like your personal kryptonite.
Moss recommended taking a note from drug addiction treatment programs.
If you find yourself craving cookies every day at 3pm, for instance, you need to be doing something else at 2:55pm. Moss suggested getting up for a stretch far away from the pantry or calling a friend. Eating a healthy snack, like a handful of nuts, could also help tide you over until dinner time.
Some people may find it helpful to set an alarm ahead of their usual snack time so they don’t get caught off guard by a craving, Moss added.
Cutting junk foods from your diet is not the same as quitting cigarettes, Moss said.
You don’t have to smoke, but eating is one of life’s basic necessities. What’s more, you’ve likely been groomed to buy processed foods for most of your life via advertising and product placement.
Getting over your junk food addiction comes down to retraining your brain over time, Moss said. It’s not going to happen overnight.
“If you have a bad habit that’s developed over a lifetime, you can’t expect to get rid of that in a day or two days or even a week,” he said. “It’s going to take some time.”