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How to stop craving junk food

Craving junk food can be a big hurdle when trying to eat healthy. While it may be hard, we’ve got 8 tips to help you stop craving junk food, so that you can develop healthier eating habits.

We asked registered dietician Chantelle van der Merwe for some top tips to help you stop craving junk food:

1. Understand the underlying cause

Why are you craving junk food? It could be because of the way you feel (emotional triggers), your habits, or responses to triggers (like the smell of hot chips). It’s essential to recognize the root cause of your cravings to address them properly.

Top tip:
Keep a food diary to identify patterns, emotions, or situations that trigger your cravings.

2. Balance blood sugar levels

Balancing blood sugar levels will drastically reduce overall cravings. The goal is a diet with a variety of nutrient dense foods in the right balance. Here are some helpful tips on food choices. Focus on the right portions of lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. Monitor your blood sugar levels, and try to keep them relatively stable. If you can avoid large spikes and crashes, you’ll have fewer cravings.

3. Choose protein, fibre and healthy fats:

Protein, fibre and healthy fats have a big impact on satiety (feeling full). This can help control cravings. I like to compare protein, healthy fats and fibre-rich foods to quality long burning firewood: you have longer sustained energy release.

Choose lean protein like chicken, fish, tofu, legumes (beans and chickpeas), and dairy (milk, cheese, yoghurt) in your meals and snacks to keep you feeling fuller for longer. Healthy fats, found in avocados, nuts, and seeds, can help you feel full and satisfied. They can also help to improve your mood and brain function.

Eating fibre-rich foods like vegetables, whole grains, and fruits can help reduce cravings by promoting digestive health and stabilising blood sugar levels.

stay hydrated so you don't crave junk food

3. Stay hydrated

Dehydration can sometimes be mistaken for hunger or cravings. Make sure to drink enough water throughout the day. Try to drink around 6 to 8 glasses of water every day (tea and coffee don’t count!)

Top tip:
Herbal tea (without any sugar) is a great way to stay hydrated in winter months when it’s harder to drink water.

Registered Dietician Chantelle van der Merwe

4. Plan your meals and snacks

Planning your meals and snacks in advance can help you make smart healthier choices and avoid impulsive snacking on junk food. Stock your pantry and fridge with things like chopped vegetables like carrot sticks, fresh fruits, yoghurt, boiled eggs, cold meat (without the fat), lean biltong, cottage cheese and wholegrain or seeded crackers, air popped popcorn and nuts. When hunger strikes, you’ll have healthier alternatives readily available.

mindful eating

5. Practice mindful eating

Mindful eating means paying attention to when you’re hungry and full, as well as enjoying the flavours, textures, and smells of your food. Slow down and take your time while eating. Switch off your phone or the TV. Concentrate on what you’re eating.

Mindful eating can help you develop a better relationship with food and reduce cravings for unhealthy options.
We overeat not because we enjoy food too much, but because we don’t enjoy it enough! Take your time with your meals.

Allow yourself to enjoy small portions of your favourite treat foods sometimes. Moderation is key to having a balanced approach to healthy eating.

6. Manage stress levels

Stress can lead to emotional eating and cravings for comfort foods, including junk food. But then we feel worse after over indulging in typical “comfort foods”. Find healthy ways to manage stress, like regular exercise, meditation, or talking to a friend. Developing effective stress-management strategies can help reduce cravings triggered by emotional factors. Get professional help from a psychologist if you need it. (Here’s how to access a psychologist in public care.)

get enough sleep to combat junk food craving

7. Get enough sleep

Not enough sleep has been linked to increased cravings for junk food and sugary foods. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep each night to support your overall well-being and help regulate your appetite and cravings.

8. Ask for help

Changing eating habits and overcoming cravings can be challenging. Ask for help from a registered dietitian, if that’s an option for you. Dieticians can offer personalized guidance and help you develop a tailored plan to manage your cravings effectively.

Remember: it takes time and effort to overcome cravings for junk food. Be patient with yourself, celebrate small victories, and focus on making long-term sustainable changes to your eating habits.

You can also reach out for help to our Facebook community: South Africans with Diabetes. We’re all in this together – we understand what it’s like.

What to read next?

What is TEEL? A simple way to manage your diabetes: Why we need TEEL? The goal with TEEL is to lay a foundation so that we all speak the same language.

What should people with diabetes eat?: The truth is that we are all different, so what works for one person might not work for another.

Free Healthy Food Guide – how to eat healthy with diabetes or to lose weight: This Healthy Food Guide shows you exactly which foods to choose (and which to avoid), as well as sharing which portions to eat.

Tatiana Lapina, Mineragua Sparkling Water and Minnie Zhou on Unsplash

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.