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How to Stop Binge Eating Junk Food

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Eating junk food occasionally is normal.
  • Binging or eating excessive amounts of junk food should be addressed.
  • Including protein and healthy fats, listening to hunger and fullness cues, and getting enough sleep may help you avoid eating too much “junk food.”

Most people think of junk food as food that has little nutritional value. Examples of junk food might include pre-packaged ready-to-eat snacks, such as chips, candy, or sodas. It also can apply to fast food or takeout. 

This article goes over why you may not have to stop eating junk food to eat in a balanced and healthy way. 

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Should I Stop Eating Junk Food?

You don’t necessarily need to stop eating junk food altogether. You may benefit from assessing why you eat junk food (instead of other foods), and how much. If you have binge eating disorder, eliminating junk food completely may cause you to crave that food even more. 

Taking an intuitive eating approach to junk food will help to neutralize the way you think about “junk food”. You will learn to view the food for what it is (e.g. chips, cake, or candy) and not as food that is “good” or “bad”. With repeated exposures to a food, you will begin to feel less out of control around this food. This is known as habituation. 

There is nothing wrong with enjoying “junk food” in moderation.

Moderation is not always well-defined. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sugar and saturated fat.

The guidelines are to consume less than 10% of total calories from sugar or less than 10% of total calories from saturated fat.

If you follow these recommendations, the guidelines allow room for a small amount of junk food to fit into your diet, if desired.

Why Do I Feel Addicted to Junk Food?

There is some research that supports the concept of food addiction, particularly to processed foods with added fats and sugar.

You may feel like you are addicted to junk food because you find yourself craving it and eating it frequently. Sometimes restricting foods can actually make you crave them more. Over the years, diet culture has taught us to assign labels to food such as “good” and “bad”. Restricting the “bad” foods often makes you want them more.

How To Stop Binge Eating Junk Food

Developing healthy eating patterns will help you learn to enjoy junk food in moderation. Eating three balanced meals per day and snacks if needed is recommended. This will help avoid extreme hunger from skipping meals which often leads to poor food choices.

Include Fiber Rich Foods 

Adding fruits, vegetables, legumes and other foods with high fiber content contributes to fullness and mealtime satiety. You can bump up the fiber content of your snacks by following these easy steps: 

  • Add fresh-cut vegetables and fruits to your snack. 
  • Choose whole grain whenever possible (including crackers and other easy-to-snack-on options.)
  • Pair your snack with a bean dip such as hummus or white bean dip. Beans and legumes are naturally very high in fiber. 
  • Sprinkle one tablespoon of bran buds onto yogurt or cereals for an extra boost of fiber. 
  • Add oatmeal to smoothies. 
  • Top your salad with hemp hearts or ground flax seed.

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Eat More Protein

Protein is an important macronutrient that you need in your diet.

Protein helps to build tissue and muscle.

Eating protein with each meal can help you to feel full longer.

One study found that a high-protein snack compared to a high-fat snack resulted in greater reductions in afternoon hunger.

A recent meta-analysis concluded that a diet high in protein was of benefit to people with prediabetes.

Good sources of protein include lean meats, chicken, turkey, fish, beans, lentils, and some dairy products.

A few ways to add protein to your breakfast include:

  • Adding cow's milk to cereal; most plant based milks don’t provide much protein.
  • Combine cereal and fresh fruit with Greek yogurt.
  • Add peanut butter to whole-grain toast topped with fresh banana or strawberry slices.
  • Add a scrambled egg to whole-grain toast.

For lunch and dinner be sure to include lean meat, chicken or fish. If you don’t eat meat, then beans, lentils, and tofu are all excellent sources of protein.

Make Sure to Eat Healthy Fats

There are several different types of fats in the foods we eat. Trans fats or large amounts of saturated fats are considered unhealthy.

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are healthy fats

Adding healthy fats to your meals can make you feel more satiated.

Including healthy fats in place of carbohydrates in a high-carb meal resulted in increased feelings of satiety.

In another study, a high-fat meal replacement improved satiety later in the day.

To include healthy fats in your diet, add the following foods:

  • Oils made of mostly unsaturated fat (olive, canola, avocado).
  • Avocados.
  • Nuts.
  • Seeds.
  • Seafood.

Tap Into Your Hunger Cues

To tap into your hunger cues, mindful eating or intuitive eating may be helpful. 

Mindful eating is being present in the moment of your meal by:

  • Avoiding distractions while eating.
  • Being fully present during the meal. 
  • Enjoying the food slowly using all of your senses.
  • Paying attention to your body’s cues about hunger and fullness.

Intuitive eating incorporates mindfulness but also helps you to make peace with food while honoring hunger, rejecting the diet mentality, and respecting your body.

These methods can be helpful to tap into your hunger cues and ultimately change your views of food as “good” or “bad”, alter your level of desire for “junk food”, and allow you to enjoy all foods in moderation.

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Focus on Adding, Not Restricting

Restricting foods may make you crave them more in the long run.

Focusing on adding healthy foods instead offers a more positive approach to eating that you are more likely to follow long-term. 

Including more fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and protein provides healthy and satisfying meals without feeling restricted.

You will be less likely to overeat junk food after a satisfying meal.

Get Enough Sleep

Getting too little sleep may increase overeating and consumption of junk food.

Sleep deprivation has been shown to increase energy intake the following day but not energy expenditure.

This results in a positive energy balance which over time could lead to weight gain.

Sleep plays a role in regulating hormones, including hormones that are involved in appetite and hunger.

Ghrelin is a hormone that relates to hunger, whereas leptin is a hormone that is tied to satiety.

Sleep deprivation has been shown to increase ghrelin and reduce leptin levels. Inadequate sleep also increases appetite and hunger.

A lack of sleep may also contribute to an increased appetite of high calorie foods.

The reverse can also be true.

The intake of high-calorie and high-fat foods could contribute to inadequate sleep.

Some may experience a cycle of overeating leading to poor sleep which results in continued overeating the following day contributing to poor sleep again.

To be sure you get enough sleep, consider:

  • Arranging your bedroom to optimize sleep. Eliminate sleep disruptions like too much light or noise.
  • Avoid using screens (phones, computers) for an hour before bedtime. Consider reading just before going to sleep.
  • Avoid eating right before bed, especially if you have acid reflux. Eating closer to bedtime may result in greater acid reflux.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine.

Takeaway

Although junk food offers little nutritional value to our diets, it is normal to enjoy a small amount of junk food from time to time.

Adding more protein, fiber, and healthy fats to your meals, practicing mindful or intuitive eating, and getting enough sleep can help.

Seeking Help with Nourish

If you find yourself binging on junk food followed by emotions of guilt and failure, this could be a sign of binge eating disorder and you should seek help. Talk to a binge eating nutritionist to get help.

Find a dietitian near you through Nourish—all appointments are virtual and covered by most insurance providers.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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