Why Do I Crave Junk Food As Soon as I Start Eating Healthy?

One of my clients emailed me shortly after she implemented some of my suggestions about types of foods to eat and (surprisingly) increasing some of her portion sizes. In particular her salads were too small. If she had one for lunch she felt hungry mid-afternoon and didn’t know what to do.

Even with adding balanced, healthy snacks during her work day, eating a larger portion of salad with protein, and adding more vegetables to her remaining meals, she was still craving the dreaded junk foods – chocolate and chips are her favourites.

My suggestion to her, and to anyone in a similar situation, is to give yourself time for junk food cravings to diminish. The more you move towards healthier and cleaner eating, the more you will become aware of your cravings, junk foods or otherwise.

Sometimes these cravings are almost like addictions, especially if you’ve been used to eating candy, chips, soda pop, and so on for a long time. It could be the chemicals, the MSG, the amount of salt, saturated fats, or the crunch factor in the mouth that you’re missing. All of those things increase the taste “experience” and foods without extra salt, fats, or sugars might taste bland in comparison.

Why Do I Crave Junk Food?

Food cravings arise for a number of reasons. For example, let’s say you’re used to eating a lot of bread and fruit during the day. This will cause more frequent insulin spiking, i.e. sharp rises and falls in your blood sugar levels. This blood sugar instability would create an unhealthy habit of you craving foods that give you a quick intake of sugar.

Once you begin to eliminate or reduce those types of higher-sugar content foods, your body will need to adapt and slowly rebalance to more stable (and healthier) insulin levels. No doubt for a time the pleasure sensors in your brain, as well as your physiology, will still be expecting that “sugar rush” – this is prime craving time.

It takes time to rebalance you body when you start a healthy eating plan. I believe that you need to give in to your cravings once in a while, but with a mind to reduce and control how often you “cheat” over time. Be careful of course not to overindulge so that you don’t feel sick afterward, and perhaps just as potent, guilt and shame for feeling like you had no control.

Use both your desire for change to eat better (part willpower and part your new value to eat healthy) and your desired physical response (e.g. “I feel lighter, better, more awake”, instead of “I feel gross, fat, or bloated”) as reminders to eat better more often.

It can also help to plan when you are going to treat yourself. Use the Pareto principle to eat healthy 80% of the time (bump it up to 90% if you know you can handle it) and allow for moderate “cheat meals” or indulgences 10-20% of the time. I talk about this in my Healthy Meals & Snacks free guide.

Note the language use here: you “treat” yourself, you don’t “give in” to the craving.

Notice the difference in how you feel when you say out loud,

“I’m going to treat myself to a small bowl of chips”

Or a chocolate bar, a pop, or whatever your top craving is, versus,

“I can’t help myself. I need to give in and have a piece of cake.”

The first statement is a conscious, mindful and supportive choice – you are in control. The second one is about abandoning responsibility for your own actions. Yikes, that’s harsh, but it’s the truth. Please don’t talk like that to yourself. The more you give-in and give up, the more difficult it becomes to change your “bad habits.”

Lastly, cravings may also be an indicator of something that’s missing in your diet. Working with a nutrition coach can help to figure this out.

Eat well to be well.