Junk food cravings are the kryptonite for many dieters, leading to plateaus in weight loss or (worse yet!) weight gain.
Here are some simple and helpful tips on how to stop craving junk food.
But first, let's make an important distinction between a craving and hunger.
Craving vs. Hunger
We've all had a food craving before -- yes, even the "cleanest" of the clean eaters get the occasional craving for chocolate, pizza, or French fries (especially when they're thin cut and fresh from the fryer.
At times, especially when first starting a fat loss diet, it can be hard to distinguish between a craving and actual hunger.
So, what’s the difference?
- Typically occur regarding comfort foods, such as chocolate, desserts, and/or fried, fatty foods.
- It can be triggered by stress or negative feelings.
- It may happen even after finishing a meal.
- It may be stronger when you're dieting, especially if you've adopted an extreme elimination or fad diet (e.g., keto, carnivore, etc.), giving up your favorite foods.
- Subside with time
- It occurs when you haven't eaten for several hours.
- Can lead to headaches, dizziness, feelings of weakness, and/or grumbling tummy
- It doesn't subside with time.
- It isn't just for one specific food (chocolate, chips, fries, etc.).
- Can be satisfied by eating a healthy snack or meal, such as a protein shake made with Steel Whey® or Steel Vegan.
Now that you understand the difference between cravings and hunger let's see what you can do to quell those cravings and stay on track with your healthy eating plan.
5 Tips on How to Stop Junk Food Cravings
#1 Out of Sight, Out of Mind
One of the simplest ways (not necessarily easiest ways for some of you reading this) to stop craving junk food is not to keep it in the house.
As the old saying goes, "out of sight, out of mind."
In practice, this means that if you don't keep junk food readily available in your home, you'll be less likely to dwell on eating it and ultimately crave it.
In those rare instances when you do get a craving, you’ll be forced to have to put your shoes on, get in the car, drive to the store, buy your junk food, get back in your car, and then drive home.
After realizing they'll have to go through all that effort, most people will recognize the temporary satisfaction gained from indulging in junk food isn't worth the time, effort, and money.
#2 Plan Your Meals
Another famous saying is "failing to plan is planning to fail," which holds in many life ventures, including weight loss.
By having a plan for what meals you're going to eat each day of the week, you eliminate wasted time and energy and ultimately reduce the likelihood that you'll be tempted to give in to a junk food craving.
#3 Eat Enough Protein Each Day
One of the best ways to stop junk food cravings is by eating enough protein every day.
There are many reasons why consuming a high-protein diet can help you lose weight and get better results in the gym.
For starters, protein is the most satiating macronutrient, which means it helps keep you feeling fuller for longer, thereby reducing appetite and allowing you not to overeat. 
Protein is also the most expensive macronutrient for your body to digest, meaning that your body has to burn more calories digesting it than either carbohydrates or fat. This helps your body burn more calories during the day, which supports weight loss.
Research also finds that consuming high-protein meals can help reduce cravings by up to 60% and decrease the desire to snack at night by as much as 50%. 
Some of our favorite lean protein sources to include in any diet (be it for fat loss, muscle gain, or performance) are:
- Lean Beef
- Greek Yogurt
- Cottage Cheese
It’s also helpful to keep a high-quality protein powder on hand, such as Steel Whey® or Steel Vegan, for those times when you’re on the go and don’t have time to sit down for a full meal and/or you’re in the mood for an indulgent-tasting treat that’s still macro-friendly!
#4 Practice Stress Management
Stress is a known contributor to junk food cravings.
While it may not be possible altogether to remove all sources of stress from your life, you can take action to reduce some of the stressors you willing to expose yourself to (e.g., excessive consumption of news and social media).
You can also work on various stress management techniques like mindfulness, meditation, breathing drills, and/or just removing yourself from a situation and going for a walk.
#5 Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is essential to keeping cravings in check and sticking to your nutrition plan.
The reasons for this are many, but one of the primary factors is that sleep deprivation is known to disrupt hormones in the body that regulate your body's hunger and satiety cues, namely ghrelin, and leptin.
Research shows that even a single night’s sleep lowers leptin (the satiety hormone) and increases ghrelin (the hunger hormone).
What’s more, not getting enough sleep is also known to increase cravings for high-calorie foods -- sugary, salty, fatty treats.
Not getting enough sleep makes you hungrier and increases cravings for high-calorie foods (which will likely make you exceed your calorie needs for the day).
If you need help getting more quality sleep at night, consider some of these tips:
- Set a bedtime each night (even on weekends) and stick to it
- Establish a bedtime ritual to perform each night to signal your body it’s time to wind down for the evening
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed
- Avoid blue light 2 hours before bed (laptops, tv, tablets, smartphones, etc.)
- Use your bedroom only for sleep
- Keep your room cool and dark
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing to bed
- Have a cup of herbal tea
- Stretch/light yoga
You can also try a nighttime relaxation and recovery aid, like Steel Dreams®.
Steel Dreams® contains natural, non-habit-forming ingredients that may help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety while promoting feelings of calm relaxation, helping you achieve deep, restorative sleep every night...thereby helping you keep cravings in check!
Why You Should Avoid Skipping Meals
Regularly skipping meals is a recipe for disaster, especially if you’re looking to avoid craving junk food.
Skipping meals leads to low blood sugar and increased feelings of hunger, which invariably leads individuals to experience cravings and ultimately dive headfirst into the first food they set their eyes on, which almost always is junk food.
To avoid getting extremely hungry (as well as the subsequent junk food cravings), it's a good idea to maintain stable blood sugar levels by regularly eating throughout the day. The composition of those meals also plays an important role in warding off junk food cravings.
You want your meals to contain sufficient protein (20-40 grams/meal for most individuals) and complex carbs rich and fiber and healthy fats. Together, this helps slow the release of energy into the bloodstream, keeping you satisfied and energized for hours to come so that you'll be less likely to overeat and/or give in to junk food cravings.
- Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Protein intake and energy balance. Regul Pept. 2008 Aug 7;149(1-3):67-9. DOI: 10.1016/j.regpep.2007.08.026. Epub 2008 Mar 25. PMID: 18448177.
- Leidy HJ, Tang M, Armstrong CL, Martin CB, Campbell WW. The effects of consuming frequent, higher protein meals on appetite and satiety during weight loss in overweight/obese men. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011 Apr;19(4):818-24. DOI: 10.1038/oby.2010.203. Epub 2010 Sep 16. PMID: 20847729; PMCID: PMC4564867.
- Schmid SM, Hallschmid M, Jauch-Chara K, Born J, Schultes B. A single night of sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels and feelings of hunger in normal-weight healthy men. J Sleep Res. 2008 Sep;17(3):331-4. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2869.2008.00662.x. Epub 2008 Jun 28. PMID: 18564298.
- Stephanie M. Greer, Andrea N. Goldstein, Matthew P. Walker. The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. Nature Communications, 2013; 4 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms3259