Kicking the Habit: Fighting Junk Food Withdrawals

Do you feel sad, irritable, or even anxious after a few days of eating junk food?

As it turns out, you’re not imagining those feelings. A recent University of Michigan study evaluated withdrawal symptoms people may experience after consuming highly processed foods, including pastries, French fries and pizza.

Researchers found these foods have addictive qualities similar to tobacco, drugs and alcohol. They all cause an increase in the pleasure-producing brain chemical dopamine. Because of this, kicking bad eating habits may lead to negative side effects including anxiety, headaches, irritability and depression.

Adopting a healthy diet – and sticking with it – isn’t always easy. But don’t be discouraged. There are practical, less painful ways to kick your junk food habit—for good.

  • Start Gradually: A healthy lifestyle doesn’t happen overnight. Long-term success hinges on changes that can be sustained over time. So, instead of eliminating certain foods, have everything in moderation. An abrupt shift in caloric, sugar, or sodium intake may prompt withdrawal symptoms. Focus on small changes because they eventually lead to big results.
  • Swap It Out: Replace excess fat, sugar and salt with healthier alternatives. If you’re a fan of sour-cream dip, swap it out with Greek yogurt or light cream cheese. Instead of using added sugar, enjoy the natural sweetness of fruit or dried fruit as you make your favorite desserts. Instead of salt use herbs and spices to flavor your food.
  • Cook For Yourself: Taking control of your health starts in the kitchen. The easiest way to monitor your menu is to dictate the ingredients you are going to use and the cooking methods to prepare the food. Add nutritional value by incorporating fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains that aren’t heavily processed and full of additives. Step away from unhealthy fats and use cooking oils such as olive, flaxseed, and avocado. Also, leave the frying pan behind and choose cooking methods like, baking, broiling, and sautéing to avoid excess calories.

Junk food can be a delicious and comforting treat. But its satisfaction is fleeting. Donuts, chips, and candy are not meant for long-term consumption. The best way to kick any habit, junk food or otherwise, is to understand the how and why you do it. Uncovering your true motivation, is the key to healthy, lasting change.

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