Let's address the elephant in the room first: There's a lot to be said about some of the addictive properties in junk food. Most major food companies have a full time team who's job it is to make sure you don't want to have just one. This definitely comes into play on whether you're satisfied with a small amount or not (we'll come back to this).
But this does not tell the whole story.
In every client I asked about this (over a hundred), I actually didn't have a single person bring up junk food having addictive properties as their reasoning for being unable to control themselves around their favorite foods.
What they did all say was a majority contributing factor? The feeling that they shouldn't be having the food in the first place. The guilt layered on top of the initial indulgence was enough for people to continue to eat because it now turned into emotional eating. On top of feeling like they were doing something wrong by having that food, they also said they felt confused, frustrated, overwhelmed, despair that they feel their goals are forever out of reach, anxious and sad. Sound familiar?
Think about the diets you've done in the past. Right before you start, there's that weekend, day or or even meal where you think:
This is it. This is the last time I'll have my favorites so I better make it worth it.
That, my friend, is the last supper effect.
If you've been in a constant state of dieting, your brain is pretty convinced each time that you do get a treat or meal that's higher in calories that it won't come around again and it's gotta take what it can. This means it's almost a visceral choice than a logical choice, and you might not even realize how much you've eaten until a few minutes later.
Studies have been done to show a similar effect when it relates to cats and their eating patterns. You'll see pretty consistently that domesticated cats approach their food significantly differently than stray cats. Domesticated cats are used to being fed regularly. They almost never *truly* wonder when they're going to get food again and you see that they are willing to leave food in their bowl during the day. They'll stroll up, eat a little bit, walk away, come back an hour later and repeat the process over all day long.
Stray cats though, get a bowl of food and will eat it until they are sick. Stray cats don't have the same kind of guarantee they'll be fed again or that they will be able to return to a bowl with food in it, so their only option is to scarf it down until they're sick.
With all our dieting, we have confused our bodies and our brains! We've conditioned them to think deprivation is just around the corner so we better indulge when we can! So when we indulge, we indulge HARD.
So instead of just looking on the surface and seeing that there is a problem with a food and that means we shoud take it out, let's put that energy into solving the problem.
I'm so glad you asked :) The solution is VERY counter intuitive but stay with me on this: stop making that food off limits.
Are you panicking yet? Thinking If it's not off limits, I'll NEVER stop eating it! I'll just keep gaining weight!
I know how you're feeling (been there done that!) but think about this: you've eaten your favorite thing every day for a week. It's no longer that special or fancy. It tastes good, but you know you can have it whenever. The sparkle has worn off. You've given your brain a chance to calm down and you've explored the craving to it's fullest. Now you're making a choice to skip it a night or two and it wouldn't be a problem. You have overcome the bell curve of an off-limits food.
Here's an example of what I just did and where this whole thing came about for me recently. Snickers is my favorite candy (nothing can beat a frozen mini snickers!) and I had an intense craving while I was on my period recently. I don't usually get bad cravings at that time so I was interested to see what was going on. My brain was kinda freaking out because I had just decided to do a fat loss phase and that meant tracking over the holiday season. I did it last year and actually enjoyed it, but my brain was having a big fat panic over the whole thing. So I'm sitting at my computer trying to get work done and all I can think about is this snickers. So I get in the car to go get a snickers bar at the gas station and I see a giant bag of the fun sized ones for Halloween. So I get the bag. And I eat 7. Each day after that? I ate 4-6. Until it was completely gone. But the good news for my brain is the day I finished my snickers was also Halloween, so I just had more! Yay snickers! Repeat this process until the second bag is almost finished. I didn't realize but I had so identified as someone who doesn't eat candy (this used to be what most of my days consisted of) that I had put a limitation on when I got candy, which was almost never. Fast forward to now, I haven't had a snickers in about a week and I'm so happy about it! I don't have any desire for it and if I saw it in a friend's candy bowl I probably wouldn't have any because I know I can go get it whenever. I stuck it out through the worst part of it and am on the other side, doing fine and feeling better for having gone through it.
Relating this to the first point, there's also a good idea to have loving parameters that don't include making the food off limits. Things like purchasing only a small amount, not bringing it into your house, or even saving it for when you're out with friends can all be helpful parameters so you're not going overboard and shoving what you love most in your own face all the time.
Remember when we talked at the beginning about the addictive properties of junk food? Let's bring it back to that. When I was going through my snickers episode I realized part of why I was eating so much is that it tasted really good, and eating it didn't reduce my craving for more. No matter how much I ate, I always wanted more for the taste. This is where you need to be wise and ask yourself how much is worth it to bring into your house, office, etc. Snickers will be really special occasion things for me moving forward and I will purchase one bar and enjoy it fully. Because it ramps up my cravings, when I get a craving for chocolate I'm going to have a darker chocolate option available at home, or even make some of my own dark chocolate cookies I can keep in the freezer for when I'm feeling a craving and it won't go away. I noticed that dark chocolate cookies I made with real ingredients left me satisfied after a few and I didn't need more. For me, that's a tell that it's not about my mindset in that moment, it's about the addictive properties of the food and I will factor that into my decisions about if it's worth it in the future.
There's a reason why you can't stop eating that certain food. Find the actual reason why instead of avoiding it altogether. You will be stuck in a situation with that food in the future and you will need to face your relationship with that food. Make peace now so you don't have to deal with an even more difficult situation over and over each time you're with that food.
The work you put in now toward a good relationship with food, finding your balance and living a life you enjoy that makes you healthier is like owning vs. equity. It takes the same amount of physical work usually as the fad diets and takes more mental energy and honesty, but you make progress. Over time fi you keep putting in that energy you get to own your good relationship with food and balanced lifestyle. When you keep doing the fad diets and extremes and avoiding your mentality you're renting. You're putting in the same amount work and will have nothing to show for it except a worse relationship with food and your body.
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