Junk Food Withdrawal: It’s Temporary
If you’ve ever felt a strong craving for French fries or cupcakes when you’re trying to clean up your diet, it’s not just your imagination. In fact, your withdrawal symptoms may have included anxiety, irritability, headaches and depression.
Whether you’re trying to lose weight in advance of having bariatric surgery or you just want to eat healthier, it’s important to understand your junk food withdrawal symptoms are real. And they will eventually go away.
Researchers at the University of Michigan reported in a study that these symptoms peaked during the first two to five days after people quit eating junk food. Their findings appear in the journal, Appetite.
It’s a similar experience addicts report after they quit using drugs. Previous research spells out what happens to the brain when people quit using tobacco, drugs and alcohol. Cutting back can lead to negative side effects that can make it difficult to reduce intake. Anxiety, headaches, irritability and depression are some of the symptoms.
Researchers at the University of Michigan sought out to determine whether withdrawal may also occur with highly processed foods. Could these foods be capable of triggering similar addictive processes?
The study, which included 231 adults who cut back on the amount of highly processed foods they ate over a year, measured physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. The participants reported that sadness, irritability, tiredness and cravings peaked during the initial two to five days after they quit eating junk food, then the negative side effects tapered off, which parallels the time course of drug withdrawal symptoms, according to a U-M news release.
Researchers did not focus on whether people gave up junk food “cold turkey” or gradually changed their eating habits. The study’s findings raise the question of whether withdrawal symptoms lead people back to eating junk food.
Tackle your junk food cravings.
Here are three tips to help you overcome cravings you might have while giving up highly processed foods:
- Plan your meals. Cook at home. If you have dinner already prepared, you’re less likely to order fast food.
- Reduce your level of stress. We succumb to food cravings when we’re stressed out. Turn to exercise to lower your stress. Try a yoga class or meditation.
- Swap your favorite junk food with something you can control. Try making baked zucchini fries or butternut squash chips instead of French fries.