Has this ever happened to you?

It is around four in the afternoon and you are running to the store to pick up a few fresh items for your dinner after work.  “Ah, perfect” you say, “some mushrooms, green onions, and vermicelli noodles are on sale!  I can grab some fresh basil from the garden and make some pho tonight. I haven’t had that in so long!”

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You are on your way to the checkout counter, but are stopped hungry in your tracks. There are some Oreos on the end of an aisle that are screaming to be dunked in some almond milk you have at home.  “Hey, Oreos are vegan right?  I’ll only eat a few!” you lie to yourself while you imagine the pleasure of scoffing down two whole sleeves.

The justifications set in given this realization: “I had an amazing smoothie for breakfast and some healthy (ish?) stir-fry take-out on my break.  What’s the big deal?”  By the time all this runs through your head, you end up at the checkout counter with some potato chips and Oreos that you are going to destroy and a to-go pasta salad that looks decent enough. You’ll make the pho tomorrow.

Sound familiar?  No one is trying to make you feel bad. We all love to snack and give into cravings, but if you are looking for ways to avoid habits like these in the future, then check out these steps to success below:

Step One: Figure Out Why You Crave Junk

When you crave something in particular, is your body telling you what nutrients you really need or is it all in your head? Is there something else at play?

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When craving those Oreos, is it because you need something nutrition-wise from them? Most likely not. Both our memories and genes have programmed us to want them. Perhaps you remember the many other times that your guilty food pleasure satisfied you temporarily.  Research suggests that fond memories of this sort and the need to relieve stress have more to do with your cravings than your nutritional needs at that moment. It has also been evolutionarily successful to crave foods that are rich in fat and sugar. This allowed us to build up excess fat stores for lean times.

So do we have zero control over what to do about our cravings? Not at all! The first step is admitting you have a bit of a junk food problem.

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Step Two: Decide On What to Crave Instead

Armed with the “why,” let’s figure out what you are actually craving when you’re in the last-minute meal scenario again.

What do you reach for to satisfy your sweet tooth on the go? Do you grab a sugary beverage or a candy bar? Put the Oreos back and grab some raisins or whatever ripe fruit is in season. After all, fruit is the ultimate fast food, and it has more than just sugar to offer you. Even convenience stores sell bananas, people.

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How about something salty, crunchy, and or fatty?  Instead of grabbing some potato chips, take a hike to another aisle and grab some trail mix. Grabbing a lightly salted bag of combined sesame sticks, cashews, and rice crackers (among the infinite other combinations) will definitely satisfy this craving, plus it gives you some essential fatty acids your brain needs.

I understand that junk foods likely hold a strong place in your psyche, especially when you are stressed and have little time to consider other options. The two alternatives above should shake your snacking habit up, take the same amount of time to obtain, and satisfy your cravings.  Speaking of shaking it up, this is also an extremely important tool in long-term satisfaction.  Several studies have found that a diet lacking variety reinforces more food cravings. Taking what we learned above, this also works in reverse. Don’t get trapped eating the same junk when you need a snack. Think about what taste sensations and memories you are actually trying to satisfy and find a healthier option that hits the spot.

Step Three: Buy or Make Your Own Healthier Snacks

There are so many healthier snack options than the vegan junk food described above (yes, even if it is vegan, it can still be junk) that can satisfy your cravings and make your plant-based diet rock even harder. You can buy some at your grocery store or farmers market like the above examples, but why not make others yourself and save money?

Here are some ideas for churning out quick, healthy snacks that can crush those junk food cravings in no time:

Get a dehydrator!  This is the crock pot of healthy snacking. Pop some chopped kale in there that has been coated with your favorite spices, nut butter, and nutritional yeast and in a few hours you have a super tasty, crunchy, salty, ‘cheesy’ snack.  Make your favorite smoothie and pour it on some non-stick dehydrator trays.  Hours later, you will have some tasty fruit leather.  Get creative!

Make your own trail mixes by buying a bunch of bulk stuff!  Buying trail mixes at the store can get expensive. Instead, buy some of your favorite seeds, nuts, dried fruits, and some randoms to mix together with your favorite spices. Presto! You have a bag of tasty snacks on the go that, like dehydrated foods, do not need to be refrigerated. Again, get creative!

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Focus on making quick meals so you are not put off by waiting even longer to eat when in a bind. Peruse some plant-based recipes that are quick to make from fresh foods and ingredients you have in your pantry. In the case of beans and rice, you can soak these throughout the day or overnight to reduce cooking times. If it only takes 15 minutes to make, you will surely be less likely to put it off until tomorrow.

I hope these steps help you to get thinking about snacking to the max (your maximum health that is). Please comment below to offer some amazing snack ideas and other ways you successfully cut junk food out of your plant-based diet!

Image source: Kropp/Pixabay 

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