How to become "repulsed" by junk food?
July 27, 2010 6:00 PM   Subscribe

How to become "repulsed" by junk food?

Basically, I have specific goals of becoming ripped, jacked, etc. I've put on a lot of muscle mass over the last year but I want to lower my body weight. The problem is, I LOVE junk food. I can't eat three oreos and be satisfied. I have to eat the whole package. I know this is preventing me from achieving my goals/dreams.

My dad suggested eating some junk food and repeating the word "junk food" while I ingest some ipecac. He said this will pair the though of throwing up with eating junk food. My dad specializes in behavior science so it sounds legit.

Any other suggestions?
posted by ascetic to Health & Fitness (54 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Go to work at McDonald's.
posted by adamrice at 6:02 PM on July 27, 2010 [4 favorites]

From personal experience: after you stop for about six weeks, it will gradually start to sound less and less good. After about four months, even if you take a bite, you'll be all "Eugh what the hell is this?" But the only way to get to that point is to just grit your teeth and bear the withdrawals.
posted by KathrynT at 6:05 PM on July 27, 2010 [9 favorites]

Make a point of eating really delicious, healthy food. When you go back to junk food, you start to recognize that they only taste that good because you have deadened your taste buds.
posted by pickypicky at 6:05 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

@adamrice: Already worked at McDonalds for a year. I still eat it. Seriously, I'm just a glutton and I don't know how to change it.
posted by ascetic at 6:05 PM on July 27, 2010

I don't know the answer to your question, but I advise against the ipecac option for two reason: First, purging just isn't good for you.

Second, I don't think it would work anyway. Associations between foods and illness (the kind of visceral association you're talking about where your body/subconsicous would blame the food for the illness and avoid it in future) work with new flavours, not old ones. Basicall you're trying to teach your body that there's a correlation between illness and this food, but if you've eaten it 1000 times without incident, the fact that you get sick once isn't really much of a correlation. If you're talking about a new food, then your body basically decides "I wasn't sick before, but 100% of the time I've eaten this new food I've gotten sick. THerefore, this new food is poison that disgusts me." This is why people being treated for cancer are advised not to try new foods during treatment.

To create a real correlation between illness and the food you'd have to purge after eating it lots and lots (Enough to counteract all those times you ate it and it worked out just fine). That's not healthy, obviously. And it might only work for specific foods (i.e. even if you associate chips ahoy with illness, you'll still eat a bag of fig newtons in a sitting).
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:08 PM on July 27, 2010

Don't buy junk food.

I don't know about the repulsion thing, but that may help you towards your goal.
posted by pants tent at 6:10 PM on July 27, 2010 [11 favorites]

Sugar basically is a drug. It's one I'm so addicted to that I can barely withstand the thought of finishing a meal and not getting dessert -- in fact I often will go ahead and eat a meal simply because there's a dessert at the end of it that I want to have.

For me it has been all about replacement. If I can get to an orange or a cup of tea or a Stevia-sweetened beverage before I get to a bag of Haribo gummi candies, then the craving is usually conquered and that restless feeling goes away.

Also the evening is the hardest for me. Lately I've been popping my own popcorn in a brown paper bag in the microwave (no butter, a little lemon-pepper or curry powder for seasoning), and eating it with a small glass of juice. The popcorn fills you up like you wouldn't believe, but is pretty low-cal, and the juice is sweet of course, but it's in moderation, and way better than the alternative (big sugary fattening piece of cake!). After my popcorn and juice ritual I feel cozy and satisfied. You need to find your own combo that essentially scratches the comfort food itch without unbalancing your diet.

Also, just never buy the stuff. When you actually have to pay money for things, it's way easier to throw on the brakes. When I go to the store, I ogle the ice cream and bakery cases, I even pick stuff up and read the nutritional info and bargain painfully with myself. But in the end I DON'T BUY. I buy the next best thing (mmm, ginger kombucha! Greek yogurt with just a touch of honey!) and skedaddle out of there. I am rarely unsatisfied.

(Of course that gets blown to hell when you walk into a party or a situation where the food is all abundant and free and waved under your nose. But even if you cave at those moments, you've still wound up eating less junk in the long run than you normally would.)
posted by hermitosis at 6:11 PM on July 27, 2010 [12 favorites]

No offense, but your dad's idea sounds really messed up.

I have a similar love of junk food and approach in losing 50 pounds over the past eight months or so:

- I did two weeks on the South Beach Diet, at my doctor's suggestion, to reset my food thermometer, in a way. Phase 1 is so restrictive that you really have no choice but to eat "real" food. After two weeks, I really found that my cravings had diminished somewhat.
- I don't keep my trigger foods in the house at all. If we bring food home for my kids that I'm afraid I will eat, they keep it in their rooms.
- If I do buy junk food, I take a small portion and then throw the rest away, immediately. This required getting over the OMG WASTEFUL thoughts, both in terms of money and starving children in Africa. I've also come to discover that eating junk food is a case of diminishing returns - the first bite of a donut is amazing; the last bite makes me want to barf.
- I've tried to find healthier substitutes for some junk foods that I can enjoy relatively guilt-free. For example, Baked Ruffles or Tostitos aren't so bad, if you're not comparing them to the real thing. Frozen yogurt. Kashi or Luna bars instead of cookies. That kind of thing.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:11 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, even if you don't count calories, write down everything you eat. Everything. Read the list at the end of the day (or better yet, the following morning).
posted by hermitosis at 6:12 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

(Lost a couple words in that second sentence; should be " of junk food, and this was my approach...")
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:13 PM on July 27, 2010

If I can stop eating sugar for a month or two, I start to find it distasteful, and this is coming from a definite sugar addict.
Make sure to keep your craving for sugars and fats satisfied in other ways, so you don't keep wanting the bad stuff as an unattainable wonderland - fruits for natural sugars (melons are very sweet and it's a good time of year for them) and you can eat veggies with a bit of a fatty dip if you need the mouthfeel - hummous, tzaziki, etc.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 6:14 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if this is exactly helpful- but a great way to develop an aversion to hyper sugary foods and fizzy drinks is to get an eye-wateringly painful toothache. Ever since then I've avoided junk foods and soda almost entirely- just having the association with the dental pain has seemed to be enough to stop me from eating silly things- I know that if I do indulge I'll quite possibly have got myself a ticket to a world of pain. On top of that, I'm hyper vigilant about doing myself any more damage- so junk food has totally lost it's appeal to me, nowadays.

Still, I don't think I'd recommend going out and doing yourself some orthodontic-type mischief.
posted by Philby at 6:21 PM on July 27, 2010

Narrow down what type of "junk food" you like, whether it is salty, crunchy, smooth and creamy, or even chocolate. Then find a healthier substitute.

Yogurt (not the ones loaded with sugar) instead of ice cream
Roasted nuts - chips
Cocoa covered almonds (to die for) instead of a candy bar

I agree with KathrynT, sugar is addicting and your body will crave it. Tough it out for about a week and the cravings will subside.
posted by JujuB at 6:22 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

You might also want to consider what sort of desire you have. Is it compulsive or impulsive? It's probably a mix of both, but you only need to solve one. There's no point working to fix a craving when your problem is overeating.
posted by doublehappy at 6:23 PM on July 27, 2010

Also, those powder-stirred-into-water fiber supplements they sell in the Vitamin section of your local drug store; aside from giving you the most momentously clean and regular bowel movements ever -- which is itself a sort of thing to behold -- these really fill you up. The psyllium husk powder swells in your stomach and you really just aren't as hungry, and when you do eat, you can't hold quite as much.

(This is something to use in moderation as a supplement to whatever else you're already doing. It should not replace meals or snacks!)
posted by hermitosis at 6:32 PM on July 27, 2010

What works best for me is eating the darkest chocolate I can handle (I'm at 70% right now, which, considering I started out eating milk chocolate, I'm happy with). I get a sweet fix, but I can't eat too much of it because it is SO rich. The other thing I do is have fruit and dip it in just a bit of heavy cream. Super-satisfying, and super-rich as well.

I think if you can move away from the processed junk food to less processed and smaller portioned treats, you'll find yourself craving it a lot less.
posted by superlibby at 6:34 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sort of repeating what others have said, but about 18 months ago I gave up sugar and three principles are important to understand:

1 - It will be very hard at first, but after 2 weeks you will not even want it anymore. You may still have occasional cravings, but they will be no big deal and most of the time you won't even think about it.

2 - You have to give up sugar completely. I tried having sugar every Sunday, but that's like saying I'm going to smoke crack every Sunday. You have to cut it out of your life.

3 - Most importantly: Substitution is the key to success. After dinner have a bowl of fresh raspberries with a little cream, an apple with peanut butter on it (REAL peanut butter), or some cashews. This will get you through the first couple of weeks and change your habits.

At this point in my life I can't even imagine eating sugar again and I was just as bad as you are now (10 cookies instead of two, two pieces of cheesecake, etc).

You can do it!
posted by crapples at 6:38 PM on July 27, 2010 [6 favorites]

Seeing Food, Inc really put me off of fast food and processed food in general. I still eat it sometimes, but the idea of it as a regular thing just seems nasty now.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:41 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Think of some junk you like eating, and let it bring up strong feelings of desire. Then imagine it covered in something disgusting or repellant to you -- mustard, slugs, human hair, etc. Really picture it as vivid and emotively as you can. It can help to calm short term desire in my experience.
posted by rollick at 6:42 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry, but a lot of the stuff previously said, as well as your question, seems to rely on irrational assumptions. If you can't eat two Oreos because you'll eat the whole bag, it sounds like you have serious impulse control issues that aren't likely to be improved by absolutist "you must learn to see them as uneatable" techniques. Go to OA or see a psychiatrist - the goal should be for you to have no trouble choosing what and how much to stick in your mouth, without relying on some new compulsion you've managed to give yourself.

TL;DR - your eating sounds crazy. Crazy plus crazy does not equal sane. Get professional help.
posted by SMPA at 6:52 PM on July 27, 2010

I was able to swear off fast food burgers after listening to a radio interview where a guy said that in some chains, the meat is centrally "batched", meaning they mix the meat thousands of animals together in order to ensure a certain homogeneity of taste. The interviewee was raising the concern that if you throw a single BSE infected cow into the system, prions from it's infection would likely be spread throughout the mix. It ruined my appetite.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:05 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I go with a nice big mug of black tea with milk and sugar after a meal as dessert. You only need a spoon or two of sugar to make it sweet, which is a ton less than any dessert would have. It's also got a lot of volume so I don't feel like I just had a tiny bit of something delicious.

And don't buy candy. It's a lot easier to not buy it than to just eat one. Once you get off of it, then you won't really crave it anyways - most of it won't even taste that good. Same with pop for me, I used to have that daily but quit it almost completely. Tea was my replacement there too. I'll have a root beer once a month or so, but it's so sweet I don't want more than half of one.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 7:05 PM on July 27, 2010

My experience supports the idea of substitution for specific foods that I can't get enough of. General diet and exercise is a larger question but not the OP's.

When I weighed 40 pounds more than I do know I ate way too much ice the whole gallon. I substituted shredded wheat, skim milk, craisins and artificial sweetener. It's not what you could call low-cal, but let me tell you, it's a lot less calories than a gallon of ice cream, and I loved it and still do!

I also loved pepperoni pizza, like the whole pie. Now I eat a good raisin bagel (bought in bulk and frozen so always on hand), toasted with either sugar free strawberry preserves or some margarine. They're delicious and one is satisfying. Even if I eat two that's a heck of a lot less calories than a pizza, you know?

Over time I've come up with other substitutions that I can live with and it's helped (no, I'm not thin, but with a desk job and 2.5 hours in a car every work day it's tough).
posted by forthright at 7:10 PM on July 27, 2010

SMPA, it doesn't sound crazy to me. Many, many people have issues with portion control. Very few people I know (including myself) can eat one Oreo or whatever. If the place a person can exercise self-control is at the grocery store, that seems like a very healthy way to deal with problem eating.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:13 PM on July 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

Whenever I'm tempted to eat junk food I look at the calorie content and try to decide if it's worth the treadmill time. For example:

2 Krispy Kreme regular glazed donuts
6 Oreos

= 30 mins. @ 6mph on the treadmill

Some days I think, 'Hey! That's not so bad!' and' I eat it and spend the extra time, and some days I think, 'Nah!' and just skip it.

What really helps is that I always spend an hour on the treadmill and any food time has to be in addition to that hour, and I don't really fancy spending 2 hours sweating. YMMV.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 7:24 PM on July 27, 2010

First off, you should eliminate all junk food from your home. If the junk food is not staring right at you, you will be less compelled to eat it.

Second, when you go shopping, try avoiding the middle aisles. These aisles contain all the junk foods that are keeping your body weight the same. Instead, skim the perimeter of the store, because here you will find the nutrient rich produce, protein rich meats, and calcium rich dairy products.

Finally, you should eat healthy yet fulfilling foods throughout the day. I once struggled with eating too much junk food, but when I started eating more fruits and vegetables throughout the day, my cravings stopped.
posted by Invisible_Jam at 7:28 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Get professional help, a psychiatrist, for an oreo binge? Seriously? That's ridiculous.
posted by mannequito at 7:45 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Check out the Sugar Addicts Total Recovery plan. It's a book about how to give up sugar. I read it several years ago and it was helpful to me.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:52 PM on July 27, 2010

Read the ingredients list. Seriously, there is some crazy stuff in your average junk food.
posted by Slinga at 8:02 PM on July 27, 2010

Totally agree with all the tough-it-out-it-will-subside advice and the substitution advice. I'll add that for me the substitutions have to include a LOT of fresh food. For me this is the only kind of food that brings an intense enough flavor slam to satisfy the urges that would send me back for the rest of the Ben&Jerry's. I was personally unable to read the book French Women Don't Get Fat, due to its having been given to me as a gift by my mother in law and thus being the incidental object of strong feelings of loathing and contempt - but I have been told that that is the book's answer, that they eat lots of fresh food and thus aren't prompted to try to satisfy their taste buds with sugar and fat. There, now you don't have to read it either. As an example, here's what I had for lunch today: saute some fresh minced garlic in olive oil, rub the oil and garlic on a whole wheat pita, put slices of really good summer tomatoes, fresh basil, and goat cheese on it and broil for a minute or two. Sometimes a bit of black pepper too. Sooooooo good. Suck it, Ben&Jerry. No wait, actually I do still love you too.
posted by Betsy Vane at 8:04 PM on July 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

"I can't eat three oreos and be satisfied."

Who has Oreos in the house? They're not a staple food, dude.

If you can't make the decision to stop, don't put yourself in the situation of making the decision -- don't buy Oreos.

If you can't make the decision at the next level -- you can't help buying Oreos -- get someone else to do the groceries for you, and leave cash and cards at home.

(Also, 10 out of 10 for inappropriate match of username to question).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:27 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Completely cutting junk food out of my diet was always counterproductive; I'd inevitably decide I couldn't take it anymore, and go on a binge or several. If it works for you, it works. If it doesn't, don't force it.

If you aren't comfortable forbidding yourself junk food, allow yourself a little every now and then, when you really want/need it. Don't keep it very accessible; however, if you keep a small bit on hand, like an individual packet of M&Ms for chocolate emergencies, you'll be less likely to run out to the grocery store or 7-11 and decide you need five different kinds of candy.

And learn to recognize when you really want that junk food, and what you want and how much of it. If the vending machine candy is what you really want at that moment, go ahead. But if you find yourself looking at the vending machine choices for more than five seconds, or you're walking over there because there's not much to do at your desk, chances are you don't really want anything in there.

In the meantime, fill your meals with healthy foods that you love and that you can easily grab or cook. Almonds, raw veggies, make yourself a big tub of chicken salad, whatever floats your boat. The easier and more enjoyable it is for you to eat well, the less you'll rely on junk.

Also, keep busy. If you find yourself mentally absorbed in something, you won't think about food unless you're genuinely hungry. Engage your mind; engaging your hands helps too.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:38 PM on July 27, 2010

I cut down seriously on my junk food intake by refusing to eat most foods with high fructose corn syrup in it anymore. I eat maybe a half dozen food-like things with HFCS and that's it. Beware of 'corn sweetener' too, which is pretty much the same thing only re-labelled. (As an aside, I lost ten pounds doing this and I wasn't even trying.)

Start with one thing and gradually move on to something else. Just DON'T ALLOW yourself to buy something with it in the ingredient list. Expand this for a while. Some things I've cut down on quite a bit, because the non-HFCS options are pricey. Once you've mastered no HFCS, find another crappy ingredient (like artificial coloring!) and 86 that too.

Find a sweet junk-food substitute that you do like. I eat pears and yogurt.

The ipecac might work, but that sounds really bulimic to me. I'd avoid that.
posted by Heretical at 8:44 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Look at an Oreo. I mean, LOOK at it, don't just eat it. Look at a chunk of Cap'n Crunch cereal. Look at a Snicker's bar. It's not food, man. It's as if someone took some cardboard, or packing styrofoam, or sticky goo and put some sweet flavor on it with an eyedropper. Keep that in mind.

Take a glass of warm water and a bag of sugar. See how much sugar you can stir into the glass of water before it stops dissolving. That's a soda.

Now work out hard. Wear yourself out to nearly puking lifting weights. Or do a CrossFit workout (high intensity, short time,) again, until you almost puke. Look at that Oreo again. I can almost guarantee you that your body will say Ugh, DO NOT WANT to that Oreo or that soda.

Another key is having decent food in the house. Slice up an apple, have some chicken pieces already cooked in the fridge, whatever. Just make sure you always have something decent you can eat no matter how lazy you feel at the moment, so it isn't easier to eat junk food.
posted by ctmf at 8:51 PM on July 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

My own substitution strategy:

1) No junk food in the house. Period. If I want a cookie, I have to walk over to Rite-Aid to buy it.
2) Chocolate milk. No, it's not healthy. But a glass of it takes care of 90% of my "need sweets!" feelings after a meal and one glass really isn't meaningfully unhealthy.
3) Fruit. Similar to above; when my craving isn't for chocolate per se, I'll go for strawberries or blueberries or an apple.

After the first couple of months, I stopped needing junk food all the time. I now only crave dessert after about 10% of meals.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:56 PM on July 27, 2010 [4 favorites]

One thing I've found may help if you are a serious binge eater like I was: force yourself to eat junk food very slowly. If you slow down and focus on the individual parts of the food, looking for good taste, you probably won't find much. You may even notice some downright awful tastes hidden in the cocktail of flavourings and prepared fats that is modern food.

If you are like I was, you will have plowed through that pack of Oreos because you enjoyed several things at once - the mouth feel, the feel of fullness, the mix of sugar with the slight bitter taste of the cookie, the way it dissolves etc. That's because many food products are designed to be eaten quickly. The quality of ingredients just isn't there in cheap food, so they engineer it to wow your mouth with an initial sugary rush and/or the smooth feel of quick-melting fat.

Eating slowly and deliberately tasting the components of junk food helps me realize just how unappetizing parts of it really are, especially when removed from their other component parts. I find the center of an Oreo gets unbearably sweet when you eat several slowly by themselves; I also find eating a bunch of Oreo biscuits unbearably dry and mealy without the center. Of course YMMV. Try this with a Big Mac, or many of today's chocolate bars; when you slow down you can taste what horrible things the big bar makers have done to 'chocolate' over the last decade.

Binge eaters get an endorphin rush from eating foods high in fat quickly. Endorphins act on the opioid receptors in the brain and help you cope. Therefore, it's no surprise that the foods that binge eaters choose most often are sweet-fat combinations that raise serotonin and endorphins. This feels good, but it can be addictive.

Since you're fighting biology here you'll have to work hard at making slow eating a habit. Keep a timer or stopwatch with you and make a point of bringing it out whenever you sit down to eat junk food. Find out what your normal time to eat it is, then double or triple it. Stick with that time for the next couple of weeks; your opinions of those foods will definitely change.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:22 PM on July 27, 2010 [6 favorites]

I agree with everything that's been said above. Also, I find it's helpful to identify what particular junk food tastes it is you're craving. For example, if I never had chocolate ever again, no problem. I'm not much of a sweets person. But if I couldn't ever have pizza?? Or french fries?? Or creamy sauces??? Kill me now.

Once you know what your triggers are, try to look up healthy recipes that mimic those tastes. If you love pizza hut, try making a whole wheat crust covered in home-made tomato sauce, low fat mozzarella, and tons of fresh veggies. It'll take you all evening to make, but at least you'll know you CAN have the junk food taste-- if you're willing to put the effort in to have it healthy. If you aren't willing to spend several hours making your treat meal by hand (and the healthy non processed version, at that) you'll know you can live without that taste. More importantly, you're choosing for yourself that it's not worth the effort to make it, instead of feeling deprived.

Eventually I wouldn't be surprised if you find you prefer your chicken nuggets the homemade healthy way over the chemical McDonald's way. (You know those nuggets have Butane in them, right?)

Do some research on your favorite junk food items. There are hundreds of "mock big mac" type recipes that use healthy alternatives. Not as an everyday thing, but as a "I want this so badly I'm happy to make a cooking-event out of it" type thing.

Lastly, your Dad's suggestion is scary. Try a more humane version of behavioral therapy-- read Beck's Diet Solution. It's full of good ways to train your brain.
posted by np312 at 9:23 PM on July 27, 2010

I've found it helpful to focus more on specific ingredients that I want to avoid rather than entire food categories. I love chocolate, and I love cookies. However, I only eat chocolate and cookies that are all-natural, i.e. not loaded with garbage like partially hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup. I never buy a new food item without first reading the ingredients list. If it contains stuff that, to me, is not "food," I will not buy it no matter how tasty the package makes it seem. A poor ingredient list will truly make a food item sound repulsive to me, like cherry-flavored poop. When I eat food, I want it to be food, not crap that's been doctored up to look and taste like food.

And, when you start focusing more on the quality of the food you're eating rather than just the taste of the food, it leads you to start eating healthier all around. When you really care about what you put in your body, it's a lot less tempting to fill it with crap all the time.
posted by wondermouse at 9:28 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Eat some of the snack that you want -- then immediately THROW THE REST OUT.

Dump them into the trash so they're fully out of the package and mixed in with the garbage.

I found this had two effects. First, I couldn't eat anymore unless I wanted to dig them out and clean them off, which is obviously gross.

Second it felt extremely wasteful. So when it came time to buy these sorts of snacks, I would think about how I just threw out $20 worth of snacks and then not even buy them in the first place.

Good luck.
posted by thorny at 9:30 PM on July 27, 2010

SMPA, it doesn't sound crazy to me. Many, many people have issues with portion control. Very few people I know (including myself) can eat one Oreo or whatever. If the place a person can exercise self-control is at the grocery store, that seems like a very healthy way to deal with problem eating.

I want to reiterate this. I'm pretty bad at self-control when there is a delicious bag of cookies in the cupboard, so I prevent myself from buying them in the grocery store. It's a lot easier there, for some reason. Try cutting yourself off at the source. Eat before going to the grocery store so you're not hungry in the snack aisle.
posted by Dasein at 9:56 PM on July 27, 2010

One of Michael Pollan's Food Rules is that you can eat whatever junk food you want so long as you prepare it yourself, from scratch. It's a terrific way to allow yourself to satisfy your cravings while actually seeing and being able to control what goes in your indulgences. It's also very time-consuming, which limits how much made-from-scratch junk you'll be eating.
posted by inkytea at 10:17 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

A few things that have worked for me:

1. Keeping the stuff out of the house

2. Changing up routines that led me to buying crappy food

3. Keeping lots of healthy snacks around (ie an apple in my bag at work)

4. Asking my lovely partner to stop baking delectable treats

5. Reading two books: The End of Overeating by Kessler and Hungry by Zadoff. Kessler explains the science of food, and sugar and fat, in an interesting and readable way. Zadoff discusses his personal struggles with overeating crappy food and how exactly he changed his eating habits. This led to ...

6. Working much harder to avoid my trigger foods--those foods, like oreos, that I can't stop eating. Because once I get a taste for it, I'm never satisfied.

7. Finally, if I do slip, forgiving myself, and moving on, and not feeling like I can't get back into good habits.

Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:20 PM on July 27, 2010

You have to understand that habit is one of the most powerful things in the world. You have a habit for the taste of bad food, there's no way around it. You'll have to wean yourself off gradually, that's the only thing you can do and if you hope for a silly trick to make it easy, you are out of luck. And that will break your resolve.
posted by rainy at 11:06 PM on July 27, 2010

Somebody somewhere on the Internet once said that he'd found pictures of gross stuff like clogged arteries and stomach-stapling surgeries, and looked at them whenever he felt the urge to eat Oreos. He said it worked-- he came to associate bad-for-you foods with the gross health problems they cause. I never tried it.
posted by ibmcginty at 12:20 AM on July 28, 2010

I'm going to second inkytea (though I didn't know it was someone else's rule). I suggest you try and make your favorite snacks. They might look different to you after you know how much fat and sugar goes into them (they do for me).
posted by mirileh at 12:43 AM on July 28, 2010

Two things have worked for me (bearing in mind that I've still got a way to go):

- substitution, coupled with not buying the trigger food in question. Berries and yoghurt, fruit platters, roast pears with some chocolate sauce (made with 70pc cocoa content chocolate and a little skimmed milk). All of them have the sugar hit but other than that, bear little relation to any of the sugary junk I tend to gravitate towards.

- making my own. I like to bake like nobody's business- I give myself full permission to bake but I just adjust the recipe and quantities, and I give some of the baked goods to others so I don't end up eating the whole thing myself.

Best of luck- this is a very hard thing to crack but it's not impossible.
posted by psychostorm at 3:44 AM on July 28, 2010

Piggy-backing onto someone else's question: can anyone suggest a good substitution for a McDonald's (or similar) burger and chips? And chocolate bars? I'm doing pretty well at substituting for other things, but I can't seem to budge on these two.
posted by harriet vane at 5:03 AM on July 28, 2010

I only eat junk food if I make it myself - at which point, it's not really junk anymore. But...yeah. Pasta, bread, cookies, cake: if I don't make them, I won't eat them. This way, I control what I'm eating, and half of the time I take out the ingredients, go, "Oh eff this," and eat some fruit. But if I really do want to eat it, at least I know it's going to be really good.

I do remember that at one point when my sweet teeth was getting pretty bad, I went on a trip with a coworker where we ate a lot, all day. I was so stuffed from the meals that I didn't have room for dessert, and once the trip was over, my sweet tooth was gone. I'm not sure I advise that method, though - I gained about five pounds from the trip.
posted by punchtothehead at 5:25 AM on July 28, 2010

This is probably worse than the ipecac idea, at least, way more offensive.

Becoming repulsed by the food itself is nearly impossible, in my experience. However, I have found it extremely effective to directly associate the IMAGE of something that repulsed me to the junk food. It hasn't worked for everything (I still eat brownies! Pie! Cookies, once in a while), but I stopped eating fast food years and years ago. The image I think of when I think of fast food? (Warning, maybe be offensive!) A HUGELY obese person in their broke-ass minivan, whose stomach touches the steering wheel, and their car is COVERED in disgusting, greasy, rotting fast food wrappers. Any you know where they are in my image? Idling in the drive-thru! And there are ten other cars with people exactly like that waiting behind him! And they all look unhappy! Like drug addicts waiting for a fix, they leer forward, car horns honking, impatiently waiting to pay $10 for non-food.

So yeah. That works wonders. 'Cause I don't want to be like that. Not ever. Not even half of that. And this works! So much so that when my fiance and I went to Chik-fil-a a week or so ago and I got waffle fries (also helps that I'm vegetarian), I could barely eat three of them before I got sick to my stomach.

Please don't do the ipecac thing! It isn't recommended anymore unless it's a terrible emergency. It'll mess you up if you use it in that way.

Good luck, and be strong!
posted by two lights above the sea at 7:07 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a massive, massive sweet tooth, and no self-control when it comes to sweets. To give you an example, two days ago I made myself a 9x13 pan of baklava, then promptly ate over half of it, making myself sick. I knew I was eating way too much but it was just so delicious that I couldn't--or wouldn't--stop myself.

I don't have that much sugar normally, though, because I just don't have the habit of buying it. There are no candy or sweet things in my house. I have sugar in my coffee, and that's it. If I want candy, I have to make it, and here my laziness is a plus.

So, my suggestion is, make your natural human laziness work for you. Don't buy the foods you don't want to eat. Go to the grocery store while you're not hungry and stock up on healthy items. Don't forget some snacks and easy meals--but make them fruit, or veggies, or something else that's good for you. (You don't want to be hungry and out of time, giving yourself an excuse for a trip to the fast food joint.)

I used to eat junk food, but now only eat it occasionally. It's too greasy and salty compared to what I usually eat, so it feels horrible. I don't have a craving for it any more. Your taste buds really can change. Now, when I have a rare craving for something "rich," it's more like soup with cheese or berries and cream, ... or baklava.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:31 AM on July 28, 2010

Learn to distrust carbs (most processed foods but also bread, pasta, rice). Everything else follows from that. Since I realized this myself, I consume a quarter of the carbs I used to at mealtimes, if that. And I certainly no longer eat carb-centered breakfast.

Even if I stuff myself, as long as carbs are present only in tiny quantities, somehow the weight doesn't stick. It's magical. Try that as an experiment.

Also, I think it's important to enjoy your food. Eat full-fat, but in small quantities.
posted by Dragonness at 9:14 AM on July 28, 2010

Nthing the advice to make your own "junk food" from scratch when you really want it. This has been THE key for me in losing weight and maintaining it long-term. As others have pointed out, it helps you answer the question, "Do I really want this, or am I just craving it out of habit?" It will also recalibrate your palate so that you're not craving those commercial junk food chemicals, which in my opinion are far more addictive than sugar or fat alone.

If you're worried about eating too much of the treats you make, share the abundance with friends, or take the leftovers to work.
posted by spinto at 10:55 AM on July 28, 2010

Along the lines of inkytea's comment: I bake very well. Whenever I eat out, and I'm craving dessert, I ask myself if it would taste better than something I could make. Most of the time the answer is no, so I don't order it. I don't buy junk food. If I have a craving for something sweet at home, I bake a batch of cookies, lick the bowl, eat one, and send the rest to work with my husband. (I was very popular at the company holiday party.) And since I've cut way back on sugar in the last few weeks, I hardly crave it at all. Good luck my friend. Your perseverance will pay off.
posted by killy willy at 2:58 PM on July 28, 2010

I highly recommend Eat This, Not That! and the other books in that series. It's a lot easier for me to make a lot of small changes in what I eat, and that's what the book does. It was eye opening to see what a difference it would make just to choose one kind of, say, chicken soup over another (especially when I like both brands) and that many times, the brand you'd think would be the healthier choice actually isn't.
posted by SisterHavana at 8:52 PM on July 28, 2010

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