wikiHow to Cut Down on Junk Food

Two Parts:Beating Junk Food CravingsPlanning & Preparing Healthier Meals

With our busy lifestyles only getting busier, it’s no wonder that so many Americans, and occur some people in other countries, rely on junk food as a large part of their daily diet. You can stop by a fast food restaurant, convenience store, vending machine, coffee shop or grocery store and grab a quick, highly processed snack so easily. However, studies show that diets containing large quantities of processed or "junk" foods increase your risk for weight gain, diabetes and high blood pressure and are linked with other health risks.[1][2] With a little planning and prep work, you can cut down on junk food and switch to a healthier diet.

Part 1
Beating Junk Food Cravings

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    Keep a food journal. Recording what you eat for a few days can give you some insight into why you're choosing junk foods over more healthy, whole foods.[3] Jot down notes about when you're eating, what you're eating and why. Consider the reasons why you incorporate junk food into your daily meals like:
    • Do you stop for a quick bite at a fast food place as you run through your day because it is convenient?
    • Do you choose to grab your afternoon snack from a vending machine because you didn't pack a healthy snack option?
    • Are you so pressed for time after a long day of work that a frozen dinner is all that you can manage?
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    Write a list of your favorite junk foods. If you can identify your top favorite junk foods, this will help prepare you to minimize them in your diet. Once you know what you crave, you can better manage those cravings and plan for a healthy swap.
    • Go through your kitchen and remove most of those favorite foods. If you don't have those foods at home, you're less likely to eat them.[4] Instead, keep only a few favorite foods on hand and stock your home with healthy foods and snacks.
    • Also minimize the junk foods that you keep at work.
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    Manage stress and emotions. Many times a junk food craving hits when you're feeling down, tired, depressed, angry, or stressed. It's a normal response to crave comfort foods after being upset or stressed. Dealing with these emotions or stress without food can help improve your health and cut out some of the junk food you eat.
    • Journaling can help you see what emotions trigger you to crave certain foods.[5] To find out, ask yourself: Are you bored? Has some emotional event occurred that has caused you to reach for junk foods? Has it been an unusually stressful day? Are you eating just junk food just out of habit or socially?
    • If you feel like you can indulge with moderation, have a serving of your favorite junk food. But take note of why you might be craving that food item so you can learn for the future.
    • Also, try to find other activities to help relax, calm or soothe you. Try: reading a good book or magazine, taking a stroll outside, listening to your favorite tunes, or playing a fun board game.
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    Change your routine. Many times, we stop to get our favorite snack or meal out of habit. You take a quick work break and head to the vending machine for an afternoon pick me up or you work late and stop by a fast food restaurant for a quick meal. Changing these routines may help you change what you eat as well.[6]
    • Think about when you typically get your junk food. Is there another activity that you can do instead? For example, if you need a little break from work in the afternoon, instead of heading to the vending machine, go outside for a quick walk.
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    Make healthy swaps. If your favorite junk food isn't the healthiest, try making a healthy substitution that can curb your cravings.
    • For example, if you crave sweets, try having fruit with vanilla yogurt, 1 ounce of dark chocolate, or some sugar-free pudding.
    • If you crave something salty, try raw vegetables and hummus, a hard boiled egg with a sprinkling of salt, or celery sticks with peanut butter.

Part 2
Planning & Preparing Healthier Meals

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    Write up a meal plan. If you want to overhaul your diet and cut down on the amount of junk food you consume each day, writing up a meal plan can help you design your new diet (without the junk food!).[7]
    • Write down notes or ideas for one week of meals. Include your breakfast, lunches, dinners and all snacks. Ideally, meals should full you up so you don't need to smack, or, Don't have three big, set meals, have six smallest dishes throughout the day.
    • Be realistic with your meal plan. Preparing a home-cooked meal every day might not work for you. It's OK to include a few meals that are eaten out or on-the-go or where you rely on processed foods.
    • Also jot down notes on which meals you might want to prepare and cook in advance. For example, if you are busy in the evenings, you might want to have dinner ready to go when you get home.
    • Prepare meals ahead of time on the weekend and freeze them. That way they are ready to go or place in a crock pot.
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    Go grocery shopping regularly. One of the best ways to help you cut down on junk food is to stock your home with healthier, less processed foods. If there aren't any junk food snacks at home, you're less likely to indulge in those foods.[8]
    • Farmers markets offer a good selection of fresh produce in season and locally grown.
    • Try to stick to the perimeter of the grocery store. Most of the foods on the outside are more whole, unprocessed foods like: fruits, vegetables, seafood, butcher/deli meats, dairy and eggs.
    • Stay out of the central aisles that contain your favorite junk food snacks. Go for the aisles that contain healthier processed foods like: canned beans and vegetables, canned tuna, nuts and whole grains.
    • Avoid shopping when hungry. When we are hungry, almost everything looks appealing to us. Foods that we would generally be able to avoid become much more tempting and harder to walk away from when we’re hungry.
    • Make a shopping list and carry it with you to the store. Avoid veering from what is on the list.
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    Prepare and cook healthy meals. Cooking your meals at home allows you to control exactly what goes into your foods. You can control the amount of added fat, sugar or salt that's contained in your meal.
    • You can also be sure to add a variety of foods from each food group to help make sure you're consuming a well-balanced diet. Aim to include foods from each food group most days: grains, protein, fruits, vegetables and dairy. This will help ensure you're meeting all your daily nutrient goals.[9]
    • Review cookbooks, cooking magazines or websites to find new recipes that look good to you and may motivate or excite you about cooking at home.
    • If you noted in your meal plan that you'll need some meals ready-to-go, cook those on the weekends or in your free time. If you are planning on consuming them within a week, you can store them in the refrigerator. If you want to make a large quantity or need the food to last longer than a week, store individual portions in a freezer-safe container and freeze until desired.
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    Prepare healthy snacks. Having healthy snacks on-hand can help keep you away from the vending machine and other junk food.[10] Pre-pack snacks to bring them with you to work and keep a stock of healthy items at home as well.
    • To help make snacks more satisfying, include lean protein, a high fiber food, and some healthy fats.[11] Examples include: greek yogurt with fruit and nuts; peanut butter and apple slices; a homemade "protein pack" with nuts, cheese and dried fruit; or hummus with whole grain crackers and raw carrots.
    • If you can, stock your office refrigerator or desk with healthy snack items. At your desk you can keep: individual packages of nuts, shelf stable fruit (like apples), whole grain cracker packs, individual packets of peanut butter or protein bars. If you have access to a refrigerator, you can keep: individual cheese sticks, yogurts, or hummus.
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    Pick better options at restaurants. Many times you just can't pass on eating out or grabbing something a little more processed when you're busy. Although the occasional indulgence in your favorite junk food is OK, be prepared to pick a better or healthier option if stopping for a quick meal or snack is a common occurrence.
    • Many restaurants, especially chain restaurants, offer nutrition information that you can look up online.
    • Junk foods or processed foods are typically higher in calories, higher in fat content and may contain a lot of sodium.[12] Avoid these items and try to choose foods that have a fruit, vegetable and lean protein.
    • If you're passing through a fast food restaurant, try ordering a salad (dressing on the side), grilled chicken sandwich or nuggets, soup or fruit and yogurt parfait.
    • If you're stopping by a convenience store, pick up a low-fat cheese stick, fruit cup, protein bar or hard boiled eggs.
    • In general, try to pick foods that are not: fried or deep fried, battered, or have added sugars.
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    Eat favorite foods in moderation. Part of a normal eating pattern and normal eating behavior is including favorite foods. Again, eliminating them completely is not necessary and may not be realistic for you. Include a small serving of your favorite foods in moderation.
    • You'll need to decide what moderation is for you. It might be getting dessert twice a week or going out for happy hour with friends once a week. Decide what is healthy and reasonable for you.
    • Be aware that multiple indulgences can add up. If you're including a variety of indulgences each week, that could lead to weight gain.
    • Avoid extreme eating behaviors. Cutting down on how much junk food you consume is a great move to help improve your overall health. But you don't necessarily need to cut out your favorite foods completely. Extreme behaviors could cause you to overeat down the road.[13]


  • Plan to make gradual changes to your diet if you are finding it a bit of a challenge at first. Start off with small dietary changes. Eliminate one unhealthy choice while replacing it with a healthier one. Give it a week to get used to and then incorporate another choice into the mix. Continue this process until you reach what you consider to be a satisfactory change.
  • Don’t let frustration cause you to give up. Take a little more time to incorporate healthy dietary changes if it proves to be a bit more difficult than you anticipated. A slow start is better than no start. Just be sure to keep pushing forward.
  • Remember that it is okay to eat junk food occasionally. Just make sure it's in moderation.


  • Always check with your health care provider before starting any type of diet.

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Categories: Nutrition and Lifestyle Eating