Overcoming Food Cravings and Obesity

The junk food junkie. Who doesn’t know one? We all have heard people who laughingly refer to themselves as “junk food junkies” as they dip into a plate of brownies for the third time at a party. But for many it is no joke. To the serious food addict those brownies can be more irresistible than gold.

Many food addicts have a Jekyll and Hyde relationship with food. They make many rules to avoid overeating the rich dainties they constantly crave; rules that they cannot keep.

Although separate disorders, overweight and food addictions are overlapping and related.[1] All food addicts are not overweight, nor are all overweight people food addicts. But poor eating habits become just that—habits. And bad food habits are hard to kick, even though they make you feel bad, drain energy, and cause weight gain. Many people are enslaved by habits they know are harmful to their health, and are looking for simple strategies to break free.

Charles Billington, a professor of medicine and the former president of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, believes that many have become “habituated” to the consumption of high calorie refined foods. “As we develop full understanding of the neuroregulation of appetite, I think the addictive nature of foods will come clear. And I think we will learn that these addictions can develop at various stages of life, in adulthood as well as in childhood. And I think we will learn that they are very, very powerful”.[2]

Research suggests that large concentrations of sweet and fatty processed foods have powerful effects on hormone signals that control appetite. According to Peter Havel, an endocrinologist at the University of California, Davis, the more fat and fructose-laden processed foods you eat, the less effect appetite control hormones have on the body.[3] Havel gives one example: “These hormones help keep your body weight stable. When you drink beverages with lots of fructose the body continues to take in calories, but the hormones are not able to tell the body it is full and to stop eating. Many fast food meals are washed down with a large beverage”.[4]

How much fructose is in a soft drink? A large 64-oz. soda contains 130 grams of fructose. By contrast, an apple contains 13 grams of fructose, a banana has 7, and a peach contains 4.[5] But fruits are not only significantly lower in fructose; they are also loaded with phytochemicals, nutrients, and fiber.

Is it possible for a junk food junkie to change bad eating habits—for good? Is it possible to curb those cravings and cut those calories and still feel satisfied? The answer is Yes! If you are hooked on fast foods, sweets, and high-fat snacks, start by eating more high-fiber plant foods, sugar from whole fruits, and healthful plant fats. Calorie-dense refined foods such as fries and fudge may be tasty, but they do not fill you up and keep you satisfied because of their low fiber content.[6] Replacing junk foods with satisfying high fiber plant foods can help tame over-stimulated palates, curb cravings, control weight, and train taste buds to enjoy the natural flavor of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Simple changes can produce profound results. Fred[7] is a prime example. He could not get through the day without frequently consuming hard candy and soda pop. Before he got out of bed in the morning he would eat a handful of candy he kept stashed by his bedside. He suffered from fatigue, irritability, and had trouble sleeping. The doctors ruled out any specific disorder, so he began to examine his habits, and decided to try just one change.

“I became convinced,” Fred said, “That my problems were due to sugar addiction, and I decided to try something new. I prayed for courage, and rather than reaching for candy first thing in the morning, I grabbed a fresh, crisp apple or peach. When tempted to snack on candy and soda, I chose fresh fruit and water instead. It was hard at first, but very soon I began incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables, salads and whole grains into my meals. I began to enjoy the food and even look forward to it. Before long I no longer had the urge to snack. I feel better, sleep better, and am free from my addiction.”

Eating right is a powerful tool in any health-building program. Breaking free from food addictions and overweight is not about deprivation—it’s really about expansion! A plant-based diet will help you lose unwanted pounds and lose cravings. But you will also gain needed body muscle and mass if you are too thin. You will gain many delicious food choices, gain energy, and gain good health!


[1] Body mass index is a mathematical calculation to determine whether a patient is overweight. BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s body weight in kilograms by their height in meters squared. This number can be misleading because some people are more muscular, and it would not apply to pregnant or lactating women. Being obese and being overweight are not the same condition. A BMI of 30 or more is considered obese and a BMI between 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight.

[2] Shell E. The Hungry Gene. (New York, NY: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002) pp. 226-7.

[3] Peripheral signals conveying metabolic information to the brain: short-term and long-term regulation of food intake and energy homeostasis. Havel P. Exp Biol Med 2001:226(11)963-77.

[4] UPI interview, 2002.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Not his real name.

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Vicki Griffin MPA, MACN

Director of the Lifestyle Matters Health Intervention Series, Director of Health Ministries for the Michigan Conference, and the Editor of Balance magazine and Balanced Living tract series. She has authored numerous books and teaching materials for community health education, including three cookbooks which feature easy, fast, economical and nutritious plant-based recipes. Vicki is a yearly guest professor at the School of Osteopathy at Michigan State University, and has guest lectured on nutrition and lifestyle at Michigan State University Medical School, Cornell University, Loma Linda University Heart Institute, and Andrews University.

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