When kids are old enough to help themselves to food, they don’t always make the best choices. During the adolescent years, teen appetites increase as their bodies start to need more calories and nutrients. When teens turn to junk food, they deprive their bodies of the essential nutrients they need and fill themselves instead with unhealthy fats, sugars and sodium. Learn about junk food cravings -- and how to help your teen curb them -- to ensure a healthy body and mind.
Why Cravings Occur
Junk food cravings are complex. They are the result of a multitude of factors that culminate in a powerful compulsion that teens and adults alike find very difficult to resist. Sometimes, the chemicals in common junk foods are to blame. Chocolate, for example, contains chemicals that alter a person’s mood and energy and trigger addicting feelings of pleasure, similar to the chemicals found in the Ecstasy drug. Emotions also play a large part in teen cravings for junk food. According to child development experts at the Kids Health website, sad people tend to crave cookies and ice cream, while bored teens crave crunchy and salty foods, such as potato chips and fries.
Effects of Junk Food
While the occasional moderate indulgence in something sweet or salty isn’t detrimental, teenagers who continuously satisfy cravings for junk food put their health at risk. Empty calories from fat and sugar slow kids down and lead to weight gain. Additionally, the excessive amounts of refined sugars and carbohydrates in soda, candy and desserts negatively impact a teen’s performance throughout the day. More than two sodas' worth of sugar can suppress an adolescent’s immune system and make her more susceptible to illness. Refined sugars and carbohydrates also lead to decreased attention and focus, according to the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute website.
One way to control teen cravings for junk food is to limit accessibility to such items and remove unhealthy snacks from the home. Another option is to provide teens with plenty of small, healthy snacks between meals to reduce the urge to grab ready-to-eat junk food from a vending machine or cupboard. Educating teens on the importance of good nutrition and encouraging them to read package labels and make smarter decisions about what they consume can also help kids resist the urge to gorge on junk food.
Promoting Healthy Eating Habits
Replacing junk food with healthier alternatives is the best way to safely satisfy cravings for sweet, salty and crunchy treats. If your teen tends to crave salty, crispy snacks such as potato chips, encourage him to snack on healthy whole-wheat pretzels instead. If sweet, sugary treats are what your teen craves, offer fresh fruit slices instead. Try swapping out rich cakes and desserts for things like creamy yogurt or cheese slices.