Can eating healthy actually make us stop craving foods that are not so healthy? The short answer is—yes! Just ask Zac Efron. (And, you know, science.)
Efron, for those who don’t know, rose to the acting scene in the late 2000s with the lead role in “High School Musical.” Since then, he’s made quite the name for himself—and his abs—with films like “Neighbors,” “Neighbors 2” and now “Baywatch.”
One look at Efron in “Baywatch” and it’s not hard to see high school is officially over. It’s also impossible to picture him doing anything other than eating healthy and pumping iron. He’s been showing off his healthy eats—and his abs—(have we mentioned his abs?) on Twitter and Instagram during filming the last year or so and says eating this way actually made him stop wanting junk food.
“After a while your body stops craving junk food and you look forward to these meals,” he told Men’s Fitness. “You go, ‘Holy cow, I want kale and vinaigrette shredded with beets and a little bit of sweet potato!'”
Efron is correct—eating healthy for a sustained amount of time can actually turn us off from craving unhealthy foods. This doesn’t mean choosing salad over a burger for lunch today will make you not want Oreos though. We’re talking about a period of time—like weeks or months.
“There’s science that supports why the cravings minimize, and there are studies that support that when you start eating healthier, you start craving healthier foods,” Tanya Zuckerbrot, M.S., R.D., founder of the F-Factor Diet told SELF Magazine.
To understand how this is possible, here’s the gist of how food cravings work in the first place:
First, it’s important to understand that hunger and cravings are not the same thing. Hunger comes from your body, cravings come from your mind. Second, why do we tend to crave things like chocolate instead of, say, spinach? Simple—foods high in fat and calories release chemicals into the bloodstream that make us, even if for only a moment, happy. It’s euphoric and is actually the same brain response one would get if they tried cocaine (but, obviously, you’d be better off sticking to the chocolate).
“You then become addicted to that feeling, so every time you eat it you want to eat more,” Gina Sam, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Gastrointestinal Motility Center at Mount Sinai Hospital, told SELF.
It is possible to kick those cravings in a few weeks, however, by doing just what Efron did—stick to a healthy diet. The taste buds are another helper when it comes to cravings—they actually only have a lifespan of 8-12 days, meaning if you skip the candy for two weeks, most of your taste buds won’t even “remember” what it was like to eat it.
You’ll probably experience withdrawal at first, but once you’re past the unwanted side effects, you likely won’t find yourself eating all the ice cream—or even wanting it (OK, maybe you’ll still want it a little).
As for Efron, this plan seems to be working just fine.
“If the zombie apocalypse happened right now,” he says, “I’d definitely be able to defend myself.”
On that note, if there’s ever an apocalypse, you know where to find us!