Sometimes what we don’t want to hear is what we need to hear the most. Not surprisingly, the topic of junk food elicits strong reactions from people.
Many of us tiptoe around overeating and obesity, not wanting to offend anyone. Being overweight is no party – losing weight can be a major struggle and most people know it’s bad for your health. It’s important to be supportive and positive for people who are trying to turn it around and need encouragement. So tiptoeing serves a purpose.
Yet the consequences of overeating and an unhealthy diet are a crisis that begs for an in-your-face wake-up call. Over 35 percent of U.S. adults and approximately 17% of children and adolescents are obese . And the numbers are growing. The scariest statistic? This may be the first generation in which most parents of obese children outlive their children .
That’s why I’m not a believer in tiptoeing around unhealthy eating habits and overeating. Giving kids Doritos, chips, candy, and donuts as “snacks” sets up a challenging future – bad eating habits, weight gain, possible health problems, and even premature death. We have become too comfortable giving our kids junk food: soda, juices, sugary cereals, ice cream, cookies, French fries, nachos, pizza, fast-food hamburgers, or any food or drink that is high in fat and/or salt. And we model the junk food habit further by eating these things ourselves.
It’s easy to rationalize eating this way – it’s just a snack, not a whole meal. It’s only a small bag! It’s tiding them over, alleviating low blood sugar, giving them energy. It’s fast, convenient, easy, and cheap. Plus it has “real cheese” and is “gluten free.” It’s really ok, so get off my back!
But a two-ounce bag of Cheetos has 320 calories and 20 grams of fat. Considering that the recommended daily allowance of fat is 44 to 78 grams based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, eating two ounces of Cheetos would equal at least half a day’s allowance of fat grams. And chances are that you eat junk food for snacks, your other meals are also high in fat.
Is this to say you should never eat junk food and sweets? Who am I to say? It’s your body and your children; you are the one making choices about your health and that of your kids. One serving here and there won’t negatively impact your health, especially if you eat healthy food and exercise most of the time. But for many Americans, it’s not just occasional junk-food eating – it’s a way of life. Obesity is not caused solely by junk food, but reducing empty calories can help prevent weight gain.
The effects of eating unhealthy foods regularly do accumulate in your body. Fat accumulates as extra pounds, making it harder for blood to flow through your arteries and increasing your risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Excessive sodium chloride (salt) found in junk food causes strain on your kidneys and a rising blood pressure. Junk food is processed with harmful, synthetic chemicals – every time you eat junk food, you’re missing out on fiber, vitamins, and minerals your body needs. The processed ingredients that prolong shelf life and make junk food cheap to manufacture are all at your expense.
How do you break the junk food habit? First learn what constitutes a healthy diet. Once you are familiar with healthier choices, you can change what foods you buy at the store. Planning ahead just a little means no more buying food on the go from convenience stores and fast-food drive-throughs. You’ll understand that a breakfast with protein and complex carbs will keep you full and give you long-lasting energy. You’ll be sure to have healthy snacks on hand, such as a baggie of roasted almonds and a banana, especially when you leave the house. You’ll bring your lunch to work with foods you cooked the weekend before and froze, such as chicken, vegetables, and pasta. And when you’re eating healthier, you won’t have the common “afternoon crash” – you’ll be eating satiating foods regularly so this won’t happen. Dinner will become a smaller meal because you’ve been eating consistently throughout the day and aren’t starving.
Now it’s your turn to speak up: Are you one of the few who eats junk food with no weight gain or ill effects? Have you ever had trouble reining in the junk food habit?