Does Junk Food Fit Into Your Diet?

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 [1]. And the numbers are growing. The scariest statistic? This may be the first generation in which most parents of obese children outlive their children [2].

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?

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  1. Great post!!! When I was 250+ I ate a ton of junk food. Cookies, ice cream, chips….LOVED IT ALL.

    Now? 110 pounds lighter? My “junk food” is more like the bi-monthly cheeseburger or pizza outing. I try to live my life in moderation. I eat chips, but not in the volumes I used to. I eat ice cream, but only once in awhile. A lot of the junk food just doesn’t interest me anymore now that I eat healthy!
    Lisa Eirene recently posted..Swimming with Mr. SpeedoMy Profile

    • You’re an example of someone who really has it down Lisa! You and I live by the 80/20 rule – eat healthy 80% of the time and the other 20% enjoy. And I’m with you – after awhile junk food isn’t all that interesting.

  2. I am not a junk food fan – I could not eat it after I lost the weight – ate it when I was fat…. I really never have been able to eat whatever I wanted & not gain weight like some. I lost in high school BUT had to learn more in my 20’s & 30’s about eating healthy the right way… although I was not eating junk food. At this age – it is hard to keep the weight off eating clean! 😉

    BUT, I do eat my treat cookies on the weekend. I plan for that & I enjoy with no guilt! 🙂 Pic of one of those cookies on my post today!

    I do think we have to be mindful with our kids & family. They learn in the house so in order to keep them healthy, we need to be a good example.
    Jody – Fit at 54 recently posted..Gratitude Monday & Life; Twitter Chat Tonight on SuperNutrientsMy Profile

  3. I’m dating myself by saying so, but when I was a kid, junk food was truly a rare treat. Once in a blue moon, my mom would buy us a six-pack of 7-Up, and maybe three times a year we kids would be taken to a fast food joint called Dog ‘n’ Suds for a hot dog and a root-beer float. That was truly a big deal. The rest of the time we ate mom’s healthy home-cooked meals.

    I guess the point is that junk food—although it isn’t particularly “special”—should be rare. Blows my mind to see the chips, candy bars, and so on in other people’s grocery carts. I pity the kids who grow up in those households.
    Mary C. Weaver, CSCS recently posted..How badly do you want it?My Profile

    • Ha!!! Well, I’m right there with you Mary. We visited my grandmother every summer and one of the treats we got was an occasional Coke. None at home, that’s for sure. We never ate fast food and restaurants were a rarity! I too am shocked when I see the kinds of snacks brought to the pool and park. It’s sad what has become acceptable.

  4. Love, love, love this post!!!! This is so true and it took me so many years even AFTER losing my weight to realize it!
    Sheri – Motivation for Health & Fitness recently posted..Type 1 Feeling ShaftedMy Profile

  5. Suzanne, i really like the fact that in addition to alerting people about the problem with junk food’s tremendous impact on your body, you also start educating readers about what constitutes a healthy diet. That lack of knowledge is precisely why someone will react to marketers claims about whole grains, etc and feel virtuous when they eat a pack of sunchips or doritos, not realizing the processed crap is still bad for them. Personally, junk food gives me a low energy hangover worst than tequila! 🙂
    Shira recently posted..What’s eating at the movies?My Profile

    • Me too, my stomach hates junk. You’re right about people needing to be educated. Learning about proper nutrition starts at home, and sadly, it’s today’s kids who will be clueless about nutrition when they grow up.

  6. One of my biggest pet peeves the last two years while my daughter was in preschool was the snacks that other parents would provide for the children. We all took turns bringing snacks, they had to be pre-packaged to make it easier for the teachers. I always asked my DD what she ate for snack. Cheetos, cookies, chips. I usually provided small boxes of raisins. Kids need real food to help their brains absorb all that they are learning & to have the energy to play. This is a hot topic for me!
    Heather @ Not a DIY Life recently posted..Finding a New GrooveMy Profile

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who has a hot button for this issue Heather. I too have been incredulous at the junk distributed to little kids at every holiday and birthdays. My daughter’s 2nd grade teacher, who is amazing, unfortunately gave the kids candy on a regular basis. It’s ingrained in the culture I’m afraid, but change CAN happen!

  7. I am still guilty of indulging in bad eating…HOWEVER, not nearly as much as I used to. Probably down by 70%.

    Fruit instead of vending machine in the afternoons..

    The kid is still rebelling against the lack of ‘snacks’ in the house…
    ragemichelle recently posted..Pasta Salad and Backstage RidersMy Profile

  8. Great post! I have clients who insist on keeping the junk around “for the kids”. I say if it’s not good for you then how is to good for them?

  9. Amy Smallwood says:

    I used to be quite bad at the junk food habit. When I moved out on my own I kept Mountain Dew in my house all the time, I drank it with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Fast food was cheaper and even though I didn’t think I ate it much, in reality it accounted for half of my meals. A couple of times a week I’d grab breakfast on the way to work, then get lunch at a fast food place, and sometimes also dinner. So at least two or three days a week, all three meals were fast food.

    Now – I’ve cut out fast food almost entirely – but McDonalds/Burger King/Hardees are totally out of the picture. I drink soda about once a month and sometimes even less. I cook at home 5 out of 7 days a week – on the weekends it’s usually lunch that I eat out, the other weekend meals are home cooked. I’ve been doing this faithfully since about Thanksgiving and although I’ve only lost six pounds, blood work shows m-a-j-o-r improvements. I’ve made a point to only eat REAL food. It’s alarming to think of what I was eating before.

    • That’s a real testimonial to how cutting the junk works, Amy! Your awareness is paying off. I remember in my 20’s and had high cholesterol… I was shocked when my doctor told me I shouldn’t be eating fast food burgers lol. I told her I wasn’t going to stop. But it wasn’t until I cleaned up my diet (and cut down on red meat) that the cholesterol went down. Seriously, I cannot understand the argument saying the type of calories doesn’t matter. Blood work doesn’t lie, and neither do energy levels and body composition. Nice job!!

  10. Wonderful post! A lot of people doesn’t bother to give any attention to their diet that well. They just want to eat good food as they know it, but honestly they also got an intake of not so good food like junk food. It’s really an unhealthy food, got it cut in the foods I eat. Thanks for posting, very nice article! 🙂

  11. I’ve found that sometimes it helps to allow yourself one “junkfood” snack per day if you are someone that has trouble sticking to a new routine. This of course doesn’t work if you are someone who slides from 1 cookie to 2 cookies… to 3 cookies… etc.

  12. Let me pose another question. What is healthier: when a person loses weight by eating junk food in controlled quantities or fails to lose weight because he can’t stick to a strict regime of eating healthy foods?
    Evilcyber recently posted..The Amazing Japanese Diet GogglesMy Profile

    • This question comes up a lot. You can lose weight on a 100% junk food diet or a healthy diet. What causes weight loss is when the calories ingested are fewer than the calories burned. My take on this is that if a person wants to slowly kill themselves with toxic food, that is their decision! At least they will be slim doing it ;). I actually have seen this in practice; the person in question was thin but had a terrible diet. The only symptom he was showing was low energy, but over time the effects of saturated and trans fats and sodium affect arteries, blood pressure, and cancer risks.

  13. I am an all or nothing kind of eater. Portion control doesn’t exist in my world.

    And as a result, I don’t even think about including a little bit of junk food in my diet. If I want to keep eating healthy, I have to surround myself with healthy foods and keep the junk out of the house.

    I’m sure there is some sort of mental pathology at play here, but this system works for me…and I’m sticking with it

    • If it’s a pathology, it’s surely a common one. If only more people recognized that having it around creates temptation and “want,” companies selling junk food might not be doing so well.

  14. I had a hard time breaking my junk food habit and the cravings! You have to be committed of you want to reach your goal. Eating healthy and avoiding junk food made me feel lighter and healthier.
    Nancy recently rated photography schoolsMy Profile

    • “Healthier and lighter” really does sum it up, doesn’t it? I think it’s possible (and probable) that we can actually forget what it’s like to feel this way. Nice job!

  15. Hi Suzanne,

    I have really been enjoying your blog, so I thought I would take a moment and let you know!
    You are sharing knowledge and facts about nutrition and exercise in a very interesting and positive way! Awesome! As a new blogger myself, I have definitely picked up a few tips. I would love for you to check out my blog as well!
    Have a wonderful weekend!

    Tara recently posted..The Food JournalMy Profile

  16. Great Post Suzanne- I am a big believer in allowing 10% for food that insn’t perfect in a day (thats by calories not volume!) It takes the pressure off so you are not obsessing about what you cant have all day!

    Having a “guilt free” day once a week can also really help as well!
    Vix- Miss Fitness Life recently posted..How to Eat CleanMy Profile

    • I like that approach. I’ve never consciously called it 90/10 or keep official track but that’s exactly what I do and I know others use that philosophy. It’s the perfect way to allow for the inevitable times when we do indulge while keep our healthy lifestyle. Thanks for stopping by!

  17. It’s the dosage that makes the poison. Four years ago, I lost around 35 lbs by counting calories. On some days, I saved them up for a bigger meal in the evening, which allowed me to have a cheeseburger, or, by Jupiter, even an entire tuna pizza.

    Which means I don’t really believe in the concept of “healthy” or “unhealthy” food, but in a conscious way of handling what and how much we eat.
    evilcyber recently posted..Workout Tips For Summer HeatMy Profile

    • Tuna pizza?? Lol. It’s an issue that is a bit divisive. Some believe the type of calories you eat is important, some the quantity. On a weight loss level, it’s the quantity that matters. On a nutritional level, it’s also the type. While I’m not a believer in demonizing food, studies show that people who eat high-fat diets eat more calories. Keeping the fat content down is a proven way to lose weight and keep it off (change of lifestyle), whereas research shows that other diets all have the same long-term effects in terms of weight loss – same rate of losing, same rate of regain. I talk more about it here:

  18. I cant say junk food “fits” into my diet but it sure makes it better!

  19. This post is music to my ears! Everyone seems to have a reason to justify feeding kids junk food and it’s refreshing to hear someone stand firm against the onslaught that’s happening to our children’s health.

    • I appreciate your support Casey! At this point it’s still going against the tide to call out junk food. People are surprised by it – we’ve been brainwashed I’m afraid!

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