By Alia Hoyt
"Junk food" is a comprehensive term, and pretty much encompasses anything that adds calories, fat and sugar with few nutrients to back it up. Soda is a big-time culprit, as are salty snacks, many traditionally prepared baked goods, fast food, packaged food... the list goes on and on. The thing is, a treat here or there isn’t the problem. The real issue is the fact that many of us eat junk food on a regular basis -- and that kind of nutritional habit isn't good for our hearts or hips.
Chances are you sometimes feel powerless when faced with your favorite junk foods. Fortunately, following a few key steps can help you reduce your intake of junk -- and turn your long-term health prospects around.
Do any of these excuses sound familiar?
But... I don’t eat that much junk. Try keeping a food journal. I did -- and very quickly started to see some pretty scary patterns emerge (such as consistently exceeding my daily recommended allowance of stuff like sodium and fat calories). There are many free websites and apps out there (such as myfitnesspal.com) that will do all of the calculations for you. Talk about an eye-opener!
But... junk food tastes so much better than the healthy stuff. Although you might like sugar and salt-filled goodies now, you weren’t born that way. “Our taste for salt doesn’t develop until six months of age,” says Michael Moss, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for The New York Times and author of Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. So, since it’s a learned taste, it’s no surprise that you can unlearn it, too!
But... I don’t know where to start. According to Moss, it only takes about six weeks of healthy eating to ditch your dependency on junk food, especially salt. Many people swear by the Paleo diet, which encourages eating the way we were naturally intended to, with lots of grains, veggies, fruits and meat, and far less processed stuff. Similar whole-food approaches, such as 100 Days of Real Food, are also very effective and will get you on track to cleaner eating.
But... I don’t have time to make food from scratch. First, there are about a zillion healthy recipes out there, and many of them are relatively easy to make. In fact, I’ve found during my own trials that the healthiest meals tend to involve fewer ingredients and a shorter prep time. Plus, people who go to the effort of making their meals tend to have healthier habits over time.
But... I'm not ready to give up junk food completely. It's often better to practice moderation instead of totally exiling less healthy food from your life. “The bottom line is to avoid doing anything too extreme,” says Moss. “It’ll work for a while, but the temptation to revert back to previous habits is going to be really strong.” Enjoy the occasional indulgence, be it a milkshake, frozen pizza or cupcake. Don’t beat yourself up for it, but don’t go overboard, either!
“It takes a while to get to the point where not eating the stuff will seem better to you than eating it,” explains Moss. Keep the faith, though. With persistence, you can break your junk-food habit.