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Ep. 06 – Why Junk Food Might Not Be As Bad As You Think

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A photo of James on an orange background with the words Vegetarian Health and Longevity

Here’s the sixth podcast of Vegetarian Health and Longevity from Hurry The Food Up and Sports Nutritionist James LeBaigue.

Listen to the podcast on your favourite provider or click play below.

Uncovering the Truth About Junk Food

Junk food. It gets its name for a reason, right? It’s something that isn’t good for you and it doesn’t have any place in your diet.

It’s linked with obesity and a variety of health problems and there are attempts to either ban it, ban advertising or at the very least to put a heavier tax on it.

But what if it wasn’t quite as simple as that? What if the problem isn’t actually with junk food but something else which is much more important?

In this episode we’re going to uncover the truth about junk food and how it isn’t quite as bad as it seems.

You’re Not Alone

I’ve heard so many people mention about their struggles with junk food. How it’s caused them to become overweight, how it’s created bad eating habits for them or how they feel hooked on it and unable to stop themselves from eating it.

I had a client who came to me asking for help with their nutrition, with the goal of improving the quality of their diet and to lose weight.

In their mind, junk food was having a significant impact on their ability to follow the diet that they wanted to and was derailing their attempts at losing weight.

Defining Junk Food

Before that, what does junk food even mean?

If you look in dictionaries, you’ll find some variation of these two definitions:

Food that is high in calories but low in nutritional content.
Something that is appealing or enjoyable but of little or no real value.

Now I’d kind of agree with this, but for me it lacks the thing that is way more important, and that’s context.

People tend to generalise food into two camps: healthy and unhealthy, or good and bad.

Context Matters

Instead, I’d suggest food be seen as somewhere on a spectrum of how nutritious it is.

So, yes, some food like typical junk food might not be that nutritious, because it’ll probably be lacking in vitamins and minerals, not much fibre or protein.

A really good example of what I’m talking about are 2 people who lost weight with very different diets.

Understanding Cravings

Lots of people feel bad when they eat junk food, or at least they do a couple of minutes after finishing their last mouthful.

Regret, unhappiness, frustration. I’ve heard this all too often from clients who have this very negative aftermath from eating junk food.

Incorporating Junk Food

But it’s not all bad, and I don’t want it to seem like I’m just being negative about it, because as we’ll explore, I think there are some real positives to including “junk food” in your diet.

At the beginning of this episode we broadly defined what junk food is, but I want to go a little deeper on that because this is what really opens this topic up.

Context-Specific Junk Food

And what I’d love to do is propose the idea of context-specific junk food. Ha. Sounds so catchy.

But really, understanding that junk food is not inherently bad and it’s how it fits in context that dictates where on the sliding scale of healthy and unhealthy that it fits.

Overcoming Cravings

But there is a reason why junk food is difficult to stop eating and some people have a real struggle with stopping themselves eating a lot of it, and a chocolate bar becomes a daily chocolate bar, or maybe even two, and then it’s either stopping them from achieving their goals, like weight loss, or instead making them put on weight.

If that’s the case, what strategies can you employ to help you get past this?

Strategies to Overcome Cravings

One of them is what I mentioned earlier, about incorporating them into your diet and accepting it. Again, if possible, this shouldn’t be a daily thing, but it’s about understanding yourself and giving yourself some leniency and time to change.

Habits aren’t changed overnight, and instead they’re formed over weeks and months.

By accepting the struggles and allowing yourself a bit of freedom to enjoy it and start to follow healthier habits you’re going to reduce the risk of binge eating and negative cycles later on.

Making Simple Swaps

Then I’d look at what it is you’re eating and see if there are any simple swaps you could make. So for example, swapping full sugar soda for diet soda.

Lots of people get hung up on this and say that artificial sweeteners are bad for you and that’s a podcast episode for another day, but the short story here is that in randomised controlled trials investigating the weight loss effects of 0 sugar soda drinks they are clearly beneficial.

So if this weight loss is your goal, this might be an easy swap and win that you can make with your diet.

Including Satiety-Boosting Foods

Another option is to include high protein, high fibre, high satiety foods in your diet.

High protein and high fibre foods increase satiety, which means you’ll feel fuller and more satisfied when you eat them.

This should then reduce the risk of cravings and help you to stay on track with your diet.

Journaling and Tracking

Another tool which I encourage clients to practice is to journal and track their feelings in relation to food.

Writing down your emotions and your stressors in a diary can be incredibly powerful, because getting it out of your head and onto paper allows you to start processing it and really understanding it.

It’s one of those things that, if you really want to get to grips with it and improve your relationship with food, you have actually acknowledge, and for a lot of people that can be scary.

But often once they start journaling it’s not as bad as it first seems, and they can start to see clear links between their emotions and their food habits.

Then, they can start to take steps to change this and take control back into their own hands.

Implementing Distraction Techniques

Finally, it’s worth having a strategy at the time when cravings for junk food are at their highest and you don’t want to eat it.

Have a fallback method that you can follow until the cravings pass. So this will be something you physically or mentally do until the craving passes.

For example, doing some painting, doing a crossword, reading your favourite book, something that allows you to zone in on something else and lets you break that craving cycle.

A lot of cravings are habitual and being able to change that pattern is really important, but once you do then it becomes so much easier.

Conclusion

Remember that the most important thing here is context. Don’t just demonise a food because of its label, like junk food.

There’s way more nuance to it than that, and what your overall diet is like is far more influential in terms of how healthy it is.

If this episode has been useful to you then please give it a quick rating on whatever podcast provider you’re listening on.

It’ll only taking a moment but it’ll help it to spread to more people and help them improve their relationship with food.

Studies used in this podcast and article:

Fructose Co‐ingestion to Increase Carbohydrate Availability in Athletes

High-Quality Carbohydrates and Physical Performance

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