How to Eat Junk Food: A Guide for Conflicted Humans

Many individuals will inform you that to be wholesome, you’ve gotten to cancel sure meals.

The offending edibles: Those brightly-packaged, cartoon-endorsed, highly-refined, ultra-delicious meals typically present in heart aisles of the grocery retailer.

According to widespread opinion, these “junk foods” include a lot of energy, however hardly any of the stuff the human physique wants for good well being.

And but:

This isn’t a “don’t eat these terrible foods” story.

That’s as a result of…

  • Delicious meals serves a function, even when it comprises little to no dietary worth.
  • Low-quality meals can truly be good for you.
  • 100% abstinence isn’t crucial (and normally backfires).

Those statements may appear controversial. That’s why we’re going to again them up—utilizing what we’ve discovered from teaching over 100,000 shoppers, and a few enjoyable charts.

Plus, we’ll reveal a 5-step course of that may allow you to savor the meals you’re keen on, with out guilt—and with out harming your well being.

First, a disclaimer.

We don’t just like the phrase “junk food.”

Junk meals isn’t rubbish.

As you’ll see beneath, meals can supply near-zero dietary worth and nonetheless enhance some points of general well being.

Plus, referring to meals as “junk” creates a “good food” vs. “bad food” dichotomy that does extra hurt than good. (Read extra: We’ve Told 100,00 Clients That There Are No Bad Foods)

We use the phrase “junk food” just because that’s how individuals discuss in actual life.

Our use of this phrase doesn’t imply we expect these meals are unhealthy, mistaken, or nugatory. They’re something however.

Let’s discover out why.

Three good causes to embrace junk meals

Although there are exceptions on the market—the individuals who truly favor carrots sticks to BBQ chips—the overwhelming majority of us delight within the ultra-flavorful, typically neon-colored world of processed meals.

This article isn’t for the carrot-eaters. (Y’all are doing superior. You’re freaks, however you’re superior—and don’t want to change a factor.)

This article is for the bulk, who love these meals but additionally typically expertise an inner battle round them: On the one hand, they style SO good; however, you don’t need to damage your well being.

Our pitch: If you’re keen on junk meals, you CAN embody it in your eating regimen, with out feeling responsible or worrying that it’ll damage your well being.

We’ve obtained three the reason why.

Reason #1: You’ll seemingly eat junk meals anyway.

If you’ve ever mentioned, “That’s it. I’m never eating this stuff again!” you most likely assumed your future would look one thing just like the Zero-Junk Fantasy.

Graphic showing an X/Y axis. X equals time and Y equals junk eaten. Using pink donuts, the graphic shows that people mistakenly think that saying no to junk food will automatically lead to 100% abstinence.

In actuality, aiming for 100% self-restraint typically goes extra just like the Screw It” Cycle beneath.

You say you’ll by no means once more eat donuts with pink frosting. Then you eat one. That leads to, “Screw it! Give me all the donuts!” At some level (maybe January 1, or any given Monday) you attempt once more with a brand new declaration of abstinence, and the cycle continues.

Graphic showing an X/Y axis. X equals time and Y equals junk eaten. The graph shows that trying to never consume junk food often leads to somewhat regular gorging of junk food, in a vicious cycle.

Imagine how issues would possibly change in the event you ate half a pink-frosted donut regularly, and didn’t really feel responsible about it. In different phrases, you welcomed somewhat bliss into your life, every single day.

Graphic showing an X/Y axis. X equals time and Y equals junk eaten. It shows that eating a small serving of your favorite foods regularly can help prevent you from overdoing it.

As you may see, if you eat your favourite meals repeatedly and deliberately, you’ll seemingly devour much less of them than if you eat quite a bit, then none, then quite a bit, then none. (Plus, you’ll really feel quite a bit much less spun out and defeated.)

For most individuals, together with a little bit of what you’re keen on repeatedly truly helps to curb cravings and really feel extra glad.

However, you realize your self finest.

If a sure meals makes you’re feeling completely out-of-control—you’ve gotten hassle managing your portion, or really feel mentally and/or emotionally “checked out” whereas consuming it—generally it’s simpler to abstain from it utterly, a minimum of for a time period.

(If your consuming behaviors typically really feel compulsive and hard-to-control, try: Food addiction: Why it happens, and 3 ways to get help)

Reason #2: Junk meals received’t cease you from progressing towards your well being objectives.

You don’t want to eat completely 100% of the time to make progress.

(In reality, aiming for perfection normally backfires due to Reason #1.)

From teaching over 100,000 shoppers, we’ve discovered that whereas there’s no “magic” proportion, usually all you want to enhance well being, athletic efficiency, and physique composition is to:

Eat a eating regimen composed of about 70 to 80 p.c nutrient-dense minimally-processed meals.

And that’s your finish aim.

(If that guideline sounds unrealistic, you may enhance your well being by simply barely tipping the ratio towards extra minimally-processed meals—wherever you’re ranging from.)

Even in the event you’re attempting to turn out to be your healthiest and fittest ever, you by no means have to purpose for 100% “virtuous” (a.okay.a. no treats ever).

That’s as a result of as meals restriction goes up, so can different issues corresponding to meals obsession, anxiousness, and disordered consuming.

For a visible, try the graphic beneath.

A graphic showing three plates of food. The "zero whole foods" plate shows a supersized fast food meal. The "mostly whole foods" plate shows a small burger, big salad, handful of fries, and three squares of chocolate. The "100% whole foods plate" shows salmon, a big mesclun salad and fruit. The continuum shows that as food gets progressively healthier, anxiety goes up. As food gets less strict, anxiety goes down.

Due to the steep prices, we solely advocate extremely restrictive diets for shoppers who’re ready for the tradeoffs.

These individuals—the professional athletes, physique rivals, and celebrities amongst us—typically earn their residing primarily based on how their our bodies look and carry out. (And additionally have a tendency to be surrounded by individuals who assist them make all of it occur.)

Even so, our professional shoppers solely sometimes attain the 90 to 99 p.c mark—and sometimes solely throughout the time main up to a contest, occasion, or function.

Then they shift to a extra sustainable strategy.

(Want proof that perfection isn’t required to progress? Read: Nearly 1 million data points show what it really takes to lose fat)

Reason #3: Reasonable quantities of junk meals can increase well being.

It’s true that consuming excessive quantities of low-quality meals seemingly worsens your bodily well being.


Your bodily well being solely makes up part of your general well being.

As the graphic beneath reveals, your relationships, sense of which means and function, psychological readability, emotional wellbeing, and surrounding setting spherical it out.

At PN, we refer to these intersecting points of wellbeing as deep health. While sure meals in sure quantities seemingly hurt some points of deep well being, they might truly enhance others.

(If that is complicated, we promise it’ll make extra sense in about 30 seconds.)

To perceive how this works:

Think of the deep well being dimensions as a battery pack.Graphic depiction of six deep health dimensions shown as batteries: Social, Existential, Mental, Physical, Emotional, and Environmental

▶ Some selections and experiences cost some batteries; others drain them.

▶ If you cost greater than you drain, you’re feeling nice.

▶ If you drain greater than you cost, issues occur. Maybe you develop a well being difficulty, wrestle to get away from bed, or simply really feel type of “blah.”

Too a lot junk meals over time can drain your bodily well being battery.Graphic depiction of six deep health dimensions shown as batteries (Social, Existential, Mental, Physical, Emotional, and Environmental), showing that the physical battery gets drained by too much junk food.

Depending on how a lot you devour, low high quality meals may also convey on mind fog and sluggishness, draining your psychological battery. And this typically leads to emotions of guilt, disgrace, and frustration, draining your emotional battery too.Graphic depiction of six deep health dimensions shown as batteries (Social, Existential, Mental, Physical, Emotional, and Environmental), showing that too much junk food can drain your physical health as well as your mental and emotional health.HOWEVER… in the event you transfer repeatedly, sleep nicely, handle your stress, and heart the vast majority of your eating regimen round lean proteins, veggies, fruits and different minimally-processed carbs, and wholesome fat, you may hold these bodily, psychological, and emotional well being batteries fairly nicely powered up.Graphic depiction of six deep health dimensions shown as batteries (Social, Existential, Mental, Physical, Emotional, and Environmental), showing that healthy eating and exercise can help to charge your health batteries, especially your physical health battery.You will help reduce the damaging results of junk meals by sustaining general good well being habits.

But right here’s one thing most individuals miss: Junk meals can truly cost different batteries—assuming you devour it deliberately.

By deliberately, we imply:

You select to eat the meals on function (not simply because it’s there), with pleasure and contentment (relatively than guilt), in an quantity that aligns along with your general well being objectives, and after weighing and accepting the tradeoffs.

Do all of that and also you would possibly see an improve in…

Social well being in the event you devour the meals with a good friend or liked one

Existential well being if that yumminess alights your soul with pleasure—and doesn’t make you’re feeling responsible (cookie dough for the soul, anybody?)

Emotional well being if small, intentional indulging helps you’re feeling content material, relaxed, and glad (relatively than disadvantaged and, finally, resentful)

The end result: that ice cream tour may very well increase general well being (even when it doesn’t straight profit bodily well being).Graphic depiction of six deep health dimensions shown as batteries (Social, Existential, Mental, Physical, Emotional, and Environmental), showing that connecting with a friend can help charge up your health, even if you're eating ice cream while doing it.

Want to guarantee your favourite meals energy your well being batteries extra than they drain them? Use this 5-step course of.

Step 1: Decide whether or not the advantages are well worth the tradeoffs.

Think about your favourite treats—and the way they have an effect on your deep well being.

Then ask your self:

Is this meals price it?

It would possibly not be if, as well as to draining your bodily well being, the meals additionally drains your:

  • Emotional well being (since you really feel ashamed and responsible)
  • Social well being (as a result of that disgrace causes you to retreat to a lonely parking zone or hidden nook of your own home to eat)

On the opposite hand, the meals would possibly completely be price it if it provides which means to your life, is a part of a social ritual, and/or helps you deal with stress (together with different adaptive coping expertise and methods).

Only you can determine.

After desirous about the professionals and cons, make an intentional alternative to both embody the meals (or not).

Step 2: Notice and identify any negativity.

Let’s say you’ve determined to embody these crunchy, cheezy snacks in your dietary repertoire.

Then you hear it: A voice in your head bellowing, ‘NOOOOO! DON’T TOUCH THE ORANGE DUST! BAAAD!’

And but, two minutes after you’ve scolded your self like a disobedient pet, you’re up to your forearms in a high quality layer of sticky orange powder.

Despite its insistence, that judging, bellowing voice isn’t so efficient.

Instead of scaring us into doing the suitable factor, that voice normally simply provokes us to do the other:

Eat extra.


Well, for one, nobody likes being instructed “No.”

A large, scary, finger-wagging “NO” causes your inside teenager to insurgent and eat the entire bag as a substitute.

Or, it causes you to really feel so ashamed that you just shove a bunch of meals in your mouth for consolation—typically in secret away from the judgment of others.

To work with this voice and the emotions it provokes, attempt a easy method referred to as “notice and name.”

How to do it

Noticing means paying consideration to your ideas, emotions, and actions.


  • What are you doing… proper now?
  • What are you considering… proper now?
  • What’s round you… proper now?

Naming means you describe the state of affairs to your self.

When you discover and identify damaging ideas about your meals selections, it’d sound like this:

“I hear the ‘this is bad’ voice in my head right now. Noticing that. I’m also feeling kind of ashamed and in a rush to eat the whole thing and get it over with.”

Awareness provides you time to reply.

From there, you may consciously determine what to do subsequent.

Maybe you crunch away anyway.

Or perhaps you simply sit with the voice, and see if something modifications.

For instance, in the event you sit with it lengthy sufficient, that voice that originally appeared so offended would possibly shift right into a voice that’s extra scared and anxious:

“I’m just afraid that if you eat too much, you’ll get some terrible disease.”

If you sit with it additional, that voice could reveal a deep sense of self-love and care:

“All I really want is for you to be happy and healthy. I’m just looking out for you.”

And that’s a a lot simpler feeling to work with.

Step 3: Set up guardrails.

Impulsive consuming typically goes one thing like this:

“Ooooh, Sally brought homemade brownies!”

[Cue zombie-like binge]

Chances are, you stroll away from that type of expertise with a yucky feeling—and crumbs in your face.

Guardrails will help you navigate tempting alternatives with some management, so you may rein in these impulsive experiences.

To set them up, use a framework we educate our shoppers. It’s referred to as the 3S framework—S stands for techniques, constructions, and schedules.

(We know that sounds about as thrilling as a visit to a paper clip manufacturing facility, however belief us, this can be a golden framework that may make any aim extra achievable. Stick with us.)

Design a junk meals system

Systems are practices and rituals that assist align your actions along with your intentions and objectives.

To arrange a system to make intentional consuming simpler, you would possibly ask your self:

What will make it simpler to eat deliberately—and more durable to eat impulsively?

Maybe you…

  • Do a weekly grocery run and/or weekly meal prep to have wholesome meals accessible and ready-to-eat.
  • Buy household dimension baggage of snacks, then re-portion them into particular person serving containers. Or, solely purchase pre-portioned snack sizes of those meals (e.g. 100-calorie snack packs).
  • Consume your favourite low-quality meals after your largest meal, so that you’re much less seemingly to overeat these meals from sheer starvation.

Add some construction

Structures are the environments that include us, and form our habits. They embody our properties, workplaces, and different locations we go.

To create an setting that helps conscious consuming, ask your self:

What wants to be round me to assist me eat with intention?

Maybe you determine to:

  • Stock your kitchen with wholesome meals that you just like, is straightforward to eat, and is seen. For instance, contemporary fruit in a basket on the counter.
  • Turn your private home right into a “safe zone” (with restricted tempting meals) so that you don’t succumb to impulsive consuming if you’re having a foul day. (And hold these tempting meals out of sight.)
  • Take the lengthy route to the lavatory at work, each to get in additional steps in addition to to keep away from seeing a coworker’s sweet bowl.

Schedule it

Schedules create a time-specific “container” for sure behaviors, in order that they don’t bleed into your life 24/7.

To assist make junk meals extra intentional, ask your self:

When can I schedule indulgent snacking in order that I get pleasure from it but additionally really feel much less responsible and anxious?

Maybe you determine to…

  • Create a versatile weekly meal plan that features a base of wholesome meals, plus intentional pleasures—a enjoyable dimension sweet bar after lunch or a small bowl of ice cream after dinner.
  • Schedule your snack for the identical time every single day, corresponding to a 3 pm luxurious work break, with a number of squares of chocolate, a cup of decaf, and 0 distractions.
  • Organize a weekly or bi-weekly night with your folks, full with chips and booze—netting a social and existential well being increase.

The small modifications above will help you eat junk meals with out feeling disadvantaged or restricted. You’ll find a way to devour it since you need to, and never as a result of it’s simply there.

Step 4: Enjoy it.

This would possibly seem to be a no brainer, however we’ll say it anyway:

If you’re going to select to have one thing scrumptious, you would possibly as nicely…

Savor the expertise.

In addition to growing enjoyment, savoring also can allow you to really feel extra glad with a smaller quantity. To do it:

Pay consideration to the expertise of consuming. Consume treats in a setting that permits you to get pleasure from each chew. So…

  • Step away out of your laptop, TV, or telephone.
  • Take a number of deep, sluggish breaths earlier than the primary chew, to calm distracting ideas and anxiousness.
  • Use your senses—sight, odor, style, contact—to totally get pleasure from it.

Eat slowly. That makes the deliciousness last more, and likewise helps you to really feel calmer. (See why this observe is the bomb: The 30-day slow eating challenge that can transform your body)

Swap guilt for pleasure. Use the notice and name technique to uproot any responsible ideas. After bringing consciousness to any damaging emotions, shift your focus to your senses once more, and the way goooood this tastes.

“My portion is gone—and I’m bummed!”

Thanks to a mix of out-of-this-world taste and brain-altering chemical compounds, sure meals are tremendous laborious to cease consuming.

Like a 3-½ minute therapeutic massage, they go away your mind begging for extra.

We’ve already instructed you about a number of issues that may assist.

But generally, these practices aren’t sufficient.

Even after mindfully consuming an intentional portion, you would possibly nonetheless really feel like a toddler tantruming: “More! More!! MORE!!”

Or perhaps different painful emotions come up: disappointment, vacancy, anxiousness, even anger.

The powerful information: Sometimes you may’t keep away from these emotions, and also you simply want to sit along with your discomfort.

As you surf these uncomfortable sensations, attempt utilizing self-talk that’s compassionate, rational, and sort:

“Wow, my brain REALLY wants more right now. This food is delicious, but if I eat more it WON’T keep boosting my existential health—and it might drain my physical, mental, and emotional health. This feels hard and uncomfortable, but I’ve reached the point where this food can no longer nourish me and I’m choosing to stop.”

In addition to talking to your self kindly, you may also take a form motion: Turn in your favourite music, make some tea and get cozy on the sofa with a guide, or no matter helps you’re feeling nourished and cared for.

(Why are some meals SO laborious to cease consuming? Read: Manufactured deliciousness and overeating)

Step 5: When you mess up, transfer on.

The fact is:

On event, you’re going to eat impulsively.

We ALL do that generally. (Erm… together with everybody who wrote and edited this piece.)

When you catch your self mindlessly inserting issues in your mouth, name it out, and perform a little detective work to discover what’s happening.

Ask your self…

  • What led to this second?
  • Has this ever occurred earlier than? When?
  • What would possibly I do otherwise sooner or later?

(Psst: Our Break the Chain worksheet will help you with the above sleuthing, particularly if a habits is a persistent downside.)

Once you’ve gained some insights, wipe the slate clear.

What you simply ate a number of moments in the past now not issues. It’s over, and no quantity of negativity goes to undo it. Learn from it, and transfer ahead.

Take a optimistic step in any dimension of well being: Go for a stroll (bodily well being), snuggle your pet (emotional and social well being), loosen up in a phenomenal, awe-inducing setting (existential well being), or write about what occurred in your journal (psychological and emotional well being).

We all deserve pleasure.

Trying to be too excellent typically leads to diminishing returns.

So, as a substitute of denying—or demonizing—junk meals, strategy it such as you would that wild good friend you had in school.

You may not need to stay the occasion life 24/7, however darn, it certain is enjoyable in small, common doses.

If you’re a coach, otherwise you need to be…

You will help individuals construct vitamin and way of life habits that enhance their bodily and psychological well being, bolster their immunity, assist them higher handle stress, and get sustainable outcomes. We’ll present you the way.

If you’d like to study extra, take into account the PN Level 1 Nutrition Coaching Certification.

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