There are holidays for just about everything, and junk food is no exception. July 21 is National Junk Food Day, a day dedicated to all things sugary, fatty, and fried. Think of it as a cheat day on steroids, with artery-clogging, blood sugar-raising, diet-forbidden foods at every meal.
For some, this sounds like a dream come true. For others, it sounds like a severe stomachache. No matter your opinion, two things are for certain. One, junk food in moderation isn’t only okay; it’s a necessary part of a balanced life. And two, binging on junk food is seriously bad for your body and mind.
What, Exactly, Is “Junk Food?”
The definition of “junk food” varies from person to person. Those who closely follow specific nutritional plans might define it as anything that falls outside their diet. But what is off-limits for one person might be entirely acceptable for another.
Those on a Paleo diet might consider bread to be “junk.” Those on a Keto diet would say the same about high-sugar fruits. And those counting macros might stay away from low-protein, high-carb foods.
In general, though, “junk food” means anything high in fat, salt, and/or sugar and low in any nutritional value. These foods are usually highly processed, with little to no protein or fiber. They might give you a temporary boost of energy but often leave you feeling sluggish, tired, and even hungrier soon after.
Athletes and Junk Food
What do all these things have in common? If you answered “they’re junk food,” you’re correct. But also, all of these foods are perfectly fine to have once in a while and in moderation.
Yes, even if you’re an athlete.
We all know that nutrition is an integral piece of effective physical training. Many athletes closely follow a detailed eating plan, being careful to get just the right amount of protein, loading up on vegetables, and eating foods that enhance performance.
But junk food is okay, too. A good diet doesn’t have to be a perfect diet. One serving of onion rings isn’t going to undo a month of training. It won’t even undo one day of training. And throwing back a handful of M&Ms doesn’t mean you’ve failed at meeting your nutritional goals.
In fact, some athletes actually embrace “junk food” because it provides bursts of high energy. It’s all about balancing healthy options packed with nutrients and life’s guilty pleasures, like a burger and fries. Because, really, what is life without a little sinful indulgence?
Binging Is Never a Good Idea
Denying yourself the foods you love can backfire. If you deprive yourself for months and months, you’re more likely to overdo it once you finally give in to that temptation. Instead of limiting yourself to one square of chocolate, for instance, you eat the entire bar. Sound familiar?
Binging wreaks havoc on our bodies. At first, our brains release the “feel good” chemical dopamine. But once that wears off, we’re left feeling physically full, emotionally empty, and guilty about our food choices. Physically, binge eating impacts many bodily systems, including the pancreas, heart, and digestive system. Your metabolism could face permanent changes. Insulin resistance can lead to potentially life-threatening medical conditions. Binging also leads to hormone fluctuation, causing fat storage, inflammation, bloating, and constipation. (That package of cookies doesn’t seem so worth it now, huh?)
How can you get a “junk food fix” without going on a sugar-overloaded binge? Try the following:
- Swap the “junky” snack for something healthier. In the mood for chocolate? Try this Vegan Almond Joy recipe. Or eat some fresh mango instead of drinking that sugary soft drink. Healthy swaps can satisfy those cravings without derailing your nutrition plan.
- Give in once in a while. Life is all about balance. Studies show that depriving ourselves too long can lead to overeating and binging. If you’re prone to unhealthy eating habits, give yourself permission to “cheat” once in a while. Have those potato chips at the backyard barbecue, portion out a small serving of ice cream, or have one brownie.
- Keep temptations out of the house. Sure, you can have treats once in a while, but they shouldn’t be easily accessible in your home. If you’re prone to binging on ice cream, buy it by the pint (some brands even have mini servings sizes!) Don’t let those processed desserts make their way into your cart. Make a pan of brownies and give away all but one to prevent you from eating the whole pan.
It’s okay to celebrate National Junk Food Day. But instead of eating junk from morning to night, maybe give yourself over to ONE tasty temptation. Your body and your mind will thank you.
Want some junk food that WON’T give you guilt? Check out our food-themed goodies here!