How To Have A Healthy Relationship With Junk Food

July 19, 2019  |  
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national fast food day

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Though its very name—junk food—would imply that this type of food is garbage, trash, or useless, I still think it has a place in a healthy lifestyle. Remember that being healthy isn’t just about being physically healthy. We have to take emotional and mental wellness into account, too. Somebody could be in peak physical condition, as far as a physician is concerned, but be grappling with emotionally devastating behaviors that actually result in that “perfect body.” In fact, many of the people we perceive to be in perfect shape may feel that their minds are prisons. Nothing is ever quite what it seems. I eat junk food sometimes. I have a lot of fond memories of junk food, in fact. As a kid, every Saturday was what we called “Candy Day” in our household. On Candy Day, my dad would take my sister and I to Taco Bell, and then to the candy store, and then to the movie rental store. These are some of my happiest memories, but it was all a part of developing a healthy relationship with junk food.

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Make it social

When I get fast food, I make it a social event with friends. We make a plan. We say, “On Saturday, we’re going to Steak ‘N Shake.” Making it a plan does a couple of good things, including giving me plenty of notice to eat healthy until then—knowing on Saturday, I’m splurging. It also makes it a fun, festive activity that I do with friends rather than something I do all alone in my living room. We feel like a bunch of teens again, having milk shakes on a weekend.

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Rather than hiding it

Don’t turn it into some guilty secret. If you only eat fast food alone, at home, with the lights practically off (and lying to your mom when she calls, saying you’re eating a salad) then you build guilt around the food.

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Don’t eat it when you’re depressed

Don’t turn to fast food when you’re depressed. It’s too easy to overeat whatever you’re eating when you’re depressed, and if it’s fast food, you’ll feel particularly sluggish the next day. Plus, it’s important to find healthier ways to cheer yourself up, like exercise or meditation.

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Don’t make it a reward

Fast food shouldn’t be a reward. It’s common to say, “I’ll have a triple cheeseburger and fries after this long, miserable meeting at work today.” But, that’s a slippery slope because, think of how many times in life we feel the need to treat ourselves. Things can get out of hand if we indulge in fast food every time we’ve had a rough day. It might be better to get a punch card at a cheap local massage place.

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Eat in moderation

Just because you’re eating fast food, doesn’t mean you have to give yourself over to the idea of feeling like crap. You can be “bad” in moderation. You can just get a kid’s cheeseburger and small fries. Familiarize yourself with the calorie count (fast food places are usually good about listing this). You can actually get away with a small meal for under 500 calories at some places.

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Don’t make it seem off-limits

Don’t create too much mystique around fast food. Don’t put it on a pedestal, or tell yourself it’s a bad, bad thing. What happens when we feel something is off-limits? We immediately want more of it. Know that you can have fast food any time you want—you’re an adult—and then, you may not crave it very often.

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If you have time to cook, cook

If and when you have time to cook a meal at home, do so. It has plenty of benefits. But, furthermore, it’s important to reserve fast food for those times when you truly need something fast. If you also eat it at times you had plenty of time to cook, you could overdo it on the stuff because you’ll also eat it when you’re in a hurry that week.

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Eat it and move on

Don’t punish yourself for having fast food. It’s good for the soul to have fast food sometimes. It’s comforting, and often nostalgic. So don’t punish yourself by running ten miles after or starving yourself for a day. Eat it, and forget it.

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Really: don’t feel guilty

Truly, don’t feel bad about it. Don’t cancel your plans, believing you look gross and bloated. You don’t look gross and bloated because of some chicken nuggets. Cancelling your plans is another form of punishing yourself for eating fast food, and you shouldn’t do that.

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Get little snacks; not a whole meal

You can always just get a little snack, rather than a whole meal. You can get four chicken nuggets when you need a quick protein pick-me-up between meals. Or, you can get a small fries as something to enjoy while you wait for your car to be washed.

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Have your “Candy Day”

You can do like I did as a kid and have your candy day. Maybe once a week, you get to have fast food. You know that day is coming, so you can stay away from the stuff the rest of the week.

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Buy the good stuff for your home

When it comes to keeping junk food at home, get the good stuff. If you’re going to have junk food at home, you may as well buy the really good chocolate and the gourmet popcorn. Something about having the high-end stuff actually leaves you feeling satisfied on less.

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Don’t buy the drinks

Don’t add the soda to your meal. Soda is soda is soda. It’s not special, and not worth wasting the tremendous amount of calories on. Often, if you look at a “meal deal,” you’ll notice that just adding the drink takes it from, say, 750 calories to 1100. That’s a big jump!

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And don’t super size it

Don’t go for the deals in general. It’s not really a good deal if you’re eating so many excess calories that they’re stored as fat, and leave you feeling so sluggish that you don’t want to do anything for the rest of the day. Is it really worth “saving” the three dollars in that case? All for the larger fries?

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Focus on it and enjoy it

Focus on your fast food and appreciate it. Really take in every flavor and smell. Sit down and enjoy a favorite TV show. Don’t scarf it down mindlessly while you’re in the car. Take the time to acknowledge that you’re treating yourself.

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