What is the first thing you think of when you hear of junk food? Maybe chips, gummy worms, or any popular fast food combo. ‘Junk food’ has a negative connotation and when using the phrase it categorizes these food items as ‘bad’ in our brain. Now you may be thinking, “Well obviously the food is considered bad because it isn’t healthy”, but isn’t food just food at the end of the day?
As a nutrition student, I have learned various things about food, but also people’s relationship with food and how they perceive it. People tend to categorize things into “good” or “bad” piles. For example, you may think of a salad going in the “good” pile and a chocolate sundae would be in the “bad” pile. Well, what makes a salad good and a chocolate sundae bad? Your reasoning may be related to salads having fewer calories, while a chocolate sundae is high in calories and fat. Categorizing food with these labels may not seem detrimental, but it affects your diet, mindset, and overall happiness.
Have you ever had a week where you reached your workout goal, but ate junk food one day and complained about how you ruined your week? You feel disappointed, defeated, and begin to look at yourself in a negative light. This junk food had the power to make you feel guilty because of its association to being bad, which lead you to feeling bad about yourself. This also works the other way around, if you ate salads the week you met your workout goal then you would feel good about yourself. What “good” and “bad” foods have in common is difficult to recognize, but both of these foods are made of molecules that provide the body with sustenance. Food is just food at the end of day. Food should not measure your character or change your self-worth based on what you choose to eat.
There is such a thing as nutritious foods and not all foods are equally as nutritious. There are different reasons and purposes for these nutritious and less nutritious foods depending on what your body wants. Rather than comparing “junk food” to “bad” food, think about it as what will nourish you. Listen to your body and acknowledge every sensation. By noticing your body’s innate hunger cues and needs, you will be able to recognize the level of hunger you are at and how much food is enough to satisfy you. For example, if you are looking for something to satisfy yourself between breakfast and lunch, try some mixed nuts or a fruit salad.
If you are hungry and your friends invite you to get chocolate sundaes, go and enjoy it. The sundae may not be as nutritious as a kale quinoa salad medley, but it will provide you with what your body and soul needs at that time. There is a time and a place for every food, which is why junk food does not exist. I am not promoting eating non-nutritious foods on the daily, but avoiding and labeling foods is not an act of healthy behavior. Nutrition should be kept simple; the more labels we place on food the more complex eating becomes in one’s head. As long as you acknowledge the body’s needs and respond to its cues with mindfulness, then you can step away from the stigma of “junk food” and treat food as food.
Interested in mindful eating? Click this link to learn more.