The Case for ‘Junk Food’: When Empty Calories Still Have Value

In diet culture, the terms “junk food,” “cheat days” and “empty calories” run rampant and can generate a lot of fear and negative feelings around certain foods and nutritional approaches. Food isn’t meant to be feared. It is meant to provide nourishment, but it also has a significant emotional value and fosters community and connection in social settings.

There is a healthier way to approach your diet. Intuitive eating removes the restrictive boundaries of conventional diets and focuses on what makes you feel your best, from a health and societal standpoint. Once you reach a point where foods aren’t off limits (except when medically necessary, of course) you’re free to enjoy the foods you love and also partake in social activities involving food without guilt or feeling left out.

When it comes to dieting, in fact, the odds for long-term success haven’t proven favorable. From 2015 to 2018, 1 in 5 Americans over the age of 20 tried a special diet. However, one study found that only about 20% of people are successful at maintaining weight loss for at least one year. 

On the other hand, when looking at how people describe their day-to-day diet, those who perceive their nourishment as “very healthy” have tried to lose weight about 5 times in their lives compared to 9 times for those who describe their diet as “not healthy.” 

When the focus is on healthy balance, intuitive eating and building a diet that feels good to your mind and body, you’re free to feel better about the choices you make, you’re less likely to feel like you’ve failed when you choose play foods and subsequently feel pressure to binge or lose weight, and, most importantly, food becomes fun again.

Eating healthy foods consistently is great, but if it means becoming obsessed, restrictive and taking the joy and satisfaction out of eating, is it really healthy eating anymore?

Every food has value

Eating isn’t just about supplying nutrients to our cells, and food isn’t just a nutrient delivery vehicle. The social-emotional aspects of food and eating matter, too. Whether it’s filled to the brim with micronutrients or a sweet end to an evening with a friend, when food benefits you mentally or physically, it brings your body value.  The key to making the most of this value is listening to your intuition. 

Certainly, foods high in nutritional value are important for nourishing your body and helping it to function physically at optimum levels, but foods that aren’t as nutrient dense also have a place, especially when it comes to joy and creating connections. Many meaningful experiences happen at restaurants, celebrating birthdays, cooking out with friends and family, in grocery stores and many other community settings, and the emotional value provided by the foods in these situations can be just as meaningful as the nutrients you’d get from apples and kale.

Rather than calling an item junk food – like birthday cake, for example – we can appreciate and enjoy it as part of a valuable experience and something that brings happiness instead of diminishing the social experience of eating birthday cake with family and friends.

Just note that emotional value is not the same as emotional eating. Eating to satisfy your emotions when you are sad, anxious, or bored, among other feelings, won’t solve the problem. If you need help in this situation, journaling or talking to a therapist can help you sort out your feelings and start getting you into healthier habits.

Restrictive diets reinforce negative thoughts and behaviors

When you label foods “junk food” and deem them bad, every time you consume those foods it’s easy to call it a fail, overindulge and “start again tomorrow.” It can even negatively affect the narrative you have about yourself.

Since our thoughts affect how we feel and act, it’s easy to slip into a pattern of negativity, anxiety or depression. Research also shows that we tend to make decisions on negative information rather than positive data. 

On top of having to constantly manage negative self-talk, modern diets set boundaries and restrictions on tempting “unhealthy foods.” If these boundaries are crossed, cycles of perceived failure and defeat only add to the negative noise. 

The idea of intuitive eating is trusting your body to eat when you’re hungry and choose a variety of foods that make you feel good. When you pay close attention to your appetite alongside your thoughts and emotions, you are able to learn what your body is asking for, discern what needs addressing with solutions other than food, and make more positive choices. Additionally, journaling is an effective tool for  your thoughts and feelings in a more analytical way.

No need for cheat days with intermittent fasting

When you’ve chosen an intermittent fasting plan that works with your body and lifestyle, it’s easier to form an eating schedule that works with your routines. Intermittent fasting is focused on specific times to eat and fast and not on limiting indulgent foods or categorizing good and bad nutrition. 

On every IF journey, it’s important to fuel yourself well during your eating windows, and having a healthy relationship with food as well as an awareness of what your body needs to refuel is a top priority for success. And with no overarching dietary restrictions, there’s no such thing as a “cheat.” 

Intuitive eating combined with Citravarin Fasting Mints and one-on-one coaching to keep your appetite and mindset in check is a formula for healthy growth and intermittent fasting success. These tactics all contribute to positive metabolic health while at the same time, the play foods and indulgent outings you thought were off the table don’t have to go anywhere.