junk_food

THE WAR AGAINST JUNK FOOD ADDICTION MUST BE WON ONE SMALL BATTLE AND VICTORY AT A TIME.

For most people, a diet sounds like a season of discontent, a time of siege. It’s an all-pervasive, gastronomically intrusive regimen placed on one’s dismal existence, an act of deprivation. The hoped-for reward is based in delayed gratification. Most dieters plan to cheat as soon as possible.

Fortunately, a compilation of research reports on junk food consumption offers a different vision. Assembled by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), three studies help to illustrate that reducing caloric intake — and all the bad things that go with too many calories — can win the weight management war more with surgical strikes. With or without alopecia, Americans apparently take in about 25 percent of their daily calories through junk food, the calorie-rich, nutrient-poor products that populate convenience stores, vending machines and supermarkets.

Just think about that: Eliminate a category of foods and beverages — we’ll call them the food vices — but continue to eat your other meals and snacks. Even if you compensate a bit by eating more wholesome foods, you’re bound to experience a net reduction in calories. And, the calories you do take in with whole, minimally processed foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins) provide health benefits through micronutrients never found in a cola or snack cake.

Which are the food vices consumed most often?

  • Soft drinks are the number-one source of useless calories. Of 4,700 people studied, sugary colas and other carbonated beverages made up about 7.1 percent of total calories in a day’s diet.
  • Salty snacks and fruit-flavored drinks add 5 percent of calories.
  • Sweets and alcoholic beverages together constitute 16.7 percent of calories.

(Numbers total more than 25 percent, in part because not all research participants consume alcoholic beverages.)

Trading food vice for food virtue is about more than calories. It’s about serious health benefits, too. The AICR emphasizes that a shift from junk to healthier foods (“nutrient-rich vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans”) can diminish cancer risk through “protective nutrients and phytochemicals.”

Just knowing doesn’t always mean doing

Of course, not everyone has the same food vices. Schoolchildren might drink more of the sugary drinks, adults more colas and alcoholic beverages. Cheesy curls might be one person’s obsession, while french fries might do it for someone else. The following are some simple steps to take that can help you learn what your targets are and how to eliminate them:

  • Assess and record. Keep a food diary for one, three, five or seven days. Write down everything, skipping nothing; then review the list after several days and look for patterns.
  • Notice which foods you eat for convenience’ sake and perhaps for no other reason. It’s a muffin where you buy your coffee every day, or something that’s typically free in your office. Chances are, it’s nutrient-poor junk.
  • Pay attention to eating in groups. In this day and age peer pressure should have nothing to do with what you choose to eat, but if someone orders the fried onion loaf to share at lunch, you’ll end up eating a lot of fried onion loaf. Rarely a good choice.
  • Ask yourself if you cannot go on living without this vice. Can you not switch to diet colas or coffee with no sugar? Even better: hot or cold tea with a squeeze of lemon. Can you skip that lousy muffin at the coffee shop if you eat breakfast at home?
  • Don’t turn it into a religion. There may be situations where you backslide and eat something awful. No biggie — make up for it the rest of the day with exceptionally healthy eating.

If you get a craving for something, a favorite chip, perhaps, you don’t have to give in to it. Instead, shift gears and eat something healthier. And if you still must give in, consider the dilution method: mix your vice (e.g., potato chips) with a healthy food (e.g., a green salad). Potato chips are not terribly different from croutons.

When you approach this from an incremental standpoint — replacing a sugary cola with black coffee, for example — you begin to win the fight. No siege mentality or escape plan required.