An Intuitive Eating Nutritionist’s Guide To ‘Junk Food’ 

 May 19, 2020

By  jennifer@thinkingnutrition.co.nz

Are you wondering how to stop eating ‘junk food’? Or do you feel like you binge too much on ‘junk food’? Well I’ve got a no B.S. blog post that will help you transform your relationship with ‘junk food’ once and for all.

First off, yes I’m a registered nutritionist but that does NOT mean I avoid eating all those scrummy, yummy little treats people call ‘junk food’.

I eat ’em. I just don’t call them ‘junk food’.

I call it ‘play food’.

And there’s a VERY good reason for that…. so let’s get started on the topic.

Junk Foods are Not Junk

Junk, by definition, is “old or discarded articles that are considered useless or of little value.”

So by calling food ‘junk’ you are saying it is useless or of little value. Which then makes you feel guilt or shame for eating those foods.

You might be thinking, “yeah, but junk food does have little value.”

But that is only true if you have a very NARROW definition of what roles food plays in your life.

Food is NOT simply the sum total of its nutrients.

But I can see why lots of people think that. Because social media and media in general is full of messages about which foods have the most nutrients and therefore which ones we should eat.

But food is about MORE than nutrients and health. We need to honour food for ALL the roles it plays in your life.

Food is also about taste, joy, celebrations, traditions, socialising and a lot more.

So, do you enjoy the taste of your so-called ‘junk food’? If the answer is yes (I’m pretty sure it is), then your junk food is not “useless or of little value”.

It is tasty and enjoyable.

Instead, wouldn’t a better name be ‘play food’? As in, it’s food you eat for casual play, not food you eat for serious nutrients.

Not every food that graces your plate needs to be laden with bucket-loads of vitamins and minerals.

Public Service Announcement – you will not die of chronic disease if you eat some play food some days.

You’re allowed to eat food you enjoy.

The food police will tell you otherwise. But you can also tell the food police to go and take a flying leap (Principle 4 in Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works).

But aren’t some foods just “bad”?

‘Healthy’ versus ‘Junk’ Foods: Ditching The Black & White Mindset

  • And apple is ‘good’. Chocolate is ‘bad’.
  • Eating healthy is ‘good’. Eating unhealthy is ‘bad’.
  • Exercising is ‘good’. Sitting on the couch is ‘bad’.

Those are examples of black and white thinking (or dichotomous thinking); which is a tendency to define situations in extremes, as either best or worst with no middle ground. Winner or loser. Happy or sad. Rich or poor. Never any in-between or middle ground.

The problem with dichotomous thinking is that it distorts the way you feel about yourself. If I ate chocolate and chocolate is ‘bad’, then suddenly the dichotomous thinker feels like they are ‘bad’ for eating the ‘bad’ chocolate.

Guilt, shame, emotional eating, more chocolate, you can see where we’re going here, right?

When in reality, chocolate is not bad and you are not bad for eating it. Any food can be part of a healthful way of living, it’s all about balance and what you eat over the course of months and years – not what you ate from the snack machine at 3pm.

Eat the chocolate, don’t label it as bad, don’t feel bad about eating it, get on with your life with no guilt or shame.

This is really important if you’re like me and dealing with anxiety. Because, using this type of dichotomous language can be extra-harmful for people with anxiety, as it leads to you magnifying your thoughts and events through this distorted thinking. And in the long run that can make you feel more anxious… argh.

It’s time to not only ditch the term ‘junk foods’, but also to ditch the black and white labels about food (and any food rules you’ve got lurking in your head too).

No more ‘good’ foods or ‘bad’ foods.

And no more ‘healthy’ foods or ‘unhealthy’ foods (there is no cutoff line you know, by which a food meets the criteria for ‘healthy’. It just doesn’t exist).

Instead think of foods as ‘play foods’ and ‘more nutritious foods’. You can mix and match whatever combos you like of those foods.

And all without labels, guilt or shame. Sound good?

On that note…

The More You Restrict ‘Junk Foods’, The More You Crave ‘Junk Foods’

Intuitive Eating 101: restriction causes cravings.

Which is one of the key reasons why dieting doesn’t work.

You start a diet, they give you a list of foods not to eat, then you spend the next 6 weeks thinking about those foods, right?

That, my friend, is the restriction and cravings cycle in action.

Instead of restricting foods, the goal with intuitive eating is to normalise all foods.

So no food is off limits. You can eat anything you want. Nothing is ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’ or ‘junk’ or ‘banned’.

It’s just a free-for-all situation.

Which might sound like a big food-accident waiting to happen. But it’s not.

Truth is, with time and experience, and the freedom to eat ANYTHING you want, you soon find you crave those foods less.

Now that a food isn’t banned or naughty, it becomes less alluring.

Which brings me to the next (disappointing) point – take the allure away, and many intuitive eaters find they don’t even like the taste of foods that they used to crave.

Sound impossible? Trust me it’s not. Turns out the allure and mystery of the food, it’s naughty status, was what gave you the high or the ‘hit’ when you ate it. Not the flavour.

Once you take away the restriction, suddenly you taste the food for what it really is and you get super-bummed out on how bad some things actually taste that you used to crave. It’s bizarre!

If You’re Over-Hungry, You Will Overeat ‘Junk Food’

When we become OVER-HUNGRY, after ignoring or not sensing our hunger cues, our body tips over into a place of primal hunger – where your body is solely focused on survival.

Bless it’s cotton socks, your body thinks you are starving and it wants to make sure it saves you from starvation. So it ups the signals to search for high-energy foods.

Nutritious foods won’t interest you, instead you’ll be looking for high-fat or high-sugar foods to fill that big hunger (a.k.a. play foods!).

And in this state your eating feels a bit out of control. You’ll eat fast and eat too much, as you rush to gobble it all down.

The problem is not the play food. You are not addicted to play food. You do not have a problem with over-eating play food.

The simple fact is: OVER-hungry equals OVER-eating.

So any time you find yourself over-eating in response to over-hunger, you can basically just put that down to human nature.

The solution then, is to ensure you don’t find yourself in that over-hungry state. Honour your gentle hunger by finding something to eat.

When you’ve got a gentle hunger you’re more likely to choose foods that honour your true thoughts and feelings.

Whereas in over-hunger, your body and mind don’t care about ANYthing except loading up with as much food as possible.

So please give these ideas and try and let me know how you go!

Jennifer xo.

P.S. Want more tips to help you overcome overeating? Grab this free PDF:


Hey, I’m Jennifer. I help women transform their relationship with food, their body and weight, so they can ditch the guilt and shame, and focus on more important stuff - like living a happy and healthy life!

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