Will You Celebrate National Junk Food Day?

Only a few days ago, I learned that July 21 is National Junk Food Day. Really. Did you even know there was one?

Research revealed a disappointing body of information. Neither the creator nor the origin of National Junk Food Day is known. The day is “dedicated” to the snacks “everyone loves.” Those foods are, by definition, high in fats, sugars, salt and calories, with little or no nutritional value.

Celebrating National Junk Food Day involves consuming your favorite guilty pleasures. And, of course, posting on social media using #NationalJunkFoodDay. (Yawn.) Yes, I’m old, but really?

Believe it or not, several Junk Food Day websites exist. One explained the day as a reaction to the unappealing routine of “being healthy, preparing a balanced meal, and snacking on carrot sticks.” The Junk Food celebration satisfies cravings for something “naughtier, greasier” and more fattening than the unexciting meal you know you should eat instead.

How To Minimize the Damage

Another website suggested taking a walk or doing yard work to burn off the extra calories. As if it’s only about calories.

My field is psychoactive nutrition, so I think about what a day of junk food can do to the brain: the food hangover that gives you brain fog and makes you feel as if you’ve been run over by a truck, for instance.

Or the cravings that will occur for up to a week and make it difficult to get back on track.

Or the results that never happen. I’m currently working with a client who, per her doctor’s instructions, is on a food plan that doesn’t permit starches. But she takes 2 days off every week and isn’t losing weight. Yard work won’t change that; she’s a runner. My theory is her 5 “on” days are probably just detoxing her from the 2 days of damage.

Why Must Days Off Be an Accident?

A woman in the weight-loss program I ran for many years actually complained that I never got sick.

She wasn’t envious of my good health. She told me how nice it would be to come in for the day’s training – and find I wasn’t there because I was out sick.

Okay, first: Why not work out on your own if the instructor’s sick, instead of leaving the gym? The gym equipment still functions when the instructor’s out. So… really?

Second: Gee, thanks for wishing sickness upon me. What unpleasantries may I wish upon you? Yikes.

Days Off can take place anytime and for any reason. If you want one, don’t go to the gym. Ah, but that means taking responsibility.

Apparently, It’s About Lack Of Guilt

It seems the idea of Nat’l Junk Food Day is to eat those favorite junk foods – just that day – without guilt.

Many years ago, I was a fitness instructor for a one-week, residential seminar on weight loss. The other fitness instructor and I had no control over the nutrition guidelines, the seminar format – or the announcement of a Day Off at the mid-week mark.

I objected. Why did we need a day off in a one-week program? Why were we teaching people who were just getting started to take a day off every week? Did anyone besides me see the self-sabotage flaw in that plan? Had anyone besides me ever dealt with nutrition clients who couldn’t lose weight due to a weekly day off that turned into a free-for-all?

The answers were unsatisfactory, but it wasn’t my call. It was about lack of guilt.

“If you own this story you get to write the ending.” • BrenĂ© Brown

If you eat healthfully the other 364 days a year, then by all means celebrate National Junk Food Day and enjoy it.

If you eat well 95% of the time and have a solid plan for dealing with life’s inevitable nutrition interruptions – parties, weddings, and so on – you don’t need a guilt-free Junk Food Day. You’re already taking responsibility – even for your off-days.

Much brilliant work has been written about responsibility, so it would be foolish to discuss the topic here. But maybe the conversation comes down to a difference between external and internal motivation.

Once we’ve decided how we want to eat, why surrender motivation and responsibility for our food choices to a holiday – any holiday? Why not stay internally motivated and take responsibility for both on-days and off-days?

My advice is to stick with your healthful food plan no matter what. Find other ways to enjoy holidays and parties – the company, the conversation, the laughter.

Find the food plan that makes you feel great throughout the day, and eat that way throughout the year.

Why give it up for an anonymously invented occasion that provides a trivial external excuse to avoid responsibility?

Maybe I’m just a party-pooper, but I’ll toss in a quote on responsibility that made me grin when I read it the very first time. It’s by Theodore Roosevelt:

“If you could kick in the pants the person responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”

Let’s end with the reaction of the strength-training coach in my long-running (13 years!) weight-loss program. When participants complained about not having days off, his very annoyed reply was, “There are no days off! This is it – the way you eat, the way you train – all the time.”

Good point, and I second the motion, National Junk Food Day or not.