I try to be agreeable (well, most of the time), but I really, really, really don’t like the term “junk food.” This is what I feel towards diet culture every time I hear it:
First, I don’t think there’s such a thing as “junk food,” and second, I think it’s a pretty harmful term. Let me share why, in case you’re wondering what the big deal is…
Every Food Provides Things to Our Bodies. It’s important to recognize that ALL foods, regardless of their nutritional profile, have intrinsic value. All foods provide our bodies with energy and nutrients in some way.
Even foods often referred to as “junk food” possess nutritional value, albeit in varying degrees. These foods still provide essential macronutrients like carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that our bodies use for energy and essential functions!
It Elevates Western Culture Over Others. Some foods labeled as “junk” play meaningful roles in other cultures and are sometimes even staples in those cultures due to tradition or their accessibility to that group of people. In Western societies, we’ve demonized a lot of ethnic foods and labeled them bad (think, foods like white tortillas and rice), which is not okay.
Food Isn’t Just Fuel. Food isn’t just about physical nourishment; it can also provide emotional comfort and pleasure. Enjoying a favorite treat can boost mood and contribute to overall well-being. Also, many foods carry social significance, often tied to celebrations, traditions, and shared experiences.
Nutrition is Personal. Nutritional needs vary from person to person. What might be a less ideal option for one individual could be a suitable choice for another based on their dietary preferences and needs.
It’s Food-Shaming. The term “junk food” inherently frames certain foods in a negative way, which leads to moralizing foods and eating habits. This can foster feelings of guilt and shame, which is counterproductive to a healthy relationship with food and can negatively impact your mental health.
By shifting our perspective and recognizing that all foods hold value, we can move away from the dichotomy of “good” and “bad” that creates so much anxiety and guilt around certain types of foods. Embracing a more balanced and compassionate approach to eating allows us to enjoy all the positive things a range of foods brings to our lives.
I’m Cherie Miller, MS, LPC-S, founder of Nourished Soul Center for Healing and @foodfreedomtherapist on Instagram. We offer therapy and nutrition counseling for chronic dieting as well eating disorders like Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, Orthorexia, ARFID, and other food issues. As anti-diet professionals, we are passionate about intuitive eating and Health at Every Size philosophies. Contact us here to schedule a therapy or nutrition appointment.