For some of us, it only takes the whiff of a warm pizza on an empty stomach to make us drool. Or maybe it’s the fresh pop of a can of soda that gets you going. Whatever it is, most of us have “guilty pleasures” when it comes to empty calories, and junk foods are a tough thing to beat.
It’ll help you to better understand what you’re eating, why you shouldn’t go for empty calorie foods, and how you can avoid them so you can finally break free from the chains of junk food temptation.
What are empty calories?
Here’s a little anatomy lesson on how your body works: when you eat, your body processes calories as energy. The thing is, if you’re taking in any extra calories, your body just stores them as fat. (Ah, so that’s where my love handles come from.)
The term “empty calories” is used to describe foods with lots of calories, mostly solid fats and/or added sugars, and with little nutrients and vitamins. Solid fats are butters and shortenings, and added sugars include high-fructose corn syrup and just more sugar.
So if you ever catch yourself wondering where your weight gain is coming from, check the labels on what you’re eating. Usually the culprit are those “convenience foods”––the prepackaged easy fixes like snacks, chips, and sodas. You’ll likely see a load of empty calories in each serving.
What are some nutrient-rich foods?
On the other side of the spectrum are nutrient-rich foods. These foods are loaded with the good stuff, and your body will love processing them. Greek yogurt, beans, sweet potatoes, peanuts, fruits and veggies are just some of the delicious nutrient-rich foods in which you can indulge guilt-free.
In fact, there’s such a thing as superfoods (in case you haven’t heard). These foods are chock full of nutrients, and are so good for your body, diet experts gave them superpowers! A few of those are seaweed, cherries, and blueberries.
How to avoid empty calories?
You might be thinking, Yes, this is all fine and dandy, but how can I actually avoid empty calories? Well, I’ve got some great tips to help you break free from the empty calories wheel of emptiness.
1. Take Out the Garbage
The first thing you need to do is get all the empty calorie foods out of your life––and that starts with dumping your fridge and pantry of all that junk. It’s hard, but it’s cathartic. (I should know, I did it and took an “after picture” to prove it.)
If all that garbage is out of your house, you’ll be less tempted to grab a bag of chips or mindlessly munch on bad foods. Empty your office drawer stash of that candy, too. Keep empty calorie foods out of reach, so when the time comes and your stomach starts to rumble, you’ll be grabbing healthier options instead.
2. Swap In the Good Stuff
If you’re committed to making the change, train yourself to go for the healthier options first. There are plenty of healthy food swaps you can use to substitute for the fatty or cheesy options. Addicted to soda? Drink kombucha. Craving some potato chips? Have some jicama instead.
Contrary to popular belief, healthy food substitutions don’t have to be bland and tasteless (or bad tasting). There are plenty of delicious recipes rich in flavor that aren’t masked behind grease, fat, and sugar. And if you’re anything like me, your taste buds will change and soon enough you’ll love the healthier options more than the bad ones!
3. Read the Labels
- Vitamin D
Of course this isn’t everything you should be looking for, but it’s a start.
4. Reject the Added Sugars
Once you’re a pro at reading food labels, you’ll quickly detect if the food has added sugars you should avoid. Many foods, like fruit, have good natural sugar. The issue with sugar becomes when it is added; in other words, not naturally there. This sugar becomes fat, and that fat becomes, well, that flabby part under your arms.
5. Practice Portion Control
This is a tough thing to do in the “supersize it” world, but if the FDA has a whole section on portion control, you know it’s important. One way to do this when you’re eating out is saying no to the add-ons (the side of fries or baked potato), asking for half instead of whole, and skipping the appetizers and desserts.
6. Drop the Alcohol
Alcohol is processed as straight-up fat, so if you’re trying to lose weight, you have no business drinking alcohol now. This can be tough. I did it for 30 days straight; it was hard but worth it in the end. Take control of your environment, and it’ll be easier for you to do without the glass of wine or bottle of beer for a while. Take a break from the weekly happy hours, change your outings from a local bar to a local diner, and bring a non-alcoholic alternative you like to a party so you can guarantee you’ll have a healthier drink option available.
Again, these are all tough changes to make but after a time without the empty calories, you’ll feel stronger, healthier, and better. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!