I'm just going to come out and say it: The truth is, many of us get too many calories and not enough nutrients from fast food, candy, prepackaged goods and sodas. Even if you’re not overweight, don’t be too quick to write off your junk-food habit as acceptable. Outwardly thin people aren’t necessarily healthy, as it’s possible to be skinny and in poor metabolic health, thanks to bad nutrition and lack of exercise.

Many of us feel compelled to eat junk food (after all, it can taste so good), but is a diet high in fat, sugar and salt worth the trade-off of the elevated risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancers? Kicking the junk-food habit -- coupled with regular, heart-pumping exercise -- will tip the scales of healthy living in your favor.

Don’t know where to start? These simple guidelines will help you get over the hump in no time:

Good: Empower Yourself

Knowledge is power -- and in the case of junk food, it can also be downright scary. While grocery aisles may seem fairly benign, they’re actually packed with misinformation and techniques employed by manufacturers to lure consumers into making unhealthy purchases. “They are doing everything they can to get you to make a spontaneous decision,” explains Michael Moss, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for The New York Times and author of Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. “Typically, in the middle part of the aisle on eye level is where they put the most alluring foods,” Moss says, of items like high-sugar cereals and salt-laden chips. The healthier alternatives, such as whole-grain cereal, are often located near your ankles or way up high. Another issue? Many consumers take it for granted that labels and packaging tell the whole truth, when in reality, misleading nutritional claims (think: "low-fat," "all-natural," "added calcium") are often made. “This is where they’re going after you to distract you [with] positive messages, in hopes that you’re not going to turn the package over and look at the fine print,” says Moss. And we’re not just talking about cookies and candy here, either: “Wholesome” items like bread and pasta sauces are frequently infused with a ton of added sugar. So do your homework and be a discerning shopper. You might (read: likely will) be shocked by what you find.

Better: Formulate A Plan

Going into the grocery store with a meal schedule, shopping list and some extra willpower will help you avoid caving in and buying junk like frozen pizzas, doughnuts and ice cream. Plus, having a plan will likely save you some time, as it will keep you from wandering aimlessly through the aisles, trying to figure out what to buy and cook. Your bank account will also benefit, since sticking to a list will prevent you from buying a bunch of random items that you don’t really need, or already have hiding in the back of your pantry. So make your list and check it twice -- then make it your personal mission to enjoy a shopping trip with health and wellness -- rather than chips and dip -- in mind.

Best: See It Through

It's a commonly held notion that people don’t like change. When it comes to making edits to your daily diet, that can certainly be true… until you start to see noticeable differences in your appetite (lower), energy (higher) and waistline (shrinking by the day). The fact is, humans aren't naturally programmed to require all of the added sugar, fat and salt we’ve become accustomed to eating via the consumption of prepackaged, restaurant and fast food. “Our taste for salt doesn’t develop until six months of age,” says Moss. “You can get unhooked on salt in about six weeks.”

Think about that for a minute: six weeks to a healthier, stronger, leaner you. I’m not saying it won’t be challenging, but that kind of payoff has the potential to boost your self-esteem and overall health. What are you waiting for? Go ahead and start the process of ditching unhealthy junk!

 

Ready to make a change? Take the No Fast Food For One Week Challenge