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The #1 Question to Ask Yourself Before Eating Junk Food

tempting donut

We've all been there: You're doing great at sticking to your healthy eating goals. Then you find yourself staring down a doughnut at a meeting or a platter of nachos at happy hour. Don't get us wrong, treating yourself is an important part of sticking to a healthy diet. But it's not a treat if you indulge all the time, right? (P.S. Here's what to ask yourself before jumping on the fad diet bandwagon.)

The only question you need to ask yourself when faced with whether or not to indulge: "Does this choice support my goal?"

Now, that goal doesn't necessarily need to be weight-loss related, but it can be. Or it can be about clean eating, ditching sugar, getting more protein—whatever it is you're working toward. Here's what to do depending on your answer.

If the answer is maybe...

While not every morsel of food you put in your mouth needs to be scrutinized, you know what's on your personal list of "in moderation" foods and what your comfort level is with them. If you're not quite sure you want to spend your "splurge budget" on something, you should consider these follow-up questions.

"Why do I want this?" Seems obvious, but sometimes expressing exactly what it is that appeals to you about a food can help you find out whether the craving is coming from somewhere other than your belly.

"Do I feel pressured into eating this?" The harsh truth about diets (or even healthy eating in general) is that sometimes friends or people around you can make you feel guilty for not eating something. Whether you think you should say no because of a weight-loss goal, or because you just don't want to eat junk food and have a stomachache later, tell them directly that they shouldn't worry about what you do or don't eat.

"Is it worth it to me?" Is this food something you love and will legitimately be bummed to miss? Is this something special (for example, a homemade seasonal treat) or is it something you can have any time? If the answer is the latter, it's probably not worth it.

"How will I feel after eating this?" If you eat this, will it stop those hunger growls or are you going to feel guilty (whether it's justified or not) for eating it? Perhaps having this food now will help you work toward a more balanced, healthy relationship with foods if you previously struggled with an all-or-nothing approach.

If the answer is no...

Move on. No food drama needed. It's totally normal to experience that inner dialogue of "Well, it's just this one time...." But, sometimes it's not really just that one time. If it's not supporting your goal and you know you're not going to feel good about having made this choice, then it may be best to save that indulgence for another occasion when the splurge does feel worth it to you. (If fitness is part of your goal, you may want to say no to these 20 foods that can ruin your workout.)

If the answer is no but you really want it...

Eat it and enjoy. Know that you can confidently get right back on track with your usual healthy habits starting with your next meal or snack. Occasionally indulging in a favorite treat can actually help you stay on track for the long term because it helps you avoid feeling deprived. Just be sure to be selective about what you indulge in and how often.

All that said, if you find yourself questioning every single thing you eat, talk to a healthcare professional like a therapist or a registered dietitian. They can help you work on establishing a confident, healthy relationship with food so you can spend less time stressing and more time enjoying food.

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