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Top 10 Junk Food Traps (and How to Resist!)

We can keep our cupboards and refrigerator filled with healthy fare. We can avoid the drive thru and other eating establishments that offer subpar choices. 

But what about the junk food snares that we encounter as we simply go about our day? 

We can't always control our environments, but we can often anticipate potential problems and do our best to pre-empt the enticements we'll regret later.

See which 10 scenarios my clients call their biggest "traps," and learn what tactics you can use to avoid temptation. 

The Coffee Shop

It’s been said that the average American spends between $15-30 a week on coffee.  And although drinking caffeine has its health benefits, the average consumer unfortunately opts for the decidedly unhealthy, high sugar drinks marketed in these shops - not to mention the breakfast breads, cookies and sandwiches conveniently located next to the register.

If you prefer to have your coffee made for you (versus brewing it at home), stick to the basics such as a latte, Americano or regular coffee flavored with full-fat cream or cinnamon instead of a highly sweetened beverage like a mocha. If you need a snack, go for the high protein options such as raw nuts and seeds versus the breads and cookies.

Your Work Place 

For many of us, our places of employment can completely derail our best efforts toward weight loss. Not only can it be the main source of our sedentary behavior (desk jockeying), but it too often harbors its own junk food temptations. Think break rooms lined with vending machines, donuts offered by management or other treats shared by well-intentioned coworkers (e.g. leftover Halloween candy). Add to this the snares of unhealthy luncheon potlucks and regular fast food runs.

Ways to brave these traps include committing to bringing your own healthy lunch from home each workday, stashing healthy snacks at your desk (to help avoid the need to visit a vending machine) and joining your coworkers for quick walks instead of drive thru trips.

“Lunch Provided” Events

Meetings or working lunches over the noon hour, expos and conferences – there are all kinds of opportunities that might offer a free plate of food. Most often, however, they don’t deliver the highest quality.  

Many clients of mine complain that these scenarios most often serve up chips, sandwiches and cookies as main food options for lunch.

If these events are regular occurrences in your professional life, plan for them in advance. If you can, confirm what type of food is going to be provided in case there would be some healthier options.  

When possible, bring your own lunch or eat prior to the meeting so you don’t go in hungry and weak to temptation.  

Supermarket Endcaps 

Often assumed to be “good deals,” these foods can be true junk food traps! Big food brands usually pay for this "prime" real estate to allow their products more visibility, increasing the likelihood buyers will grab them on their way to the checkout line as they pass the aisles.

Make a solid shopping rule to stick to the list you write before you leave home. This rule will, in all probability, save you money as well as poor last minute choices. Remind yourself that the endcap is a tried and true supermarket snare. Don’t take the bait!

The “Free Sample” Station

Speaking of the grocery store…

People love free food. Retailers and food companies know this, and they fully capitalize on the fact by offering samplings of their products, knowing consumers will then feel more inclined (or even obligated!) to buy the items. 

Sampling hour is actually my least favorite time to tour/shop a grocery store as it not only garners large crowds, but more often than not, the sampled foods aren’t the least bit healthy. They’re just enough to tempt you into wanting more, which means you’ll more likely end up bringing a whole package home with you!

Make a point to eat a healthy meal or snack prior to grocery shopping to lessen hunger and temptation for the free samples and their aromas. If you want to find out more before you buy a healthy food (often not on sample), ask the workers behind the counter for more information. Research online and find coupons to shop with! 

“Seasonal” Food/Beverage Displays and Menus

Pumpkin spice, peppermint mocha, sugar cookie, egg nog – these (and others) are all common flavorings we start seeing this time of year. Foods and beverages that we might not usually be attracted to suddenly sound more appealing. Face the fact that this time of year “gingerbread house” coffee creamer pulls at our heartstrings.

Food companies are amazingly adept at marketing unique flavorings that attract buyers to purchase their products and often even reinvent new flavors each season. But these new offerings are just as loaded with artificial flavorings and other ingredients that could sabotage your weight loss efforts.  

If you want to feel festive, experiment by flavoring your own foods and beverages at home with healthier, natural additions. A little mint extract or cinnamon can go a long way and leave your weight loss plan fully intact.

“Natural” (Processed) Food Sections

It’s important to note that not everything labeled organic, gluten-free or "all natural" is a healthy food option. Food companies have gotten smart around using these claims to influence the sale of their products. To boot, these items oftentimes contain other additives (e.g. artificial colors, flavors, sugars and preservatives) that make them even less ideal foods.

When choosing organic, focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy proteins and natural fats (e.g. nuts, seeds, and oils). Keep your processed foods minimal and ingredient lists short.

Just about Any Buffet

Buffets are popular because we think they provide high value. You not only get to pick the foods you actually like or want to eat, but you’re allowed to fill up as often as you want until you’re full.  

Although there can be healthier options in a buffet line, most of us get sidetracked by trying to get the most for our dollar by overeating or consuming the breads, desserts, and sugary beverages already included in what we paid for.

If obligated to eat at a buffet, fill your plate with as many vegetables and lean proteins as possible. Steer clear of the dessert and other high-carbohydrate options. Eat slowly, and drink plenty of water prior to deciding if you’re still hungry and need another plate.

The Gas Station

Whether you’re stopping to use the restroom on a road trip or to simply fill up your tank, the inside of a gas station is filled with “convenience” foods and beverages (e.g. candy bars, fresh donuts, chips, sodas) that are also conveniently over priced.

Can you eat healthy at a gas station? The answer is yes - with caution. If you’re in a pinch and need a snack, look for fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs or even some beef jerky as your go-to snacks in this scenario. Avoid the sugary beverages and energy drinks and commit to only purchasing water or brewed coffee to satisfy your thirst.

Most Social Gatherings

With the holiday season around the corner, there’s sure to be some social gathering in your near future. In addition to holiday parties and dinners, however, there are the weddings, baby showers or even after-work happy hours.  

When you’re around others, sometimes your choices can be heavily (and poorly) influenced. If everyone is digging into the nachos or artichoke dip, it’s harder to resist or politely refuse.

Plan for these types of outings or gatherings by noting ahead of time there may not be one option available to you that fits your plan.  

Load up on as many veggies and clean protein choices that are available, and drink plenty of water to help avoid temptation. Eating a small meal ahead of time or even asking the host of the event if you could provide a healthy dish or raw veggie tray (to ensure an on-plan option) could be a good solution.

Do you struggle with temptation? Are you interested in other ideas for sticking to your Healthy Way of Eating plan? Talk with one of our registered dietitians or weight loss coaches today. Thanks for reading. 

In health, Anika Christ – Senior Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.


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