You probably already know the basics: Excess calories of energy that aren’t burned during the day end up stored in fat cells for later use. Likewise, burning more calories than you consume causes the body to burn stored energy and lose fat as a result. When your diet includes a significant amount of high-calorie, low-nutrition junk food, it’s a perfect storm for weight problems.
If you’re thinking about bariatric surgery or looking for other ways to lose weight, take a moment to think about the role that junk food and snacks play in your life.
A Little Bit of Biochemistry
We may not fully understand all of the factors involved in weight gain and obesity, but we do know what happens in the body when fat is gained or lost.
- Storage occurs when the molecules that would normally be used in the body’s energy production process are too plentiful; excess components are combined into larger fat molecules called triglycerides for storage in specialized fat cells.¹
- Burning occurs when energy from the stored molecules is needed, such as when a person consumes fewer calories in food. Enzymes break down the triglycerides into smaller components for use in the usual energy production process.²
Why is all this important to the topic of junk food? Because junk food is like a gold mine for triglyceride production—not just because of the calories but also because of the types of nutrients those calories come from.
It May Be Small, but It’s Probably Big on Calories
Junk foods like chips, candy bars, and fast food are popular because they’re delicious, and they’re delicious because our bodies are naturally drawn to things like fats, oils, sugar, and salt. Modern humans no longer have to forage for the highest calorie foods, but our cravings and tastes are still very much the same. So, we’ve created all kinds of tasty treats that pack a lot of calories into every bite.
You might think having one unfrosted Pop Tart (half a package) for breakfast is a pretty small portion, but a single unfrosted pastry contains 210 calories.³ That’s roughly equivalent to one large fried egg (90 cal),⁴ a slice of wheat toast (75 cal),⁵ four large strawberries (24 cal),⁶ and a 16-ounce Americano (15 cal).⁷
“I’ve Hit My Calorie Limit. Why Am I Still Hungry?”
You might have consumed sufficient calories for the day, but that doesn’t mean you’ll actually feel full if you’ve chosen the wrong foods. Fullness, or “satiety,” is a feeling you would normally get when factors like digestive hormones and stomach stretching tell your brain you’ve eaten enough of what you need. If the meal you’ve eaten was high in calories but small in size and poor in nutrition, your body might not recognize it as sufficient.
High-calorie junk food will add up quickly, but it just won’t be big enough or nutritious enough to trigger that feeling of fullness. When you don’t feel properly full, it’s easy to accidentally eat too much or give in to temptations throughout the day.
You Need Sufficient Nutrients to Function (and to Lose Weight)
The body is basically a biochemical machine, which means it needs both energy and resources to keep it running properly. Like a car, it takes more than just filling the tank; you’ve got to provide coolant and clean oil to support the car’s various systems. In the human body, that support role is played by the nutrients we get from food.
In addition to energy in the form of ATP, we also need balanced amounts of essential nutrients like protein, fats and carbohydrates, and vitamins and minerals. The best way to get these nutrients in the right amounts is to diversify your diet and minimize the amount of processed food you’re eating.
Look for nutrient-packed foods like the following:⁸
- Dark, leafy greens (like kale): fiber, antioxidants, vitamins (C, A, K1)
- fish (like Tuna): protein, omega-3 fatty acids
- Garlic: Vitamins (C, B1, B6), copper, potassium, manganese, selenium
- Eggs : choline, protein, healthy fats, calcium, iron, magnesium, sodium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus
After a gastric sleeve or bypass surgery, you may have trouble getting all of your nutrients from food. It’s important that the small amount of food you eat is nutrient-rich, and that you take any supplements your doctor recommends. Malnourishment is a dangerous thing.
Low-Quality Fuel = Low Levels of Energy
Poor nutrition doesn’t just quietly affect your organs and bodily functions; it also affects your energy and mood in noticeable ways. If your body doesn’t have the right fuel, it’s only able to do so much. The energy you do have will go to power your most important processes, leaving you feeling run down and tired. This makes it especially difficult to get up and go to the gym, or even do a few sit-ups on your living room floor.
If you want to be able to lose weight, feel healthier, and strengthen your joints and muscles, you’ll need to have a diverse, high-quality diet that cuts out the junk and gives you the energy to exercise. Once your body is finally running at full efficiency, you’ll likely find yourself more lively, motivated, and able to work out and stick to your goals.
Tips for Sticking to a Healthy Diet and Exercise Routine
It’s no secret to anyone that a nutritious diet and regular exercise are two of the most important pieces of any healthy lifestyle or weight-loss journey. It’s also no secret that kicking junk food and getting active are harder than they sound. Here are a few simple tips you can use to help you stick to it this time:
- Don’t restrict yourself too much. It’s easy to get excited and go overboard on tweaking your lifestyle. If you cut your calories too much and ban all kinds of foods from your home, you might fall into the trap of “cheat days” that turn into weeks and months. If this is a problem for you, try instead to enjoy certain things in moderation. You don’t have to give up all junk food forever—it just shouldn’t be a major part of your diet.
- Make it a routine. Even if it’s just a few minutes of meal planning in the morning or a short daily walk after dinner, building healthy activities into your routine is an easy way to turn them into lifelong habits.
- Pre-plan and prep meals. If you plan out and make your meals in advance, you won’t be susceptible to impulsive food choices. It’s easier to say no to getting fast food when you’ve already made a healthy option.
- Work on your inside, too. It’s not all about the physical aspects of fitness; if you have a habit of eating when you’re emotional or rewarding yourself with junk food, you might benefit from talking to someone about the issues underlying your relationship with food. This can help you stay strong and identify why you have struggled in the past.
At Bariatric Care Centers, We Help Patients Reclaim Their Health
Bariatric Care Centers’ Dr. Brian Mirza is a leading Houston surgeon with more than 15 years of experience. Dr. Mirza and the rest of our staff have helped people from all walks of life break free from obesity and make positive changes for happier, healthier lives. Dr. Mirza is trained to perform weight loss surgeries using less-invasive laparo-endoscopic and laparoscopic technology, allowing patients to get the results they want with a quicker, more comfortable recovery.
If your weight is causing you health problems, surgery could save your life. To learn more about your weight loss surgery options, or to discuss getting a gastric sleeve in our Houston clinic, call us today at (713) 339-1353.