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What happens if you eat too much junk food?

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What happens if you eat too much junk food?


For better or worse, junk food is a part of our lives. Grocery stores are filled with it. Drive-thrus beckon from every corner. In fact, the fast-food industry was forecast to reach $281.68 billion in 2021, and McDonald’s alone accounted for $20 billion in 2019.


Can you even wrap your brain around how many Big Macs, Quarter Pounders and fries that equals?


That type of food is so ubiquitous because it fills a need. Quick, easy food is perfect for when you’re running between your kids’ practices, for example, are short on money for the week, have a group to feed, or just need to satisfy your need for waffle fries. (We see you.)


At the end of the day though, all those needs are emotional. The physical effects of eating junk food can be severe, and can add up quickly. Want to know exactly what happens to your body when you eat too much junk food? Read on.

What is considered “junk food”?

Here’s the simple answer: Junk food is any food that doesn’t bring nutritional value to your body. It includes most fast food (although there are some chains that are starting to offer healthier options), baked goods, candy, pre-packaged meals, soft drinks...basically, anything you buy from the grocery store that doesn’t need to be refrigerated or frozen.


The foods you find in the center aisles of the store need to be preserved in order to be shelf-stable, and that usually means a lot of salt. They’re also typically higher in “white” ingredients, like flour and sugar, unhealthy fats, and other additives like fat and sugar.

What are the health problems caused by fast food?

Eating too much junk food can have negative effects on both your body and your mind. These are just a few of the health problems caused by fast food.

Physical effects

Obesity. This one is probably the most obvious -- eating high-calorie, high-fat foods leads to weight gain. But what’s even more concerning is all the health effects that come with obesity -- heart disease, high blood pressure, increased cholesterol, breathing issues, inflammation, kidney disease, and Type 2 diabetes. One recent study revealed children who ate fast food 3 to 4 times a week were more prone to asthma and eczema than other children.


Migraines. Would you like a headache with that? A pounding headache that might show up in the hours following a meal of junk food can be triggered by a number of things, from a drop in blood sugar, consuming a high amount of nitrites or nitrates (often found in hot dogs, bacon and ham) to an allergic reaction that you may not realize you have.


Messes up your digestion. Junk food lacks the enzymes, fiber and water that your body needs for digestion. So, when you eat too much junk food -- especially white bread, red meat and fried foods -- it can cause a slowdown in your gut that leads to irritable bowels, bloating and constipation. 


Stunts growth and weakens bones. Researchers found that young rats who were fed ultra-processed diets, high in fat and sugar, caused their bones to have reduced density, weaker structure and a higher propensity for breaks. The changes happened only six weeks into the study, meaning that it doesn’t take much junk food to start messing with our skeletal systems.


Dulls your skin. Does your skin look blah after a fast-food binge? There could be lots of reasons: Soda can damage your collagen, which helps keep skin firm. High-salt foods, or high-fat foods like candy can affect circulation and promote inflation, leading to puffiness (everywhere!). The list of ways that junk food can damage your skin is a long one, and none of it is good news.


Erodes your teeth. This one is tied mostly to sugary foods and drinks, like soda. When you consume too much of this sweet treat, the plaque bacteria in your mouth turns that sugar into acids that attack your enamel.

Mental effects

Depression. People who eat a lot of fast food are 51% more likely to be depressed. The likely cause is junk food’s tendency to cause inflammation, which can affect the body’s nervous system and has been linked to depression and anxiety in other research.


Impatience and uncontrollable cravings. A recent study out of Canada found that exposure to fast food has far-reaching effects that go well beyond the physical. Here are a few of the results: just thinking about fast food can cause people to feel rushed. Unconscious exposure to fast-food logos caused people to read at a more hurried pace. And perhaps most disturbing, seeing fast-food symbols caused people to spend more, and save less.


Memory issues and lack of focus. There’s a lot of research out there to back this one up. For example, researchers have studied the thinking skills of people who eat a lot of fried and processed foods and found out that they scored lower on tests that measured thinking skills. Like depression, this is likely due to inflammation, which is known to damage blood vessels (including the ones that supply the brain.) 


Increased risk of dementia. The blood-sugar crash that comes with eating a lot of overly processed foods and refined carbs (even if they aren’t sweet to the taste) can affect your brain in several unpleasant ways. In the short term, it can give you brain fog, and research has found that in the long-term, it can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease -- particularly in people who are already genetically predisposed.

The bottom line

The list of reasons why junk food is one of the worst things you can eat is long. For healthier alternatives, shop the outer edges of the grocery store for more fresh options. And if you have no choice but to grab drive-thru for a meal, choose restaurants that offer health(ier) menu items like grilled chicken, turkey, and sides like fruits and vegetables.


Sometimes you need help overcoming a weakness for junk food. We can help!




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