During the course of 2016, my friends, one by one, dove head first into veganism, vegetarianism, and every other healthy eating food trend new-agey Brooklynites practice. After each friend fell, I—a notoriously disastrous eater—mourned the loss of a fellow fast-food-revering buddy by eating Whoppers midday in desolate Burger Kings and scarfing down Checkers fries after the sun set in vacant strip mall parking lots, nothing but the stadium lights above illuminating my guilty mug. Much like supermodel and new mother Chrissy Teigen, whose idea of dieting includes licking the fake powdered cheese off of Doritos, I fall into a category of people who simply don't glean satisfaction from downing quinoa and kale. My body, teeming with saturated fats and riddled with processed sugar, screams out for something, anything, less damaging, but healthy eating just isn't something I can do while still maintaining some form of happiness.
For me, and the legions of people like me who prefer burgers and fries over avocado salads and green hybrid juices, healthy eating comes down to learning which options at Taco Bell will wreak the smallest amount of havoc on my digestive and cardiovascular systems. Simply put, we must consume the least-harmful junk foods we can. Those who refuse to worship superfoods must learn how to eat badly but well.
So, how exactly does that work?
According to Lauren Imparato, the founder of the RETOX wellness philosophy, we kale haters should eat what our bodies crave. Cutting out foods we love won't make us any happier or mentally healthier. Eating what we love plays a huge part in staying healthy. Plus, recent research defends dietary fat and cholesterol as not nearly as dangerous to your system as we've been told. Refined carbs and sugars though? Still the devil.
"We can't forget that liking what you eat is a huge part of health and nutrition and nourishment," says Imparato. "It's not all about the actual biochemical nutrients in the food, it's also about the experience of eating."
Luckily, Kelly Pritchett, a professor of nutrition at Central Washington University, agrees. She says that making small changes to our everyday diets—not cutting out all the junky foods we consume—is the best way to eat badly well.
Limiting yourself to green smoothies isn't necessary. We can effectively tweak our devious yet delicious meal choices, Pritchett promises. Rather than cold-turkey a lifelong dependence on sides of fries, unhealthy food connoisseurs should focus on optimizing the health value of the foods we consume. For example, we don't have to say goodbye to loaded nachos, but we'd benefit from skewing the usual ingredients in them. Pritchett suggests replacing sour cream with greek yogurt. As for sweet midday ice coffees, decrease kcals by asking for half the pumps of simple syrup.
Junk food junkies should also try crafting their comfort foods within the comfort of their own homes, where recipes can be more easily modified, resulting in the intake of more nutritious meals without our tastebuds even knowing.
Much like when cooking for a fussy toddler (and my dietary cravings don't vary much from that of a fussy toddler), unhealthy eaters should throw veggies and fruits into their concoctions, hiding their inclusion behind more savory flavors, says Imparato.
Pritchett concurs: "[Give] comfort foods a makeover by decreasing or replacing heavy cream and sauces with other options and adding in vegetables. My favorite is butternut squash mac and cheese—you can cut down the amount of cheese and fat by adding butternut squash."
Let's be real, though. While crafting delicious and wholesome food at home sounds like a dream, most of us don't have the time or patience, so quick and dirty meals from local eateries are our go-to.
Imparato suggests mischievous eaters frequent their local community-owned Tex-Mex, Indian, and Chinese food spots, where cooks likely use "real cheese, better meat quality, and fresher vegetables" than convenient but ultra-processed fast food chains. Fresher ingredients help us steer clear of harmful preservatives (sodium nitrite, which helps meat feign a tasty color, or carminic acid, aka bug juice) that are added to our Taco Bell quesadillas.
Pritchett also says to skip the cokes, margaritas and caloric beers intermittently, and drink water instead. As stale as this tip is, many of us still ignore it because we just can't get over how bland H2O is. For the hard-up carbonation cravers, trick your tongue by swapping in sparkling water.
While sneaking peas into your mac and cheese and the like may not seem like a monumental leap toward pristine health, these decisions make a difference. Point being, if eating badly with finesse means I can still eschew murky green juices and overpay for my favorite latte, then sign me up.