For Junk Food Junkies: Newtrition Resolutions

author : Nancy Clark
comments : 1

You know what you should eat. Yet you just don’t want to. Yuck—whole wheat bread, bran cereal, oatmeal, skim milk, spinach, fish, fruit for snacks and desserts.

The Athlete’s Kitchen
By Nancy Clark

“I know I should eat more bananas, better breakfasts, and less junk--but I just don’t want to...!!!”

Sound familiar? Yes, if you are among the cluster of athletes who rationalizes your consumption of "junk food" is OK because you exercise hard, burn off the calories and hence “deserve” a reward. You undoubtedly know an optimal sports diet includes more fresh fruits, more vegetables, more whole grains and less fast-and-fatty foods, gooey sweets and tempting treats. But Cinnabons taste good. So do Big Macs, Pringles and Haagen Dazs. What’s life without ice cream? Or chocolate chip cookies?

Yes, the American diet includes an abundance of foods with lackluster nutrition. Some favorites have even been dubbed heart-attacks-on-a-plate! But for you, donuts are more fun than bran muffins. And bacon tastes better than oatmeal. Coke is preferable to skim milk. Let’s face it, America’s abundance of tempting treats is a haven for junk food junkies. Junk food may be fun for the moment, but good health is better for the long run. Given the new year is a good time for newtrition resolutions, you may be ready to say “Enough is enough?”

You know what you should eat. Yet you just don’t want to. Yuck—whole wheat bread, bran cereal, oatmeal, skim milk, spinach, fish, fruit for snacks and desserts. If the thought of revamping your diet sends you running to Fast Food Alley, this article is designed to help you choose the road towards a healthier food plan that’s livable. Even YOU can eat well and still have fun with food! Here are a few suggestions.

Whole wheat bread
If you are an aficionado of squishy white bread, just the thought of a sandwich on whole wheat slices can zap the fun out of your lunch. Take note: Whole wheat bread is not the only way to boost your intake of wholesome grains. A reasonable goal is to have at least half of your grain-foods be unrefined. That means you can enjoy white bread for lunch and whole grains at other times: Cheerios, oatmeal or granola for breakfast; brown rice or corn (canned or frozen) with dinner; lowfat Triscuits, popcorn or baked corn chips for a snack. Take note: A wholesome diet need not be a “perfect” diet (read that, a diet that bans white bread).

Some athletes call it oatmeal, others call it wall paper paste. While there’s no denying that folks who regularly eat oats can lower their cholesterol (and risk of heart disease), you still have to eat the stuff. If you have had undesirable encounters with gluey, gloppy oatmeal, here’s a suggestion for happily including this health protective grain into your diet: Eat oats raw. Yup. That way, you avoid their gluey consistency. Here’s how I conquered the “I should eat oatmeal” guilt-trip.


I enjoy a half-cup of raw oats (either old fashioned or instant oats taste fine) with some crispy cereal for texture and crunch (like whole grain Wheaties), plus milk, sliced banana, a handful of slivered almonds and a sprinkling of (dried) blue berries. Yum! I enjoy this simple and satiating meal both at breakfast and often in the afternoon as a pre-exercise energizer.

Skim milk
If you grew up drinking skim milk, you have an advantage over athletes who were trained to like the “real thing.” Unfortunately for our health, a glass of whole milk contains the equivalent of two pats of butter. That’s 10 grams of fat, 50 calories of cloggage. Your best bet is to gradually wean yourself from whole milk (3.5% fat) to 2% fat milk, then 1%, and then skim. You can stop at 1% or 2% milk, as long as you keep other fatty foods at a minimum throughout the rest of your day’s intake. For example, cut back on cheese, butter and obviously greasy foods. Your overall diet will end up being low in fat.

More milk
Now that you are drinking lower fat milk, the trick is to enjoy milk (yogurt or other calcium-rich foods) three times a day to get the calcium needed to protect your bones, help keep blood pressure under control, and manage weight. Choose cereal (with milk) for breakfast, a (decaf) latte in the morning and another in the afternoon, hot cocoa (with milk powder added to hot cocoa mix), and cups of yogurt for snacking.

You’ve undoubtedly heard you’ll be strong to the finish if you eat your spinach. But what if you don’t like the stuff, even though it offers iron, folate, potassium, beta-carotene and abundant other health-protective nutrients? Before saying "yuck," try a salad made with baby spinach leaves (available in the “bagged salad” section of most grocery stores). Baby spinach offers a sweeter, gentler taste than regular frozen or fresh spinach. 

Here's a lip-smacking good sweet & spicy salad dressing (courtesy of marathon king Bill Rodgers) that will find you coming back for more spinach: Combine 2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1/2 to 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon ketchup, and salt as desired. (This makes enough for a whole bag of spinach.) Add your choice of slivered almonds, mandarine oranges, mushrooms, broken walnuts... Mmmm.

Fruit for dessert, snacks
Without a doubt, athletes who eat fruit several times a day protect health far better than any vitamin supplement might do. But if a pear just doesn’t “do it” for a snack, nor does an apple satisfy your hankering for apple pie, try these tips to fatten your fruit intake.

  1. Do your “fruit duty” at breakfast, the meal when fruit appeals to most people. By enjoying a tall glass of orange juice along with a banana (on cereal), you’ll have a firm foundation to your day’s fruit intake.

  2. Eat a heartier lunch so fruit will become an appealing dessert. For example, convert your light lunch into a peanut butter sandwich. You’ll then be content to enjoy grapes for dessert (instead of a big cookie).

  3. Snack on an apple plus (lowfat) cheese, banana plus peanut butter, berries plus yogurt. One piece of fruit for about 100 calories is generally too little for an athlete who may need 300 calories per snack.

Costs vs Benefits
Making dietary improvements offers benefits: better health, more energy, less dental care, longer life, etc.. But eating healthier comes along with costs. That is, eating breakfast means you have to wake up earlier, have breakfast-food available, and take the time to eat. But the benefits are: you’ll be more alert, less hungry mid-morning, have a better workout that afternoon and be better able to control your weight. When the benefits of breakfast out-weigh the costs, you’ll integrate that dietary improvement into your life. The same goes for ice cream. When you eat heartier, wholesome meals at breakfast and lunch, you’ll be content to eat a lighter dinner and less ice cream (or other evening snacks) afterwards. You may not even miss the goodies, or will easily eat smaller portions.

By acknowledging the costs and benefits of your food choices, you can better understand why you eat the way you do, and then move forward. Keep focused on this over-riding benefit: When you eat well, you feel better and you feel better about yourself. Everyone always win with good nutrition!


Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, MS, RD offers nutrition consultations to casual and competitive athletes at her private practice in Healthworks (617-383-6100), the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill MA. Her Sports Nutrition Guidebook ($23) and Food Guide for Marathoners ($20) can help you improve your sports diet. Both books are available at  or by sending a check to PO Box 650124, West Newton MA 02465.



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date: January 24, 2005

Nancy Clark

Nancy Clark, MS, RD, an internationally known sports nutritionist and nutrition author, is a registered dietitian (RD) who specializes in nutrition for exercise, health and the nutritional management of eating disorders.

avatarNancy Clark

Nancy Clark, MS, RD, an internationally known sports nutritionist and nutrition author, is a registered dietitian (RD) who specializes in nutrition for exercise, health and the nutritional management of eating disorders.

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