Everything in moderation. The only problem with a phrase like this is that the definition of moderation varies from person to person. Moderation for me is a small scoop of ice cream after dinner. Moderation to a buddy of mine is eating half a box of pepperoni pizza and leaving the other half in the fridge for lunch the next day. For the majority of the population, eating is one of the great joys in life. Then there are a small few who see stopping to eat a meal as an annoyance or just a necessary timeout to fuel the engine. If you are reading this, I am going to assume that you don’t fall into the latter category.
There has been a lot of research done on junk food and how much of it we can safely eat without putting on weight. The evidence suggests that it can be done. For active men, a safe range is 10 to 20% of your total daily intake. That leaves you with somewhere between 280 to 560 calories a day depending on your weight. For women, you are looking at a bit less. To err on the safe side you should keep it between 150 to 325 calories per day. That could be a can of soda, a couple of handfuls of potato chips or a scoop of ice cream.
If these guidelines are too strict for you, try thinking of foods as “everyday” foods and “occasional” foods. That way, nothing is “bad” or off limits. You don’t want to restrict yourself entirely from any food unless you have a legitimate allergy to that specific food. Research suggests that this mindset may actually cause weight gain. Everyday foods are ones that you want to eat every single day. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, lean cuts of protein and dairy (if you can tolerate it). These foods need to be the backbone of your diet and then you can fill in your remaining calories with small indulgences.
What about alcohol? One to two drinks can range anywhere between 300 to 600 calories depending on what you are drinking. If you are trying to lose weight, drinking alcohol even in moderation can work against you. Without getting too sciency, the by-product of alcohol metabolism, acetate, is toxic. So when you drink, fat burning stops until you burn those calories off. Drinking can easily push us over our calorie budget for the day. So you will probably want to curb your alcohol indulgences until you have reached your desired weight goal.