Junk food hurts your brain as much as it hurts your body

Sep 14, 2015 at 12:46 p.m. ET
Image: Layla Dartry/EyeEm/Getty Images

If the burger and fries above look like everything you ever dream about in a meal (hello, love), then you are like me and you like junk food sometimes. But you might want to kick that craving for good. Because new research suggests that it might be even worse for us than previously believed.

New research has shown for the first time that the part of the brain used for learning, memory and mental health is actually smaller in people who indulge in more foods considered "junk." Ouch.

The study comes from Deakin University and the Australian National University (ANU). They studied people with unhealthy diets and found that they actually have smaller hippocampi. In case you are wondering, the hippocampus is a part of the brain responsible for learning, memory and mental health. It has also shown that older people with healthier diets have larger hippocampi.

So if you were thinking of ditching that burger for weight loss reasons (because, duh), you might really want to ditch it for your brain. For serious, people!

When I read something like this, it is a little painful. I love burgers and fries and cake and brownies and all manners of fattening and salty food. But I eat almost entirely clean. Why? Because I feel so much better. Yes, it also helps me control my weight and that's amazing, but I also have more energy and fewer digestive issues. I want to wake up early and go to bed late. I need less sleep and my body feels like a clean machine.

So why do we still want our junk?

I notice that I am particularly vulnerable to junk eating when I am feeling otherwise down. If I have a bad day or I am feeling badly about myself for some reason, that is when I most want to grab some chocolate and fries. But that's exactly the time to double down on clean eating. Truly.

We have to be honest with ourselves about the effects of junk food. It's not just about rocking a bikini. It's about living long, giving our brains strength and generally feeling good in our skin. We have to stop being in denial about what junk does to our machine. Would you put bad gas in a Mercedes?

This study is eye opening. I may still eat a burger. But it will be once a year now instead of once a month.

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