How to Eat Fast Food and Be Healthy
Life is busy and sometimes leads to fast food or restaurant meals. There is no golden number for a maximum number of times one can eat fast food in a week, but it is possible to eat fast food too often. The best way to decide if you should try to reduce how often you eat fast food, the first step is to consider how often you are eating fast food now.
It might be easiest to look at how many meals a day/week/month you are getting fast food, and figure out ways of slowly decreasing this number. Start with a realistic goal. For example, if you are getting fast food 4 days/week now, shoot for 3 days and see how it goes.
Fast food can be enjoyed in moderation. As a Registered Dietitian, we recommend in moderation because processed foods are typically low in fruits and vegetables, protein, heart healthy fats, and fiber. These nutrients work together to make you feel satisfied, lower cholesterol, maintain a healthy weight and decrease the risk of disease.
Fast food does not bring these nutrients to the table. And, fast food is usually high in saturated fat, sodium, and sugar. These are tastes you might be craving and that is what this industry relies on. Here are a few tips to help you in this situation.
5 Steps to Balance Fast Food
Give yourself permission to go to the fast food restaurants. By allowing yourself to do so you may start to take the power away from these foods. The more you try to eliminate these eateries completely the more you might end up going to them.
Give yourself permission and you might find you don’t like them as much as you thought. They might not make you feel well, or the fact that they are just around every corner may decrease the cravings for them.
Moderation doesn’t include a specific number for a reason. It is different for everyone. If you are now going to the fast food restaurants twice a day, saying you will only go once a month is not realistic. The best ways to limit this is to have food already prepared at home so you have another option that is just as convenient.
Plan in times that you will be going to these restaurants so that you don’t feel like you are cutting out your favorite foods. For the person going twice a day eventually once a month is a great goal but it might be once a day at first then 4 times a week and so on.
3. Reduce the cravings
Cravings for high sugar, high fat, and high sodium foods can be coming from a variety of places. Focus on fueling throughout the day with good sources of fiber, protein and healthy fats so you are feeling satisfied. By skipping meals or not eating enough you might find yourself with extreme hunger and this impairs your ability to choose healthy options which might send you to what is the most convenient.
Get enough sleep and reduce stress, both are factors in causing cravings.
4. Be mindful
Many times fast food is used in the complete opposite fashion that is mindful. It might be when you are running late somewhere and stop on the way. At this time your mind is focused on all you have to do, making all the green lights, following directions, helping the kids get situated in the back of the car, and finishing eating before you reach your destination or before you have to merge on to the highway. Aside from not being safe to drive and eat, this eliminates your ability to eat mindfully.
So even though these foods that are high in sugar, sodium, and fat we might not even taste it because we are distracted. The best times to use these meals are times when you can enjoy what you are eating.
Try eating in the restaurant at the table with your family or bringing it home (if you are prone to eating on the way home maybe someone else can pick it up for you).
Take your time and place them on dinner plates, eat with silverware, pour yourself some water to slow down and savor.
“I’ll have a number 6…. with a diet coke.” You might be asking yourself what is the point? Might as well throw in the sugary soda to that meal! This is an example of all or nothing thinking. You might be thinking to yourself, “I am eating at Burger King/McDonald’s already. I am off my diet. What is the point! I’ll just start fresh tomorrow”. But ordering the diet coke might be saving you a couple hundred calories which adds up. Water would be even better! The best way to enjoy these foods is to keep balance in mind.
If you love spicy chicken sandwich (grains and protein), pair with side salad and piece of fruit so you can get half your plate fruits and veggies. There was a recent study on the amount of time spent in line at drive thrus is increasing because of all of the choices on the menu. Use those new choices to balance your plate!
If you love the fries make that a part of a well-balanced meal with an entrée salad with chicken and add your fries on the side!
It doesn’t have to be either 100% or 0%!
Top Picks at Chipotle and Chick-fil-a fast food
If you are looking for specific dietitian approved meals, take a look at these blogs.
For more tips and hack on eating healthy made simple, take a look at our most recent book, Nourished: 10 Ingredients to Happy, Healthy Eating
Blog updated May 2020
Rebecca Bitzer loves to empower Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) and their clients. Co-author of Welcome to the Rebelution: Seven steps to the nutrition counseling practice of your dreams and Taste the Sweet Rebellion: Rebel against dieting.