One in three American adults consume fast food every day, says AARP. Having it once in a while when you’re in a hurry and just don’t have time to make a meal might be okay, but having it regularly is associated with many negative side effects. Science Daily reports that individuals who eat fast food regularly are 51 percent more likely to develop depression than those who eat little or no fast food. A thorough article on the subject of fast food and its consequences published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine states that those who eat fast food regularly face twice the risk of a heart attack and diabetes, and four times the risk of renal failure.
Those little burgers and sandwiches handed to you in cute and colorful boxes aren’t as harmless as they seem. Of course, there is a reason we love fast food. It is, naturally, fast. It saves you time and time is money. With more time you can get more done. However, you’re not really winning back time if you’re shaving years off of your life by eating fast food. If you’re ready to quit the fast food cycle for good, here are tips on how to wean yourself off of meals handed to you through a drive-thru window.
Know the price facts
If you’ve eaten fast food all of your life, then you might have been fed the myth that it is wildly less expensive than other foods. However, if you haven’t taken a moment to peruse the ready-made shelves at your grocery store, you wouldn’t realize that…those items are less costly than fast food, as well as healthier. Business Insider reports that fast food prices are increasing across the board. While there’s a commonly-held belief that you can grab a fast food full meal for around $5, the reality is that that’s not true for many major cities anymore. In fact, the Big Mac Combo Meal at McDonalds costs an average of $9 in locations in Los Angeles, CA, according to Expatistan.com. Meanwhile, you can stop into a Vons, Ralphs, or similar chain and typically pick up a ready-made (also known as fast) Cobb salad or Asian chicken salad for around $6 to $8. Fast food is not the cheapest option anymore. It’s important to be aware of those numbers, if it’s price that’s been keeping you in the cycle.
Think of time differently
Time. Everybody wants more of it. And the effort to save time is a top-stated reason Americans give for eating fast food. The United States Department of Agriculture released a study showing that fast food consumers spend more time traveling from place to place than those who don’t eat fast food. Translation: they’re in a hurry. But here is the thing: you want to save time so you can A) be more productive and B) carve out more time to enjoy life. Ultimately, eating fast food decreases your chances of doing either of those, as Augusta Health estimates that regular consumers of fast food have a life expectancy that is 10 years shorter than non-consumers of fast food. So think about that every time you want to hit the drive-thru. Do you want to save ten minutes now, or keep years later?
Understanding that making better food choices today will give you years later doesn’t change the fact that, right now, your schedule is busy. Sometimes you get fast food because you have no other options. But that’s only the case if you didn’t pack your own food. So do some planning. Pick a day in your week that isn’t too chaotic. Do your meal planning. If you have to be on the go a lot, make portable foods that can be eaten cold and transported in a lunch box or cooler. If it’s dinner that gets you, make a large batch of something healthy in advance and freeze/store the leftovers for reheating when you have a busy night. Do future you a favor – the one who wants nothing to do with a pot or a stove late nights during the week – and make something in a big batch ahead of time.
Understand it is an addiction
Before embarking on this journey, it’s important to understand that fast food is actually addicting. Research published in Scientific American shows that eating fats and sugars triggers a reaction in the brain that actually drives you to want to eat more. So if you find it really difficult to quit fast food, know there’s nothing wrong with you: there’s something wrong with the food you’ve been eating and it has changed your brain. Knowing that the strong urge to eat fast food is normal can make you less hard on yourself when you find this process to be quite challenging.
Identify your problem foods
Sit down and list the foods you’d be really sad to be without if you gave up fast food. For some it’s French fries. For some it’s burgers, tacos, chicken nuggets, or pizza. Get real with yourself about the foods you just couldn’t give up. Once you’ve identified those, explore recipes for healthy alternatives. If you absolutely hate to cook, you can also explore healthy ready-made options at your grocery store. Take a weekend to sample different options. If it’s pizza that’s your weak spot, bring home a few ready-made healthy varieties (think whole wheat or cauliflower crust, loaded with veggies) from your grocery store and find your favorite. If it’s French fries you crave, invest in an air fryer and try your own recipes at home.
Just handle today, today
Like with any addiction, thinking about quitting something forever can be overwhelming. In fact, the thought alone can cause anxiety that drives you to that vice. So in the same way someone in Alcoholics Anonymous is instructed to just deal with just today, today, do the same with fast food. Figure out how you’ll avoid fast food today. Tomorrow can wait for tomorrow. It can be useful to avoid the word “never.” Saying “I will never eat fast food again” can cause panic. Once you develop a healthier relationship with fast food, there is a chance that you can eventually have it occasionally.
For some, exposure is the biggest problem. Just driving by fast food locations makes you want to stop in. They know what they’re doing with the bright, welcoming lights and the smell of French fries wafting out of their roof. If it helps, change up the routes you take to and from your usual destinations so that you won’t pass fast food places. You might need to eat separately from coworkers or roommates who eat fast food for now. Being in close proximity will be difficult when you’re trying to quit the stuff. A study published in the National Library of Medicine shows that when we smell certain types of food (like sweet and salty stuff) we crave it. So even smelling it can be problematic for now.
Post your perks
Make a list of what you’ll gain when you quit fast food. Maybe it’s more energy. A flatter stomach. Better sleep. Better focus. An increased lifespan. Setting a better example for your children. Learning how to cook gourmet meals. Put these on post-it notes and put them inside of your car – that’s probably where you are when you pick up most of your fast food. Put them right there on your dashboard, steering wheel, or mirror if you need to (so long as it doesn’t obstruct your vision). That way, every time you’re tempted to pull into a fast food restaurant, you’re faced with the reality of what you’re giving up.