We once again take a detour from points, miles, and travel to talk about eating! Like many Americans, I eat fast food with some frequency, usually at lunch during the week. After all, it’s cheap and convenient. But unlike many Americans, I am no longer overweight, as I have now lost about 30 pounds since I first started eating better.
I enjoy finding easy, efficient ways to achieve goals, and as others have learned fast food can actually be helpful in losing weight. I know it’s been helpful for me: I have a few go-to meals at various restaurants I can eat that will help me achieve my goal of maintaining or losing weight. Herewith, some tips for optimally managing your fast food dietary habits:
- Use the nutrition charts to tabulate calories and decide what you’re going to eat ahead of time. It’s easy to eat much more than you need at restaurants, and in fact restaurants have an interest in that arrangement since your overeating pads their bottom line. If you’re concerned about your weight, you should already have figured out how many calories per day you need. Since people tend to be creatures of habit, your fast food consumption will be from a handful of restaurants. Go to those restaurants’ websites, look over their menus, figure out how many calories your daily caloric budget leaves for your lunch (or whatever meal), and figure out a meal that can fit within your parameters. If you plan ahead of time and stick to it, you can avoid falling prey to the various tricks marketers use to get you to eat more.
- If there are no nutrition charts available, estimate. You may be surprised at what you find.
- Say no to caloric beverages. If you’re concerned about your weight, be extremely careful about drinking your calories. I’m talking about (non-diet) soda, sweet tea, fruit juice, frappucinos–all that stuff. It’s a lot of sugar with little to no nutritional value. Moreover, some people will mentally discount any calories gained from drinks and then find themselves wondering why they’re gaining weight. Stick with things like water, unsweet tea, or black coffee. Is diet soda okay? It depends on who you ask. Some people can lose weight with it, but in my case it tends to make me more hungry later on, so I try to avoid it if I’m in weight-loss mode.
- There are good options everywhere, and there are bad options everywhere. You can get a reasonably healthy chicken salad at much-maligned McDonald’s for a few hundred calories, or you can consume 2,000 calories in the form of a burrito and chips at Chipotle. Don’t think you’re eating “healthy” or “unhealthy” just because of the halo around a particular restaurant or particular food.
- What counts as a good option or a bad option varies from person to person. For example, some people might consider Panera to be “healthier” than McDonald’s. And that is no doubt the case for some people. But their entrees which appeal to me tend to have a lot of calories, plus it’s agonizing to look at those pastries and not get one, whereas at McDonald’s I’ve found it’s not too hard to have a satisfying meal if I avoid the sweet drinks and say no to french fries. Speaking of which…
- French fries are the devil. They are calorically dense and they are delicious. One large serving of fries will set you back almost 500 calories. That’s one quarter of the entire day’s energy needs for a lot of people, and it’s only a side dish. Stay away!
- Rice may be the devil too, but I’m not as sure about that. It’s easy to eat a lot of it without realizing it. And this is a YMMV thing, but it almost always leaves me hungry a few hours later if I have more than a few bites. I leave it out of my order at Chipotle.
- You can still have “unhealthy” foods–just pay attention to the calories and don’t overdo it. It’s really hard to maintain any diet if too many foods you love are out of bounds. For example, I love pizza. I have it about once per week since the best pizza in town (it’s run by a guy from New York named Luigi, need I say more?) is right down the road from my office. Except now that I’m better at counting calories, instead of having two pieces for lunch (800-1,000 calories), I only have one piece (400-500 calories, these are big pieces). And since I’ve been eating better for several months now, my stomach has adjusted and one piece fills me perfectly.
So… who’s up for a Big Mac?