Some of us have a relationship with fast food. We love it. We crave it. It is all around us, on the streets we drive and constantly flashed into our brains with commercials on the TV programs we watch. Science is why we keep coming back. Fast food is specifically manufactured to be addicting so we continue to waste money on over priced ecstasy for our taste buds.
Back in 2015, I researched information on the question and it’s scary. First, let’s look at the basic ingredients of fast food:
There you have it. The food industry discovered if they could create a food with the perfect combination of fat, sugar, and salt, consumers will keep returning for more.
Example, French Fries
What is better than a fresh, crispy, deep fried potato? Potatoes are a carbohydrate that converts to sugars in the blood when consumed. Cook it in some sort of fat and add salt, you have the perfect combination of ingredients to make your brain chemicals happy.
According to Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, by Eric Schlosser, a popular fast food chain originally used a mixture of 7% vegetable oil and 93% beef tallow for cooking their french fries. The resulting french fry was extremely popular. It also had more saturated fat than their popular burgers but no one cared at the time.
We love the stuff. We crave it. Is it all a weakness in self control, or, is there a physical reason? There is a specific name for it.
In the 1980’s, the multi-billion dollar food industry discovered the nirvana for taste buds, hyper-palatable food. These foods contain the exact formulation of fat, sugar, and salt to keep profits up.
Hyper-palatable foods are easy to eat. As we have gulp it down in record time, we reach for more. When the utopia of ingredients hit our blood stream, our brain releases endorphins. The pleasure is so great to the brain, we reach for more even though we are full. The endorphins also create a feeling of calmness and well being.
Packaged cookies are another example on how hyper-palatable foods can be addicting. A 2013 study by neuroscientists at the Connecticut College ran experiments on rats and one particular brand of cookie. After running their maze and conditioning tests on the rats, their brains were examined for a protein called c-Fos.
The result: the cookies activated more neurons in the region of the brain associated with pleasure, than cocaine. Yes, you read that correctly. Our favorite cookie activates the same neurons in the brain as cocaine. Let that sink in as you reach into the package of cookies.
Can We Stop the Fast Food Train?
Good question. I will readily admit I am an addict to fast food and raised my kids into the addiction. Because of my overeating, I have had two bariatric surgeries.
Fast food played a great part. My last surgery is a permanent surgery, meaning it cannot be reversed. But more on that in an upcoming post. Although it (the surgery) has not completely separated my need for fast food and the ability to eat it, it has slowed it down to a barely manageable guilty pleasure.
Starting today, April 6, 2019, I am setting a goal of NO fast food for the remainder of the month. Can I do it? YES. But will take some planning.
Alternatives to Fast Foods
Today after I went to the gym, what was the first thing I did? Sausage-egg sandwich with a sugar laden mocha. Lot of good that 20 minutes on the bike did. I need to prepare BEFORE going to the gym for the need of sustenance afterwards.
With some research, I found some ideas to help. Nothing will take away that want, the crave, until our body and brain adjust to eating “regular” foods.
As I have noted in a previous post, we are doing the Mediterranean diet here. We don’t usually have fast food for dinner, but one night I was tired, my back hurt, and it was late. A bacon burger with onion rings from the local deli hit the spot. Again, I need to be prepared for those nights. Let’s look at those ideas I found.
Ideas for shopping day or errand running day:
- Bring your snacks. Bag up some nuts, carrots, low sugar protein bar or cheese sticks. One website suggested, especially if you have kids with you, load a small cooler with drinks, snacks, yogurt, etc.
- Drink a nutrient dense protein smoothie before you leave. The nutrients and the protein will keep your mind off of the drive through.
- Carry a protein bar with you in your purse. Read the ingredients to ensure the bar has high protein, good fiber, low sugar, and low carbohydrates. This may ease your cravings until you get home.
- Carry WATER. Sometimes you are just thirsty and that water will cut the crave.
Here are a few ideas on how to handle the “I don’t want to cook tonight” syndrome.
- Premixed salad greens and rotisserie chicken. Takes just minutes to shred the chicken over the salad greens. Top with your favorite dressing, you have a dinner in under a half hour that is nutritional and satisfying. If like us you are doing the Mediterranean eating plan, you may have some walnuts and non aged cheese handy in the fridge. Add those to the top of the salad for a more satisfying meal.
- An excellent handout from the State of Virginia website on fast food alternatives.: http://www.move.va.gov/docs/NewHandouts/Nutrition/N07_FastFoodAlternatives.pdf
- From HelpGuide.org, a guide to healthier eating when you do go out: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/healthy-fast-food.htm
- Some wonderful, easy ideas here for dinner: http://greatist.com/health/52-healthy-meals-12-minutes-or-less
- Additional ideas for meals prepared in 20 minutes or less: https://www.stylist.co.uk/life/quick-easy-fast-dinner-recipes-under-20-30-minutes-healthy-meals-you-can-make/59385
I hope these ideas help you avoid fast food as a habit. Did any of these ideas help you? Let me know what you do down in the comments section.