It’s the end of the day, you’re tired, your boss was angry, you have to pick up your child from a late soccer practice, you’re starved and have no dinner plans, and you drive by a Burger King on your way home. Do you stop or do you pass by and put together something quickly at home? 44% of Americans go to a fast food restaurant once a week. 14% of Americans go three or more times each week. What is it about fast food that attracts consumers?
Fast food is high in fat and carbohydrates and stimulates the release of endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that make us feel physically good. Dopamine is another hormone released that calms us and drives us to want more foods high in fat and carbohydrates. Couple this with the visual cue of driving by a fast food restaurant and feeling tired, and you have the perfect case for having it your way. But do you really know what you are eating?
Burger King Versus Subway
A Whopper with cheese has 760 calories with 47 grams of fat – 16 grams being from the artery-clogging saturated fat. A small order of French fries has 130 calories, 15 grams of fat and 49 grams of carbohydrates. Couple this with your burger and you have 900 calories with 102 grams of carbs and 62 grams of fat. That is your daily allotment for fat and nearly half your calories based on a 2000 calorie diet. And we haven’t even considered the drink. A small chocolate milk shake has 580 calories, 17 grams of mostly bad saturated fat and 97 grams of carbs. A small coke has 39 grams of carbs coming from the sugar. Both would shoot up your total grams of carbs to either 200 grams for the meal with the milk shake or 140 for the meal with the soda. Either one is way too high, well over half of the recommended amount for a 2000 calorie diet. And the total calories for the meal with the milkshake is nearly 1500 calories and for the meal with the soda over 1000 calories. We haven’t even discussed sodium for these choices. A whopper with cheese has 1410 mg of sodium more than half of the recommended daily amount of 2400 mg. Use this link to determine your Burger King choices. Use this link to learn more about nutrition facts.
Healthier Choices at Subway
Although Subway is fast food, there are more healthy choices and fewer unhealthy choices. If you choose from the low fat menu you can make a healthy choice. Order either a 6″ sub with baked chips or a full foot long(although depending on your choice the sodium can go up to over 1600 mg) without chips you can still keep your calories under 500 and your net grams of carbs at 82. The best choice would be to order a 6″ sub with the baked chips and ask for extra veggies to make it even healthier and more filling. Avoid regular sodas or sweetened teas; they are very high in carbohydrates due to the sugar that will only spike your blood sugar and make your pancreas work extra hard.
General Tips to Cut Down on Fat and Calories At Fast Food Restaurants
If you have few choices where you live and you choose to eat out then at least use these guide lines to make it healthier.
- Order your sandwiches without cheese – it will save you about 100 calories, lots of sodium and about 7 grams of fat.
- Skip the mayo and use mustard or a little bit of ketchup instead. Ordering the Whopper this way will save you 17 grams of saturated fat and 160 calories.
- Ask for extra veggies. They are low in calories, are filling and have healthy vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
- Choose grilled, baked or roasted instead of fried. This will save you about 250 calories and about 25 grams of fat.
- Choose water, diet sodas or unsweetened teas and bring your own sugar substitute like Stevia or add just a squirt of lemonade for sweetening.
- Eat baked chips or split an order of small fries or regular chips to cut down on calories.
- Choose whole grain rolls or buns whenever possible to get more fiber which enhances the fullness factor.
- Eat slowly, taking at least 15 minutes, so that your stomach has time to register fullness and you are less tempted to go back for more with all the aromas wafting in the air.
Urge Splurge versus Planned Splurge
The above scenario requires further exploration. You have to ask yourself what is behind the desire to eat fast food. Is it because you don’t have anything at home to eat? Is it because you are tired and fast food is comforting and calming? Is it because you had the visual cue when your drove past the restaurant? Or is it because you really haven’t eaten out for a few weeks and you would really enjoy eating some fast food. I tell people that there is a difference between a planned splurge and a urge splurge. The first splurge you are in control. The second, the splurge controls you and often leads to guilt and wasted calories. In a planned splurge you are more apt to make healthier choices; in a urge splurge you are less likely.
Even better than stopping at a fast food restaurant is to have something ready at home to eat or to put together quickly. Planning ahead keeps us from failing. Looking ahead each week makes it easier to anticipate hectic days and have something easy to reheat or prepare. Setting up a meal in the crock pot the night before can eliminate all preparation for dinner the next day. Making extra sauces, soups or casseroles and freezing makes it easy to just take out and heat up. Steam some veggies and you have a complete meal. Another quickly prepared meal is to take a can of chicken soup, add a half can of beans like cannellini or kidney and a bag of frozen veggies. This can serve four and takes about 10 minutes from putting together and to serving up. One of my favorite quick meals is chili. It is all done in one pan or could be done in the crock pot. In a large soup pan I cook a pound ground chicken breast and then add one jar marinara sauce, one 28 oz. chopped tomatoes, one bag of chopped frozen spinach or broccoli, one can of rinsed kidney beans and chili powder to taste. I simmer it for 30 minutes or it can be done in the crock pot on low setting in the morning.
No matter what your choice, fast food or eat at home, making a conscious decision to eat healthier is possible in both scenarios. Understanding the motivation behind the choice helps us to conquer impulses and take control of our health one step at a time.