Break the habit: I eat too much fast food
What damage am I doing?
You could be doing significant damage to your health. A diet of double cheeseburgers and fries washed down with an oversized fizzy drink or milkshake often leads to a broader waistline and related health problems. When researchers at the University of Minnesota, USA, tracked 3031 women and men for 15 years, they found that those who ate fast food twice a week compared to less than once a week gained 5 extra kilos and were twice as likely to have a pre-diabetic condition called insulin resistance.
Because fast food is extremely kilojoule-dense, people are tricked into consuming more kilojoules than their body needs, according to a study by the UK's Medical Research Council. The average fast-food meal has 1.5 times as many kilojoules as a typical British home-cooked meal, and 2.5 times as many as a traditional African meal. But our bodies are not geared to recognising the excess energy and fat content, and smaller portions are rarely available.
What's more, market-testing of fast foods focuses on finding the ‘bliss point’. That's the perfect combination of fat, starch, salt and sugar that keeps us reaching for more, even when we've had enough. It's all too easy to consume extra kilojoules, creating weight gain and, ultimately, obesity from regular fast-food consumption.
Another risk is from the content of harmful ‘trans’ fats that until recently predominated in most of the oils used in fast-food frying. Trans fats raise levels of the ‘bad’ blood fats—LDL cholesterol and triglycerides—that contribute to hardening of the arteries and fire up inflammation, an immune-system response that's involved in the build-up of fatty plaque in artery walls. They also lower the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol that could mop it all up, and add to the abdominal fat that is most associated with diabetes and heart disease. Consuming just 5 grams of trans fat a day may raise your risk of heart attack by 25 percent.
Read more: Why does junk food make us fat?
Can I undo the damage?
Yes, with commitment. It'll take permanent lifestyle changes that won't be easy at first. Fast food is super-convenient, surprisingly inexpensive and, thanks to all its fat, salt and sugar, undeniably tasty.
Healthy eating takes more time and thought and, in some cases, more money. But the health benefits are immediate and substantial.
And they don't stop there. In addition to losing extra weight, slimming your waistline and protecting yourself from heart disease and diabetes, you'll save money if you make your own meals instead of buying fast food.
Read more: How to sneak more vegetables into your meals
Your repair plan
- Wean yourself off slowly
Most people cannot end a habit cold turkey, and that holds true for fast-food consumption. Cut back a little each week, and each time you go, buy a little less than you used to and start ordering the healthier choices such as fruit slices or yogurt.
- Start off by cutting out the fizzy drinks
As discussed earlier, fizzy drinks can really hurt your health. And fast-food restaurants love to serve up monster-sized cups of them. Instead, switch to milk, coffee or bottled water and save hundreds of kilojoules.
- Switch from burgers to chicken
In particular, switch to grilled chicken, which is one of the healthiest choices on a fast-food menu. Get dressing separately and use just a tiny bit.
- Switch from fries to salad
Those fries are cooked in pure fat and are covered in salt. Fast-food salads may not have the crunch of French fries, but they are more satisfying than you might realise, and they are considerably more healthy.
- End the impulse visits
The worst health sin is to spot a takeaway restaurant and impulsively go in for a quick burger, even if you aren't all that hungry or it's not mealtime. Put a firm halt to these kinds of mad meals.
- Switch to supermarkets
On the road and need a fast meal? Go to a supermarket and get some fruit, a tub of yogurt, a prepared salad or maybe even some sushi. Every major supermarket chain has responded to the need for fast meals with lots of healthy choices. You are likely to eat a greater volume of food and consume fewer kilojoules.
- Make your own
You can eat with confidence in your own kitchen. How about leftover roast beef on a crusty roll, a handful of plump cherry tomatoes, crunchy carrots and a juicy orange? Wash it down with unsweetened iced tea.
- Get your health tested
Eating frequent fast-food restaurant meals is indicative of a generally unhealthy lifestyle. If you want to switch to the healthy side, ask your doctor to check your blood pressure and cholesterol. Finding out the damage that has been done can be a strong motivation for ending your fast-food restaurant visits. It's all too easy to consume extra kilojoules, creating weight gain and, ultimately, obesity from regular fast-food consumption.
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