Losing weight can be extremely tough for those who find it difficult to eliminate fast food or simply do not have the time or money to cook at home. So the thought of being able to enjoy eating fast food while on a diet (including the soft drinks!) might seem counterintuitive. However, there is a way to be able to lose weight and still eat fast food.
Fast food, as the name suggests, is food produced with the intention of providing quick service meals that often focus on taste over quality and nutrition. Many fast foods are considered unhealthy either due to their lack of nutrients or their excessive amounts of processed and unhealthy ingredients which allow them to be served quickly. Most fast food tends to be quite calorie dense, high in refined carbohydrates (like sugars), trans and saturated fat, sodium and low in protein and important vitamins and minerals.
If fast food is deemed to be purely bad for the human body, then how can it possibly make us feel healthier? Those looking to lose weight can still incorporate fast food into their lifestyle, as losing weight boils down to being in a caloric deficit. As long as you are burning more calories than you are consuming, you will lose weight.
Nowadays, many global fast food chains offer healthier options in their menu and provide nutritional information regarding their foods online. Personal trainer Joshua Forster explained to TMS that fast food chains offering their menu online “will allow you to preplan what you will order, allowing you to make an appropriate choice, without feeling pressured when you’re there.”
Read on for a few tips on how to approach eating fast food while on a diet so that you don’t sabotage your weight loss journey.
Choose foods highest in protein and lowest in fats and sugar
It is well-known that consuming sufficient protein is not only essential for fat loss but also for muscle retention. Protein is the most important macronutrient when it comes to muscle growth, and being in a caloric deficit isn’t enough if you want to retain your muscles.
Consuming between 0.7-1g of protein per pound of body weight is recommended to ensure maximum muscle retention during your weight loss journey since your body will be depleted of energy from the calorie deficit. Joshua Forster explains:
“Protein has what is called the highest ‘thermic effect on food.’ This means it uses more of your body’s energy to break down. Therefore eating more protein means your body burns more calories. Protein is also the most filling out of the three macronutrients (The other two macronutrients being carbohydrates and fat). So when you eat protein, this means you feel fuller and will likely eat fewer calories later in the day.”
Registered Dietitian Mary Wirtz also gave TMS some great high protein, low fat fast food options from popular chains that you could try if you’re struggling to stay away from fast food:
- Chick-fil-A: 8-piece grilled chicken nuggets – 130 cals, 3g fat, 25g protein. “Add a side salad and fruit cup for a well-balanced meal, and your total meal will be under 400 calories,” Wirtz says.
- Subway: 6-inch oven-roasted turkey sandwich – 270 cals, 3g fat, 20g protein. As a tip, Wirtz suggests to “be sure to load up on extra veggies – lettuce, spinach, onions, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers – the list goes on. The additional veggies will add more fiber, which keeps you feeling full longer.” She also says to “avoid high-calorie dressings such as mayonnaise and Southwest sauce. Stick with deli mustard, vinaigrette or sweet onion sauce instead.”
- Taco Bell: Veggie power menu bowl – 430 cals, 17g fat, 12g protein. “If you are worried that the veggie bowl won’t fill you up, add on the side of black beans for only 50 more calories,” Wirtz adds.
Opt for grilled instead of fried selections
The thought of not being able to eat fried chicken nuggets or French fries might be a nightmare for those avid consumers of such fast food. Nutrition coach Ashlee Van Buskirk, who runs her own fitness and nutrition coaching business, Whole Intent, says one useful tip for eating fast food while on a diet is to choose grilled foods over fried.
“If you like deep-fried chicken nuggets at lunchtime, try swapping them out for grilled nuggets instead! They’ll still pack plenty of flavor with a fraction of the calorie and fat content,” Buskirk says.
Choose diet sodas
If you are going to have a drink with your meal at a fast-food chain, the first choice would be water if you’re looking to lose weight. Nothing beats that. However, according to Joshua Forster, “If you fancy something sweet, always opt for the diet and sugar-free versions of soda. Regular soda contains hundreds of calories, while the diet versions contain no sugar, therefore tend to be zero calorie. Due to not having any sugar, they will also be better for your teeth.”
Eat foods with lots of vegetables and opt for healthy dressings
Yes, as much as some may dislike vegetables, they are essential for getting important micronutrients into our body. Registered dietitian Brittany Lubeck says the easiest way to get vegetables from fast food chains is by ordering salads.
“Most fast-food restaurants have salads. However, it is essential to make sure the salad options are not filled with high-fat foods like fried chicken, creamy dressings, lots of cheese and extra bacon,” Lubeck explains. “If ordering a salad, choose a vinaigrette dressing or use smaller amounts of any cream-based dressings like ranch.”
This is because cream-based dressings like ranch or mayonnaise are much higher in calories and fat content. So opting for maybe ketchup or mustard condiments instead would be better as they contain fewer calories than most cream-based dressings.
This isn’t really a fast food tip, but rather an eating habit that can change the way you consume food. Wellness expert Bracha Goetz believes that chewing slowly has many benefits.
“Not only will you digest your food better when you chew it more slowly, you will find that you don’t need to eat as much to feel satisfied. And you will discover that you can savor what is in your mouth that much longer. Try chewing more slowly than you usually do – even when eating fast food! An easy way to do this is to practice not picking up your next fork or spoonful until you have thoroughly chewed the fork or spoonful that is already in your mouth – and swallowed it.”
These useful tips can make your weight loss journey easier if you ever find yourself craving fast food or just don’t have the time to make your own food at home. Note that consuming fast food should not be a regular thing, and that cooking your own meals will always be the more efficient way to lose weight and feel healthier in the long term. These tips serve as a way to be able to enjoy eating fast food while on a diet (in moderation – ideally once a week max!) so that you can still meet your weight-loss goals.
Have a tip or story? Get in touch with our reporters at firstname.lastname@example.org