3 Simple Hacks for Breaking Your Fast Food Addiction

This past year, perhaps more than ever, people were looking to fast food for its convenience and comfort.

3 Simple Hacks for Breaking Your Fast Food Addiction

This past year, perhaps more than ever, people were looking to fast food for its convenience and comfort. But did this create a fast food habit in your daily or weekly routine? Or were you already struggling with a fast food addiction before quarantine? To determine if you need to take a break from the drive-thru, here are some questions to think about:

  • Is it your morning habit to grab coffee from the local shop or corner store?
  • Do you get fast food as a pick-me-up when you're stressed or having a bad day?
  • Once you start eating the meal, do you eat more than you had intended?
  • Do you spend more on fast food each week than you do on groceries?
  • Do you try to hide fast-food wrappers or eat it in secret from others?

If you answered yes to these questions — or even just a few of them — you may need to rethink your fast food choices. Something as simple or innocent as grabbing your morning coffee at your favorite spot can indicate a troublesome habit or dependence on fast, convenient food. And the idea of hiding the containers and wrappers suggests that there's an underlying shame in the food being eaten. And ignoring that discomfort seems easier than facing it.

If you or your family has a fast food addiction that needs to be broken, it's never too late to make positive changes! Here are three simple hacks you can use to let go of your fast food habit.

3 Hacks to Break Your Fast Food Addiction

1. The Apple Test

When a fast food craving hits, eating that food can make us feel really good. But the moment the bag is empty, those good feelings don't last, and we end up feeling bad emotionally and physically. The unhealthy food is not actually satisfying our body or mind.

So the next time you have a craving for fast food, try the "Apple Test" to see if your body is actually hungry, or it's all in your head. Just ask yourself: "Would I still want this fast food if it were an apple or vegetable?" If you answer yes, then you're probably hungry for nutritious food! Go on and have an apple to satisfy your hunger. But if you answer: "Nah, I want fries or nuggets, then your craving is likely not physical hunger. You may be feeling the FLABS — frustrated, lonely, angry/anxious, bored or stressed. Those tend to be the top reasons people reach for food when they're not actually hungry. They're looking to food for comfort and relaxation.

By identifying your emotions, you stop yourself in your tracks and take time to see the root of the problem.

2. Moving Past the Shame

The self-blame or self-anger that comes after indulging in fast food can lead to eating even more fast food to ease the negative feelings. But you can break this cycle by showing yourself some compassion, love and acceptance. Accept that you ate a fast food meal. No, it wasn't the healthiest option, but it's done and that can't be changed. But change the way you think about it afterward. Reflect on why you ate it (going back to the FLABS emotions as part of the Apple Test). And then use that reflection to make your next choices positive and healthy. Do activities that care for yourself or choose food that fuels your body and keeps it healthy. Continue referencing this thought process to lower your reliance on the fast food.

3. When Fast Food Is the Only Option...

Sometimes we can't get around it. We're on a long drive to the in-laws or can't catch a break during a busy workday — and fast food is the only thing available. Just keep nutrition and self-care in mind when you roll up to the window. Try an "inside-out burger," where you replace the buns with two patties of meat. Then fill the middle with pickles, lettuce, tomatoes and onions. You're getting more protein and some veggies to keep you full longer.

Then try picking one "fun item." Whether it's a side of fries or a milkshake, allow yourself to enjoy it. If you set guidelines for yourself, you can create a healthy and manageable way to take care of your body while also not denying yourself the things you enjoy.

Q: I end up overeating because it makes me feel better and I never really get full. I'd like to lose weight but this makes it hard. Any suggestions?

A: Being persistently hungry can cause big trouble. So can overeating for comfort/pleasure. These two behaviors, say researchers from Baylor University's Children's Nutrition Research Center, are controlled deep within your brain by serotonin-producing neurons, but operate separately from each other — one in the hypothalamus, the other in the midbrain. They both can, however, end up fueling poor nutritional choices and obesity.

Eating for Hunger

When hunger is your motive for eating, the question is: "Does your body know when you've had enough?" Well, if you are overweight, obese or have diabetes you may develop leptin resistance and your "I am full" hormone, leptin, can't do its job. The hormone's signal to your hypothalamus is dampened, and you keep eating.

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