Can You Eat Fast Food And Lose Weight?

Can you or should you eat fast food and still lose weight? Alternately, if you are trying to eat a cleaner diet to lose or maintain weight, can you still eat at fast food restaurants?

Although this is a decision for each individual person, I did eat some fast food while I was dieting, but found myself eating less and less throughout the 14 month period that it took me to lose over 150 pounds. It was a conscious choice that I made as I learned more about how fast food affected me emotionally and physically.

One thing to consider is how you view fast food. When I was 300 pounds, I used fast food as a as friend of sorts. It was a salve for emotions, a way to combat boredom on a long commute, or just as a “fun” pick-me-up.

I honestly enjoyed driving up to the window of my favorite fast food obsession, I mean restaurant, and considering what I would get. I never thought anything of handing over $5.00 for hamburgers dripping in grease, French fries smothered in salt, and sugar-filled milkshakes. Of course at the time, I didn’t think about the food in those unflattering ways. Instead I bought into how to advertisers portrayed those same foods. Juicy, value-sized, delicious, refreshing, or crispy. I never thought of fast food as dangerous for me or addictive in any way.

As I began to seriously lose weight, I actually planned (there’s that important word again) whether or not I would eat at a fast food restaurant. Honestly, if a friend wanted to meet for lunch, it was often the cheapest option, which says something about the state of our food supply, but that’s for another day.

In order to eat fast food without overeating or consuming my whole calorie allotment in 20 minutes, I learned to completely change my attitude towards fast food. I stopped looking at the fast food meals as a “treat” or a “reward” or a chance to eat like a pig, and instead looked at the fast food visit as:

1)      A regular meal to be fuel my body.

2)      An opportunity to practice making good food choices in a challenging situation.

It’s definitely not easy to make good choices at fast food restaurants, but at least today there are some fast food chains that do have healthier options on their menus. Back when I was losing weight, there was no fruit instead of fries option, and salads were filled with fried chunks of meat instead of grilled options.

I learned that my attitude towards the food was a huge determining factor in how successful I was. The more realistic I was and the more careful I was, the better choice I made.

Over the years following reaching my goal weight, I stopped visiting fast food restaurants almost completely, and today you may see me in a fast food restaurant once a year or so. When we travel I pack lunches and when friends ask me to lunch I suggest an afternoon coffee instead of fast food.

If you do still eat fast food, I’d encourage you to visit each individual restaurant’s website and educate yourself on what are the healthier options and what to stay away from. For example, a chicken salad sandwich at Chick-Fil-A has more calories than the fried classic chicken sandwich. That’s something I wouldn’t have guessed if I hadn’t done my research.

So, is fast food evil? No, not really. Is it impossible to eat without gaining weight? No, not at all. A better set of question to ask yourself may be whether you are emotionally and physically able to make good choices at fast food restaurants and whether or not you really need fast food as part of your diet. No matter what your answers are to those questions, balanced eating always requires planning and preparation.

What’s your take on fast food?  Do you eat it or not? How often? Different choices these days?  Diane

32 thoughts on “Can You Eat Fast Food And Lose Weight?

  1. Madijo says:

    Definitely not ready yet, and maybe not ever. Though in the end, the decision to go or not to go, will probably be based on if it fits into my eating clean regime.

  2. PlumPetals says:

    About six years ago, I stopped eating at a fast food restaurant. Then one day, in the middle of a move to a new house in a new neighborhood, I had a burger from Burger King. I will never forget how sick I felt afterwards. It did not agree with my body at all. It’s that incident that has kept me away from it completely & I don’t miss it at all. I won’t ever go back to eating fast food – also because I know that it’s tough enough to still watch what you eat when you’ve eliminated it from your eating routine. Salads in restaurants can still be calorific; lots of restaurant foods are prepared with too much oil and sugar. I figure if I have to be careful about those foods since I don’t know what’s in them, then I’m definitely staying away from the fast food restaurants because I KNOW they’re unhealthy. No guessing needed.

  3. Emergefit says:

    My take that anyone can eat reasonably healthy in any restaurant so long as they are disciplined, and are not afraid to ask for their food served their way. I think of fast food as I think of surgery; fast food isn’t ideal, but often times it really is the only option. (forgive me Dr. J.)

    I find myself in a fast food place from time to time, always seem to come up with a fair meal to hold me over until I can return to my cockpit — ehr, kitchen.

    I like to tell weight loss clients that if they KNOW they are going to be hitting a fast food place on a given day, tuck a couple of pieces of healthy bread into a bag and keep it in their car. That way when the chicken breast sandwich pops through the drive through window, it will take 2 seconds to transfer it from the bun to the bread. Just one of many ways to maximize fast food

  4. sharyn says:

    I know that FF isn’t particularly healthy. That said, there are times when we go there. (I admit to working for the Golden Arches for 4 years in high school/college.) However, I have looked at various websites and have made a list of least objectionable food items AND their PointsPlus values. That way I can make more informed choices when I do go there. However, when my husband and I are out and we need to get a quick meal (unplanned), we’re just as likely to stop at a full service grocery store and make healthier choices such as a fresh salad (hold the dressing) or a deli sandwich made to our specifications.

  5. L says:

    Diane, you wrote: No matter what your answers are to those questions, balanced eating always requires planning and preparation.

    Here is where I fall short many times. I hate to plan. I hate being tethered to a diet sheet. I hate the restrictions imposed on me by suggested food planning, which is why I still struggle some days with food choices. Painful as it is for me to admit, I still find food planning a boring proposition. I do it, but it is never enjoyable. I wonder when that will change for me.

  6. sarah says:

    i’m 55 pounds down in my 90 pound journey, and I do avoid fast food. But I’m still tempted occasionally by the addictive qualities of the big mac. I’m pretty good at resisting and now my stomach turns at the thought of one. It’s amazing how one bit of junk will trigger a desire for more!

    With a 4 and a 2 year old in tow with me most of the time, I’m careful to teach them about healthy versus unhealthy food, and so I was overjoyed when chickfila came out with grilled nuggets kid’s meals and a fruit side instead of fries. so when I’m stuck on the road or have to go through a drive through, i always choose them, and I’m happy to support their decision to have healthy food. The kids have no idea fries are even served there! {and plain milk to drink, of course}.

  7. Gwen /Sunny says:

    Well, I WORK for a fast food chain, but one that fortunately works hard to provide healthier foods than 90% of them. Still, I do minimize my eating at them all. If I do, like you, I spend time choosing from those I consider most appealing, then researching their nutritional values online, and not being afraid to either ask for it my way, or specifically removing offending items if need be. If I can’t get what I want for under 400 calories total or low sodium, I simply don’t do it. Anymore. And I’m reading a great book that proves how food companies/restaurants intentionally layer and overload food with as much fat, sugar, and salt as possible…because of how it physiologically drives our bodies to NEED more. Dirty rotten companies!

  8. Jody - Fit at 55 says:

    All your points are valid Diane! I think if you can handle going in without getting side tracked & make decent choices, all is good.

    I am not a fast food person now. Back when I did eat it, I stayed away from it & back then there were no healthy choices! 🙂

  9. Karla says:

    I do visit my local Quisno’s still. (sub sandwich’s) but that is about it. Just the smell of those places freak me out now. It is a slippery slope still for me. I could still demolish a Taco Bell feast without blinking an eye!!! So I just don’t go there!!! problem solved 🙂

  10. Shannon says:

    It is so emotional for me I cant wrap my mind around it to want to give it a try. My lowest points were in a parking lot in the car with french fries and tears. Its a horrible mental thing. So for me I just don’t then there is no stress. I hope that changes but if it doesn’t I can live with that.

  11. Michelle says:

    I find myself there once every couple months, usually because my daughter has been asking for a happy meal. I don’t always give in to her requests. My two girls (ages 4 and 1) split the 4 piece nugget meal and my older daughter will often eat the apples and not bother with the fries, or only have a few. Sometimes I only get a drink. If I get something to eat, I’ve done my homework and know what won’t completely derail me. I never order fries anymore. If I feel like I really want them, I have *one* of my daughter’s.

    I don’t miss it when I don’t go. I often don’t think about it unless Older asks.

  12. Justlittleoldme says:

    If I go to a fast food restaurant, I always make sure to look up the nutrition information online, and write down what I am going to have before I get there. Then, I don’t get tempted by a milkshake or cookies, while I am staring at the menu. It makes it quick, easy, and painless, to eat better while eating at one of those places.

  13. Babbalou says:

    The comments are interesting, I’m surprised fast food has that amount of appeal. I’ve never been a huge fan, other than pizza. Living on the east coast for years, I very much enjoyed the occasional slice of pizza but was never a fan of burgers or chicken sandwiches,,,or even fries for that matter, We didn’t have a car until my kids were in school and we’d moved away from the big city. so the drive through wasn’t an option. Since. my kids had never had chicken nuggets, I once bought some to prepare at home – junky but made with cuts of chicken breast strips, not the infamous “pink foam”. The kids didn’t kow what they were, finally the oldest says, “Hey! There’s chicken in here!” and they both carefully peeled the breading from each nugget and ate them. To this day, they don’t eat fast food other than pizza, the youngest is now 22. Maybe fast food is an acquired taste? In any event, I’m sure you CAN lose weight while eating fast food but I’m not sure why you’d want to do that. My preference was to eliminate most of the crap (in my case sugar and anything made with flour) and hope my tastes would change. And that has happened. I’m rarely even tempted by chocolate anymore, although I occasionally want a nice blueberry pancake- but only rarely.

  14. Amy Marie says:

    We do, but only occasionally, as it is too expensive for our bigger family (I sure you know this too!). Recently, at McDonalds, I bought the $1 side salad, $1 McDouble….I threw away the bun and crumbled the “meat” 😉 onto the top of the salad. I used 2 tbsps of the ranch (instead of the HUGE whole packet) and it was pretty filling and satisfying. I drank water and PLAIN, black coffee. That was my attempt at eating a bit healthier at Mickey D’s. 😉

    Thanks for commenting on my blog. It is encouraging. 🙂 Blessings.

  15. Amy Marie says:

    The idea of planning ahead on what to eat is a GREAT IDEA! We actually have some relatives traveling up later this month and we are going out to eat. I’m going to get a big salad and have 1 piece of veggie pizza. 🙂

    What you said about how you looked at fast food is EXACTLY how we did growing up! We would look at it as a “treat” or something “fun” to do! I’m going to make a bigger effort to mentally make an adjustment also. It is easier that my husband doesn’t really like fast food and for our 10 years of marriage we’ve really not gone out to eat much so I’ve broken the habit a bit that way.

  16. Dr. J says:

    Of course we can lose weight on any dietary choice as long as we do the calorie in out thing, but building a healthy weighted body is entirely different.

    I never eat fast food, unless you think a salad from Subway is served to quickly.

    I have never been to any regular restaurant where I can not “encourage” them to serve me a healthy meal. I will never take my own food into a restaurant. Can we say orthorexia?

    Everyone needs a surgical operation: it’s just a matter of what operation 🙂

  17. Maggie says:

    I think there can be room for fast food in weight loss. (I will note that even when I was heavy, I never had a problem with fast food, so I am less sensitive to the issue I’m sure.)
    To me, it’s like desserts. There is room for them in a healthy diet – as long as it’s a RARE treat and compensated for in the rest of your day.
    There are healthy options at some restaurants, and moderation can be practiced too. If you love the flavor of McDonald’s burger & fries, as a rare treat, get a SINGLE hamburger and a SMALL fries with water…not the quarter pounder meal supersized! This should not be a typical meal or a staple of your diet, but can certainly fit into living at a healthy weight, and in fact is a part of many people’s lifestyle who live at a healthy weight.
    For people who can’t resist the temptation of the quarter pounder value meal, then I say avoid at all costs! Which is the very reason I don’t make brownies…ever! 🙂

  18. LovesCatsinCA says:

    Not very often, and usually when traveling… but on occasion (and I’m talking just a few times a year) as a Californian, I just love going to In N Out and having one of their basic hamburgers. I don’t get the sauce and prefer it “protein style” (no bun-lettuce) because I love french fries–and we SPLIT an order of french fries. Still, that’s a hefty chunk of the day’s calories for a petite person who gains if she eats more than 1400 calories per day so it’s a special treat.

  19. Janis says:

    I’m pretty sure it’s a good idea to ditch the stuff regardless, whether one has weight issues or not. And for people with weight issues, having occasional fast food sounds a little like trying to use cocaine responsibly. Even homemade holiday goodies aren’t as bad as that stuff is for you.

  20. Joe says:

    I have eaten fast food while on my weight loss journey. The times I have it has been realtively healthier options like grilled chicken sandiches and salads. I was eating there usually because I didn’t have a lunch and needed a meal. The calories listed right on the menu has been a real eye opener for sure!

  21. vickie says:

    I have noticed, over the years, that weight loss bloggers will start out, early in their process, defending fast food and saying there are good choices to be made.

    And then slowly, over time, their opinion changes.

    I can think of some bloggers who not only (now) do not eat fast food themselves, but whose families now shun all fast food too.

    I notice that change when it happens as real progress in their thinking.

    • evilcyber says:

      I’m not sure if I can be considered a “weight loss blogger”, but it has been four years since my weight loss, and I still see fast food not as a problem, as long you know how to deal with its calorie density.

  22. jeanette says:

    Unfortunatly I have a teenager who loves fast food…so I comprimise by having her eat a relatively healthy lunch all week with me and on grocery buying day, I take her to pizza. I don’t eat pizza but a large veggie salad with light dressing. Thats about all the splurge we get and then back to routine the next day. There have been times she would rather chicken at mcdonalds and I always have their southwest salad and grilled chicken with 1/3 packet of light dressing. Thats pretty good for under 400 cals too!

  23. Taryl says:

    I definitely eat more purposefully at fast food when I do. I look at the menu online and plan on advance what I will eat, and it is a regular meal (even if it is a treat to not cook on occasion), not just eating when I wouldn’t otherwise. Deliberate, on plan, carefully tracked. Works much better for me.

  24. Joy says:

    I try not to go but every once and awhile I will go. I try to stick toSubway and Wendy’s since they have healthier options.

  25. Nancy says:

    “An opportunity to practice making good food choices in a challenging situation.”

    I love ^that^. When I read your blog that is what I most appreciate: you have learned how to consistently make good food choices everyday and it is so encouraging. As much as most of us say it is a lifestyle not a diet, the fact is that when it comes to maintenance it’s easy to fall back into mindless eating. Your statement is so positive. Today I want to look for opportunities to practice making good food choices. But Not at fast food restaurants!! ha.

  26. Siobhan says:

    I can’t remember the last time I ate fast food. We’ve lived in so many places that don’t have it available at all, that it’s just never been part of our life. If we do eat it, it’s usually because there is truly nothing else available. This last trip, though, we rolled into a town about 9 o’clock at night and decided we’d rather just go to sleep than have fast food. So sometimes even when it’s the only thing available we don’t choose it. 🙂

    • evilcyber says:

      I have to admit, for me that wouldn’t work; I can’t go to bed hungry. If I did, I would wake up in the middle of the night and need to eat something.

      During my diet that happened to me once, and I simply took from the fridge what I could find for a quick low cal “meal” in the middle of the night. That was a couple of gherkins and milk. Suffice to say that resulted half an hour later in some rather severe visits to the bathroom 😀

  27. evilcyber says:

    This is exactly how I did it and my whole attitude: you can lose weight any way you choose, as long as you make yourself accountable for how much you eat. When I lost weight, I some days saved some calories for the evening, so I could have a regular tuna pizza without getting thrown off the weight loss track.

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