Last week we started to have a look at the clever mind-hacking strategies of fast food companies [Fast Food Article Part 1]. Recognizing these strategies and noticing our response to them, are the first steps to a healthier lifestyle.
But highlighting the topic “fast-food” is not complete without having a look at the food itself.
Food or Food-like Substances?
We naturally love sweet and fatty foods because thousands of years ago both delivered the message to be nutritious and safe and they were rare as well. Times changed, our brains – unfortunately – didn’t.
Occasionally having something sweet and fatty is not an issue. Like most things in life, frequency or quantity make the distinction between a good or dangerous amount. Covering one or more meals a day with fast food is pretty quickly making us cross the line between a treat and bringing our nutrition and health out of balance.
Health: We often take our health for granted, because our body has great coping skills. But actually, it is a sensitive continuum between great health on one side and serious disease on the other. We constantly move, depending on our lifestyle, a bit more towards health or disease, without realizing it. Even a lifestyle with less nutritious food, lots of stress, less sleep and relaxation can be compensated for some time. Nevertheless, our body is a master in keeping us functioning. Sometimes we just feel more tired or restless, a bit depressed or less focused, and we age faster, but we don’t connect it to our poor nutrition. But when we exceed the bodies’ compensation-ability, one single stone will break the camel’s back . Sometimes just a stressful project or a couple of nights with bad sleep are enough, to lose balance. And that’s an approach to how we should look at fast food: It’s adding more stress to our body which tries to compensate all the other challenges we have to go through in our lives (job, relationships, money etc.). A good nutrition on the other side helps us to cope much better.
Variety: For a good health, mental resilience, physical stability and low risk of disease we need – according to the status of science today – about 39 essential nutrients . Many of them you only find in unprocessed-foods which means excessive fast food consumption leads to serious malnutrition and disease. Depression, ADHD, fatigue, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease are all linked to an unbalanced diet over a longer period .
Colors: Let’s just consider that we find the most essential vitamins and micronutrients in colorful fruits and vegetables. For instance, orange fruits and veggies are mostly packed with beta-carotene which our body needs to produce vitamin A. Red fruits like watermelon or raspberries contain a high dosage of antioxidants and white fruits and veggies, such as apples, pears and cauliflower are high in dietary fiber . These are just a few of the essential nutrients we need to stay healthy; physically and mentally. But what are the colors of a typical fast-food meal? Yellow and brown? What are the typical ingredients of these? Sugar, flour, fat, potato, cheese and meat, accompanied by a leaf of salad or a slice of tomato.
Often it is not even clear what ingredients are used to create certain products because they contain so many additives, colors and flavors. The term “food-like substance” is a great terminology to bring focus on the differences between real unprocessed foods and highly processed fast foods. It should definitely provoke some thoughts on how we nourish ourselves and our families. And besides that, getting used to the taste of highly processed foods (often already in childhood), makes it more difficult for people to approach unprocessed foods, because the taste is different, less intense and it requires several times to try them in order to get familiar.
Calories: The energy content of typical fast food is rather high. Especially for people with a sedentary lifestyle, this is quite dangerous. With a single fast food meal of burger, fries, some mozzarella sticks and ice cream, you are already covering 100% of your energy needs [more examples: 4], but basically 0% of essential nutrients and not covering a balanced relation of the main nutrients like carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. It’s like pouring dirty water into the tank of your car and being surprised, why your car refuses to drive.
Volume: One main issue in the calorie discussion is the small volume of highly processed foods. A big part of our satiety is based on the volume of our food because our stomach doesn’t measure calories. Natural foods like veggies and fruits have a high water and fiber content which makes them voluminous with fewer calories per gram. But fast food just contains fractions of these unprocessed ingredients, therefore the resulting calorie density is immense.
If we compare French fries with broccoli, you will be surprised: 1.8 kg of broccoli contains the same number of calories as a medium portion of French Fries (150 g). The goal is not to eat 1.8 kg of broccoli, but the comparison makes the difference in volume very obvious. In practice, this means that you eat much more calories than you can burn when you try to achieve satiety with calorie-dense fast food. Our body happily stores these excess calories in our fat-depots around our inner organs and belly to be prepared for periods of hunger (which never come).
Resuming the points above there are five main issues with fast food: the stress we create for our body, the lack of essential nutrients due to highly processed ingredients, less variety of nutrients and excess calories with low volume.
After gathering some of the main points how fast food attracts us and why it leads to overweight and malnutrition, we should introduce some tips and tricks to conquer the challenge and move towards good health, slower aging and better mood.
We love living in our comfort zone
Humans stick to what they are used to. It feels so cozy. Doing something different makes us feel uncomfortable, which creates the urge to return to old familiar habits again .
Therefore, we should try to approach a change in small steps. If we can manage to feel less uncomfortable chances are great, to be successful. Overall, the goal is to make the unfamiliar more familiar (healthier food) and the familiar more unfamiliar (fast food) .
Based on this approach I will give you some great ideas to move towards healthier food choices in small steps. Approach them one by one and take your time! I would love to hear your feedback!
- Write down fruits and vegetables you like already. Include them daily in your meal plan and reduce the size of your fast food meals a bit, to avoid adding more calories. Eat fruits, vegetables or salad FIRST, followed by the rest of your meal. Make it a habit to add natural colored foods to your plate.
- If you order fast food, choose the next smaller size available (drinks and meals).
- Start with one Fast-Food free meal every couple of days. Choose a meal where you typically have fast food. Think about an alternative before and choose a healthier option. Maybe even prepare something in advance to make it easier for you.
- Add a salad to your main meals, at least once a day.
- If you are in your favorite fast food restaurant, choose healthier options than you usually would. For instance, hamburger instead of a cheeseburger, a wrap instead of chicken nuggets, fruit cup instead of ice cream.
- Observe yourself: How do you feel, when you eat fast food? How is the taste? Try to be aware of smell, consistency, taste and your feelings. Eat slow. Observe your satiety and your energy levels after the meal.
- Search for easy meal options to prepare yourself. Make it more familiar for you and your family, to consider good foods to support your health; each and every day. There are plenty of fast recipes with healthy ingredients which don’t require much preparation time [7+8]. Always have some healthy food options available in your fridge and freezer.
I’d love to hear from you; which strategies work great for you and to learn about your individual strategies, which helped you to live a bit healthier each day!”
-  Ranjan Chatterjee (2017): The 4 Pillar Plan: How to Relax, Eat, Move, Sleep Your Way to a longer, Healthier Life. Kindle, Audiobook or paperback: Penguin Life.
-  http://www.nutrientsreview.com/glossary/essential-nutrients
-  https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/benefits-eating-multiple-colored-fruits-vegetables-4676.html
-  https://www.businessinsider.sg/2000-calories-fast-food-meals-2016-1/?r=US&IR=T
-  Dr. Joe Dispenza (2017): Becoming Supernatural: How Common People Are doing the Uncommon. Hay House Inc.
-  Marisa Peer (2009): Ultimate Confidence. The Secrets to Feeling Great about Yourself Every Day. Sphere.
-  https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/quick-and-healthy
-  https://www.foodnetwork.com/healthy/packages/healthy-every-week/quick-and-simple
Here you find the first article about Fast-Food: