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Can You Eat Fast Food And Lose Weight?

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Can You Eat Fast Food And Lose Weight?

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Fast food is convenient, but it’s known for being high in calories and low in nutrition. 
  • While working towards your weight loss goals, you may need to eat fast foods when you don’t have time to prepare meals or while traveling. 
  • Building a weight loss plan that includes fast food in moderation is possible.

Restaurateurs created fast food in the early 1900s to accommodate busy workers who needed a quick, filling meal while commuting after a long day.

Fast forward to 2022, and there are upwards of 198,000 fast food restaurants in the US. 

While fast food menus contain energy-dense foods rich in salt, fat, and sugar, there are ways to include these meals in your weight loss plan.

However, taking advantage of convenience foods might be a valuable skill for sticking with your weight loss plan (because even the best laid-out plans must accommodate surprises). 

Keep reading to learn if you can eat fast food and lose weight and why embracing these foods may help you build sustainable habits. 

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Can You Eat Fast Food and Lose Weight?

Consistently, research indicates that calorie reduction is an essential element of a weight loss strategy.

Other critical factors include choosing high-quality foods as often as possible, being physically active, getting adequate sleep, managing stress, and your overall health. 

Theoretically, you can eat fast food and lose weight if you stay within your energy intake goals and continue with other evidence-based weight-loss practices. 

Remember that eating one energy-rich meal shouldn’t affect your long-term weight loss results, and you don’t need to feel guilty after eating fast food. 

Instead, the USDA recommends embracing energy-dense foods and beverages and building an individualized eating plan that celebrates your food preferences, cultural traditions, and budget. 

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Nutritional values missing from fast food

Heavily processed or ultra-processed foods are mechanically and chemically altered during production.

These steps increase shelf-life and decrease cooking obligations for the consumer: many ultra-processed foods are made to “reheat and eat.”    

Several fast-food menu items are processed to some degree and may offer less fiber and nutrients than whole foods.

Research demonstrates that people who regularly eat ultra-processed foods lack essential dietary nutrients.

Still, you can enhance the nutritional quality of your meal by adding fiber-rich options to your fast-food meals.  

Lastly, fast foods tend to be lower in antioxidants due to the processing or ultra-processing. 

Antioxidants are delicate organic compounds in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans.

Consuming antioxidant-rich foods frequently is vital for normal immune function, protecting against dementia, and decreasing cancer risk. 

On the other end of the spectrum, fast food tends to be very high in sodium, which might affect blood pressure levels.

If you have hypertension (high blood pressure), research nutritional values online before ordering fast food. That way, you can choose the best option that aligns with your health needs. 

Strategies for Making Healthier Choices at Fast Food Restaurants

Restaurants are trying to offer nutritious choices for health-conscious diners.

They know food quality matters to consumers, and many fast-food chains have responded by creating lighter versions of their staple dishes and increasing customization options.

Hence, consumers have more control over the ingredients. 

Here are tips to help you choose the healthiest options while dining out. 

  • Choose baked or grilled foods over deep-fried.
  • Add fresh vegetables to your meal wherever possible. 
  • Order a smaller portion. 
  • Pick water instead of soda.
  • Opt for lean protein whenever possible. 

Another option is to order exactly what you want—but in a smaller size.

You don’t need to deny yourself foods to be healthy.

Instead, try to find creative ways to build balanced meals. 

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Healthy Fast Food Meal Examples

The USDA defines a balanced meal as having ¼ plate of protein, ¼ plate of carbohydrates, and ½ plate of vegetables.

When dining out, it may be hard to find menu items that satisfy these ratios—but you might discover fast-food options that come very close. 

Breakfast 

Panera Bread avocado egg white breakfast sandwich with spinach. 

  • 5g Fiber 
  • 39g Carbohydrates
  • 19 Protein 
  • 14g Fat 
  • 350 Calories 

Mcdonald's egg McMuffin sandwich with ham. 

  • 2g Fiber 
  • 30g Carbohydrates
  • 17g Protein 
  • 13g Fat 
  • 310 Calories 

Jamba Juice organic steel-cut oatmeal with fruits, nuts, and chia seeds. 

  • 3g Fiber 
  • 31 Carbohydrates
  • 6 Protein 
  • 2.5g Fat 
  • 180 Calories 

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Lunch and Dinner  

Sonic Drive-In Jr. Burger. 

  • 2g Fiber 
  • 33g Carbohydrates
  • 14g Protein 
  • 15g Fat 
  • 330 Calories 

Panda Express eggplant tofu with red peppers. These values don’t include a side of rice. 

  • 3g Fiber 
  • 23g Carbohydrates
  • 7g Protein 
  • 24g Fat 
  • 340 Calories 

Panera Bread whole Fuji Apple chicken salad with mixed greens, cheese, and nuts.  

  • 6g Fiber 
  • 37g Carbohydrates
  • 29g Protein 
  • 34g Fat 
  • 560 Calories 

Subway roasted turkey wrap with fresh vegetables.

  • 3g Fiber 
  • 54g Carbohydrates
  • 32g Protein 
  • 10g Fat 
  • 430 Calories 

Chipotle wholesome burrito bowl with rice, chicken, black beans, cheese, lettuce and other vegetables. 

  • 10g Fiber 
  • 18g Carbohydrates
  • 35g Protein 
  • 29g Fat 
  • 570 Calories 

Most of these meals could benefit from more fiber, which is essential for satiety and maintaining good health.

Current guidelines recommend adults aim for 25-30g daily from dietary sources of fiber (not supplements). 

Fortunately, you can quickly increase the fiber content by adding your own sides or ingredients to the meal.

Below are high-fiber foods you can add to your meals.  

Beans and Pulses

Make a bean salad with lentils or kidney beans at the start of the week and add fresh-cut vegetables, herbs, olive oil, lemon, fresh garlic, and salt and pepper to taste.

Another option is to buy roasted chickpeas and enjoy them as a snack between your meals. 

Whole Grains

Whole grains include quinoa, wheat berries, barley, oats, bulgur, and whole wheat products.

Follow the cooking directions to make these grains and serve them as a side dish or add them to salads. 

Fruits and Vegetables 

Washing and chopping fresh vegetables and fruits at the start of the week can make it easier to eat them.

Add them to sandwiches, wraps, and pizza slices to increase your intake. 

Nuts and Seeds

All nuts and seeds have fiber and healthy fats, adding a delicious crunch to your dishes.

Keep a mixed bag of nuts and seeds close by and sprinkle them onto yogurts, salads, soups, and even stir-fries. 

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The Importance of Moderation and Mindful Eating

There’s no such thing as a perfect diet, and by practicing moderation, you can enjoy fast food while maintaining a healthy eating pattern.

One meal won’t affect your health goals; consistent behaviors contribute to weight loss, metabolic health, mood, and energy levels. 

You can bring further awareness to your meals by practicing mindful eating, a technique that helps you tune into internal cues to eat.

Increasing your mindfulness may help you address disordered eating behaviors and find peace at meals instead of feeling out of control while eating

You can practice mindful eating by dedicating a comfortable space to eat without distractions.

Avoid sitting in front of a screen and put your phone away while you eat.

Take your time to chew thoroughly, and identify flavors and textures you enjoy in every bite.

Slowing down your meals allows your body to assess your hunger and fullness cues and signal your brain accordingly.

Takeaway

Fast food is a convenient option that could fit into your weight loss plan when you comply with your energy intake recommendations, add more nutrient-dense options to your meals, and continue with other weight loss strategies. 

Consider choosing a smaller size, picking a grilled option over fried, and opting for a lean protein.

If you eat at home, add more fiber to your meal by serving a Mediterranean bean side salad with your dish or fresh-cut vegetable sticks. 

As well as focusing on diet, you must make positive changes in other areas of your life to achieve weight loss results.

These include sleeping regularly, managing your stress, and being physically active. 

How a Dietitian Can Help

A weight loss registered dietitian is a nutrition expert and health care professional.

They provide comprehensive nutrition care through online counseling and want to help you build a weight loss plan that is safe, sustainable, and enables you to feel your best.

You may not know what to expect if you’ve never worked with a dietitian.

Here are questions to ask: 

  • Is it OK to dine out while trying to lose weight? 
  • How can I manage my cravings? 
  • Why do I feel guilty after eating fast food? 
  • Do you have any recipes for healthy meals I can make at home? 

Frequently Asked Questions

How often can you eat fast food and still lose weight?

The USDA nutrition guidelines suggest eating fast food once a week or less.

If you’re frequently dining out, you may want to meet with a dietitian to review your habits.

Can I lose weight while eating fast food?

You’ll need to maintain a negative energy balance, exercise regularly, and stay on top of your sleep and stress levels to lose weight.

Eating fast food in moderation shouldn’t interfere with your goals.

To make the meal healthier, add more vegetables to your meal to increase the nutritional value.

Can you eat bad food and still lose weight?

No food is good or bad—the weight loss industry assigns these labels, and you don’t need to follow them to reach your health goals successfully. 

Insrtead, prioritize listening to your hunger cues and building a balanced diet that includes your favorite foods, cultural preferences, and fits within your budget.

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