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Can I Eat Fast Food and Lose Weight?

September 14, 2021
Can I Eat Fast Food and Lose Weight? - Lark Health

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In this article:

  • 36.6% of adults say they eat fast food on any given day.
  • Fast food consumption is linked to weight gain, obesity, and health risks.
  • Still, you can eat fast food and lose weight. Small portion sizes are key. You can also make healthier choices when ordering fast food.
  • Lark lets you track food. Then you can get instant feedback. Lark has a personalized weight loss program so you can lose weight while making small changes that fit into your lifestyle.

Fast food is part of our lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say 36.6% of adults eat fast food on a given day. It is quick. It is tasty. And it can be a social thing. But can you keep up your fast food habit and lose weight?

You do not need to give up fast food! You can eat fast food and lose weight. It just takes some information and effort.

Fast Food and Weight Gain

Research is clear that people who eat more fast food gain more weight than those who eat less. A study in Lancet followed 3,031 participants for 15 years. People who ate fast food more than two times a week gained 4.5 kg more than those who ate it less often. Health concerns such as diabetes risk also shot up among fast food eaters.

This makes sense when you think about common fast food items such as the following.

  • Sandwiches with a lot of bread, creamy spreads, and processed or fatty meats or fried chicken or fish.
  • Hamburgers and cheeseburgers, especially with bacon and oversized buns.
  • Burritos, pizza, and fried rice.
  • French fries, onion rings, zucchini sticks, and other fried sides.
  • Milkshakes, sodas, and smoothies.
  • Pastries, doughnuts, and bagels.

It is no surprise that the Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that diet quality is lower on days when people eat fast food. People tend to have more nutrients that cause weight gain or health problems. They have fewer nutrients that improve health.

Fast food eaters get more… And less…
  • Calories
  • Carbohydrates
  • Saturated fat
  • Added sugars
  • Fiber
  • Antioxidant vitamins: C, E, and beta-carotene
  • Minerals such as calcium, zinc, and magnesium.

How to Eat Fast Food and Lose Weight

Still, you can eat fast food and lose weight! Here are some tips.

1. Eat Smaller Portions

It is a good idea to order the smallest option on the menu. That might be the kids' or junior-sized burger, a single slice of pizza, or a half-sized sandwich. And tacos are usually small compared to burritos. If there is nothing small enough for a reasonable meal, divide it in half before you start eating it. Put half away for later and enjoy the rest now.

2. Make Healthier Choices

Every restaurant has healthier and less-healthy options. These are some swaps to consider.

Instead of this… Try this…
Double bacon cheeseburger with butter, mayo, or special sauce
Small hamburger with mustard, lettuce, and tomato
French fries, chips, or onion rings
Side salad, baby carrots, apple slices, or applesauce
White bread or tortilla, or white rice
Whole-grain bread or tortilla, or brown rice
Creamy or cheesy soup
Chicken noodle, minestrone, beef barley, or other broth-based soup
Fried chicken, fish, or shrimp
Grilled chicken, fish, or shrimp
Beef and rice burrito
Chicken taco
Cold cut or tuna salad sandwich
Grilled chicken, vegetable, veggie burger patty, or falafel sandwich

Just switching your drink can make a big difference for weight loss. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that sugar-sweetened beverages can cause weight gain and health risks such as high blood sugar, heart disease risks, and cognitive risks. Water, black coffee, and unsweetened tea are good alternative to soft drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks, sweet tea, and flavored coffee drinks.

3. Special Order

You can probably get what you need for weight loss even if it is not written on the menu. Just ask! Most fast food restaurants let you adjust menu items. 

  • Add extra vegetables, such as tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumbers.
  • Serve dressing on the side.
  • Serve sandwich and burrito fillings "naked" in a bowl instead of the bread or tortilla.
  • Add mustard or oil and vinegar instead of butter or mayo to sandwiches.

You still have a chance to lose weight even if the restaurant does not accommodate you. You can always do these.

  • Eat less.
  • Remove breading from fried chicken before eating it.
  • Eat fillings from burritos or sandwiches without eating the tortilla or bread.
  • Remove unneeded toppings, such as bacon, dried fruit, or croutons.

4. Checking the Menu Ahead of Time

Most fast food restaurants have their menus online. Many of them have nutritional information, too. Take a look before you go to the restaurant. You can see what items are available and how many calories they have. Then you can go into the restaurant with a plan.

Fast Food Meal Plan: Order Healthier or Make Your Own

You can keep eating fast food. Or you can make your own healthy versions. These sample fast food menus can inspire fast food meals that are good for weight loss.

Sample Day 1

Healthier Fast Food Restaurant Order Or Make Your Own
English muffin breakfast sandwich with egg and cheese
Cooked egg white, low-fat cheese, tomato, and lettuce on a whole-grain English muffin
Thin crust vegetable pizza with light cheese, side salad
Pizza on a whole-wheat pita with tomato sauce, low-fat mozzarella cheese, and vegetables, with a side salad
Grilled chicken sandwich with lettuce and tomato, with baby carrots or cooked green beans
Rotisserie chicken sandwich on whole-wheat bread, with steamed broccoli or green beans

Sample Day 2

Healthier Fast Food Restaurant Order Or Make Your Own
Breakfast burrito with eggs, cheese, and salsa
Whole-grain tortilla with egg white, low-fat cheese, chopped tomatoes, and avocado
Small hamburger with lettuce, tomato, and mustard

Applesauce or apple slices
Turkey burger patty (plain or seasoned) or veggie burger patty on a whole-grain bun with mustard, lettuce, tomato

Baby carrots
Chicken taco with extra tomatoes and salsa, light cheese, and no sour cream

Side of black or pinto beans
Bed of chopped romaine lettuce with black or fat-free refried beans, chopped tomatoes, salsa, avocado slices or guacamole, and shredded chicken, ground turkey, or soy protein with taco seasoning

Sample Day 3

Healthier Fast Food Restaurant Order Or Make Your Own
Steel cut oatmeal with fresh fruit and nuts, skipping other toppings such as sugar or dried fruit
Plain oatmeal with 1 cup of strawberries and 2 tablespoons of sliced almonds or chopped walnuts
Sub sandwich with grilled chicken and cheese on whole-grain sub with mustard and extra vegetables

Baby carrots or apple slices
Whole-grain roll, pita, or sliced bread with mustard, grilled chicken, low-fat cheese, and lettuce and tomato or cooked bell pepper

Baby carrots or baked kale chips
Broccoli shrimp (or another vegetable-based dish with a non-breaded protein and without a sweet sauce) with brown rice
Salmon, shrimp, or chicken stir fry with vegetables, low-sodium teriyaki sauce, and brown rice

Sample Day 4

Healthier Fast Food Restaurant Order Or Make Your Own
Yogurt parfait with fruit and nuts
Plain Greek yogurt with shredded wheat or oats, berries, and nuts or seeds
Chicken noodle soup with a side salad, dressing on the side
Homemade or low-sodium canned bean and vegetable or lentil soup, side salad with light vinaigrette, whole-wheat toast
Protein bowl or plate with chicken, fish, or beans, grilled or steamed vegetables, and brown rice
Bowl with chicken, salmon, or tofu, cooked vegetables, brown rice, and seasonings of choice

With some planning and thought, you can have fast food and still lose weight. You can follow your regular routine and just make healthier choices to stick to your weight loss plan.

Losing weight can lower your risk for developing type 2 diabetes, and that's not all. When you lose a few extra pounds, energy levels can increase, cholesterol and blood pressure can improve, and clothes fit better. Best of all is that Lark makes weight loss simple!

Lark doesn't just know which choices can lead to weight loss. Lark coaches you on how to make good choices that can become habits. With small changes that fit right into your lifestyle, you can drop pounds and lower your risk for type 2 diabetes. Your personal coach is available 24/7 through your smartphone so you can get expert tips, track meals, physical activity, and weight loss. 

The entire program may be available at no cost to you if your health insurer covers it. Click here to find out if you may be eligible for Lark! You could be minutes away from taking the first steps to hitting your weight loss goals and improving health.

About Lark

Lark helps you eat better, move more, stress less, and improve your overall wellness. Lark’s digital coach is available 24/7 on your smartphone to give you personalized tips, recommendations, and motivation to lose weight and prevent chronic conditions like diabetes.

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