If you find yourself wondering how to break fast food addiction, you’re not alone. But with over 192,000 fast food restaurants in the United States, the prospect of escaping the clutches of unhealthy food options can seem intimidating. The good news is that you can join the growing number of Americans who have successfully broken their fast food addiction. Below are eight steps to help you achieve this goal.
1) Set attainable goals
The path to curbing your dependence on fast food starts with clear, attainable goals. While you could try quitting fast food cold turkey, you may quickly get frustrated and abandon your plan to change your eating habits. Here are some tips to help you set goals you will be able to achieve:
- Start with small, manageable changes. For instance, if you normally eat fast food two or three times each day, cut back to once per day.
- Post your goals in several highly visible locations to help you maintain your focus. Examples include your phone, the mirror, and your computer.
- Set a target date to become “fast food-free.” Allow yourself sufficient time to gradually adjust to your new eating habits.
- Share your goals with friends and family. Ask for their support in helping you remain on target with your efforts.
2) Be prepared for the first few weeks
“The first weeks will be tough because you are trying to regulate your blood sugar levels, balancing the insulin levels that we are thinking causes the addiction. I say start in the morning with foods that are high in protein to level out your blood glucose. That way you won’t be craving sugar throughout the day.” – Dr. Carol A. Bernstein, Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology, NYU Langone Health
The hardest phase of overcoming any addiction is often the first couple of weeks. Addictions to fast food are no different, and some studies even suggest that suddenly abandoning your unhealthy eating habits may cause withdrawal symptoms. If you decide to quit fast food “cold turkey,” you are much more likely to experience these symptoms, so consider a more gradual approach.
3) Avoid triggers
One of the best ways to avoid fast food consumption is to avoid the situations, places, and people who always seem to contribute to your cravings. For instance, if you have a habit of stopping off at McDonald’s for a cinnamon roll and hash browns on your way to work, see if you can map out a different driving route to work to eliminate the temptation.
Avoiding situations that involve fast food is a bit trickier and may not always be possible. For example, if your boss has scheduled a quick offsite lunch meeting at the burger joint next door, you may need to scan their online menu in advance in an effort to find any fresh food options they offer. Alternatively, you can pack a healthy lunch and eat it shortly in advance of your lunch meeting.
4) Surround yourself with healthy eaters
It’s a lot easier to stay on track and steer clear of fast food when you are spending time with people who share your desire to eat healthfully. This can be difficult if you live with loved ones who insist on continuing their love affair with fast food. However, you can still follow through with your own goals.
Building better eating habits is sometimes easier in the workplace where you can choose to dine with co-workers who are committed to fresh food options. You can even work with your HR manager to request that your office vending machine be stocked with healthier snack options.
5) Keep your fridge stocked with healthy, tasty foods
When you fill up on fresh fruits, vegetables, and poultry, you will help keep your hunger at bay and your fast food cravings suppressed. But in order to eat more healthfully at home, you need to make sure you have plenty of healthy foods on hand to satisfy your hunger. If you don’t usually do the grocery shopping, offer to take over that task so you can better oversea which type of foods come through your door.
6) Start a journal
Many people are surprised to discover how many health benefits are linked to eating fresh foods. Before you begin making changes in your diet, start a journal wherein you make a note of your mood, weight, and overall wellness each day. You can rate your mood and how you feel physically on a scale of 1 to 10, noting how your wellness improves as you make positive changes.
7) Consider relocating to a different state
The prospect of moving to another state may seem extreme. However, moving to a state with a smaller number of fast food restaurants may help you by limiting your options. You may be surprised to learn that New York, New Jersey, and Vermont have the fewest number of fast food restaurants per capita, while Alabama and other states in the South have the highest per capita number.
8) Reward yourself as you hit milestones
The path to a fast food-free lifestyle is not always a smooth one. You may have periodic setbacks or find yourself succumbing to your cravings. And staying on track can be especially difficult if your friends and loved ones don’t share your same dietary goals. Given these challenges, it’s important to celebrate your accomplishments and milestones you reach. Here are some ways to reward yourself for hitting your goals:
- Splurge on a new outfit or accessory you’ve had your eye on for a while
- Treat yourself to a lunch or dinner at your favorite healthy eating establishment
- Book a vacation to Vermont – the state in America with the lowest number of fast food restaurants per capita
The Bottom Line
Learning how to break a fast food addiction requires dedication, willpower, and a strategic plan. Even if you feel like you’ve eaten half the meals in your life at a fast food restaurant, it’s never too late to change. But you must be committed to changing the type of foods you eat. By following the steps above, you can boost your chances of overcoming your cravings and adopting healthier eating habits once and for all.