Getting fast food regularly seems inexpensive, but the costs and the calories add up quickly. Recognizing those facts, like acknowledging other additions, was my first step in making a change.
How often was I having fast food? Daily. In fact, on some days, I was getting fast food for breakfast, lunch and every evening. The drive-through choices on my way offered a lot of variety. There were all the usual chains (countless McDonalds, Jack in the Boxes, Starbucks, etc.) plus local ones (Alberto’s, The Hat, In’N’Out, Farmer Boys, and El Pollo Loco).
One day, waiting in line for not-so-fast food in pants that were digging into my waist, I decided, “Enough is enough.” I looked at the $20 in my hand, loosened my belt and realized I had to make changes to curb spending and calories.
I set up rules to control my spending and choices:
- I could only spend $10 a day for food outside of home. That required curbing spending to be able to go to a nice dinner or lunch occasionally.
- My total calorie intake had to be less than 1,200 most days. That right away eliminated a lot of fast food choices.
- Fries were history.
- Lastly, except for a diet soda or water bottle, I could only get fast food twice a week!
This required learning the prices and calories at fast-food chains on my route. Drinks had to be low cal to stay within the limit. So, I eliminated chains that served Pepsi products. I swear that there is a huge taste difference and prefer Diet Coke.
Breakfast and Lunch
Breakfast was easy to control. I didn’t want breakfast before leaving home in morning, so I purchased things I could eat on the way or in the office. These included instant oatmeal packets, bagels and English muffins, fruit, hard-boiled eggs, and breakfast bars.
At least four days a week, I started bringing my lunch or keeping options in the office refrigerator. I brought salad ingredients, soups, frozen meals, or containers with home-cooked options.
The Toughest Change to Make
The toughest habit to break was stopping for a “quick snack” before getting on the freeway for my one-hour drive home. I was spending $25-30 per week for driving snacks so I wouldn’t get hungry on the way home. I realized, though, is that I wolfed down whatever I bought within 10-15 minutes so my excuse for the habit was flimsy. So, I eliminated the snack stop most days.
On days I really did want a snack, it had to be within the calorie range. I learned quickly what you could buy for $2-3 and 300 calories. McDonald’s $1 soft drink special clearly beats paying more at other chains. But, my desire to watch calories meant not getting a meal, just one cookie (160 calories), an ice cream cone (170 calories), a small plain hamburger or a snack wrap. Jack in the Box has great shakes, but I restricted myself to the occasional Diet Coke Float (200 calories).
If I worked late, and really needed to grab dinner, I sought out healthier fast food options that could be eaten in the car. So, I would get Carl’s Jr.’s charbroiled barbecue chicken sandwich, grilled chicken from El Pollo Loco, or similar options.
I started weaning myself from fast food the summer of 2012. One year later, I’m happy to report that I get fast food – except for a no calorie drink on a hot day – once or twice a week, and usually not for a meal. I’m saving at least $20-30 a week and wear a smaller size.