How To Quit Eating Fast Food

In a world where convenience is king, it takes a lot of determination to quit eating fast food. Even I sometimes find myself pulling out of the drive thru with a bag full of fake food and wondering just why I parted with my hard earned money so easily.

I try with all my might to not feel guilty about it. After all, we all need to make compromises from time to time. As long as eating fast food isn’t habitual, then the occasional meal doesn’t really harm anything. As long as my habits and tastes are shaped by finding, preparing, and eating Real Food, then the few fake food meals I eat are rare exceptions and my body ought to be able to cope.

But I still feel guilty.

There’s a secret part of me that wants to go incognito in the hopes that no one will see me ordering fast food for my kids.

Why? Because I used to go WAY. TOO. MUCH. There was a time — not even all that long ago — where it was common for us to eat fast food three or more times a week. This happened despite my conviction that fast food was inherently bad for our health, bad for the environment, bad for the animals, and bad for immigrant workers.

Getting from there to here took more than will power, and I thought some of you might benefit from the lessons we learned.

Now, if you’re not at all tempted by fast food, congratulations! I’ve got a lot of friends like you, and I envy you. But I grew up with the stuff, grew even more addicted to it in college, and then grew to love its convenience as I started my family. I thought the stuff tasted good, and kicking the fast food habit took time, patience, and a lot of hard work.

How To Quit Eating Fast Food

First, you’ve got to realize just how much influence fast food giants have over you. The first step in becoming immune to their marketing prowess is to recognize their marketing prowess. If McDonald’s can conquer France (a country with a rich culinary history of beautiful slow food meals), then you’ve got to admit the company must be run by a brilliant evil genius. These industries spend millions of dollars a year researching tastes and textures, formulating food in laboratories with enough sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats to keep you addicted. Then they spend even more millions figuring out how to advertise and present these foods so that you won’t care that they never live up to their promises. By deciding to give up fast foods, you’re fighting Goliath.

Next, you’ve got to give yourself grace. Your goal shouldn’t be to give up all fast food forever. It should be to get out of the habit of eating it.

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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37 Responses to How To Quit Eating Fast Food
  1. Local Nourishment
    July 6, 2009 | 12:05 pm

    Thanks! You really hit the nail on the head for me. I’ve been struggling with this (as you know) of late. Between knowing better and feeling guilty I can work myself into quite a stew. Thanks for turning down the burner! :D

  2. aliciaghio
    July 6, 2009 | 12:09 pm

    Love this! RT @FoodRenegade: Still tempted by fast food? Even though you know better? This maybe helpful: http://bit.ly/jNgq8

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  3. Jill, The Veggie Queen
    July 6, 2009 | 12:14 pm

    Great story here, with doable steps. I don’t eat fast food but with anguish still let my teenage son eat it because he will eventually need to make choices. Too many kids are hooked on the stuff but it doesn’t help when their parents eat it, too.

    Big change could be coming but as you say, it all boils down to small steps, small changes and choices.

    Thank you.

    Jill, The Veggie Queen

  4. freshfromFL
    July 6, 2009 | 12:18 pm

    Great Tips! RT @theveggiequeen @aliciaghio @FoodRenegade Still tempted by fast food? Even though you know better? http://bit.ly/jNgq8

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  5. sterlingtyler
    July 6, 2009 | 12:21 pm

    I’ve almost completely stopped eating it!! RT @FoodRenegade Still tempted by fast food? Even though you know better? http://bit.ly/jNgq8

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  6. joanna
    July 6, 2009 | 12:21 pm

    This really resonated with me. I drive by a macdonald’s every single day and it was in this macdonald’s that I consumed sausage mc muffins/chicken mcnuggets 3-4 times a week. Sometimes I feel a little tingle on my tongue… mmm what it would feel like to taste that nugget again.

    I like your tips! Here’s what i’ve done myself.

    1. I’ve designated the sausage mcmuffin (from MacD) as the symbol of my past decadent addiction. And because I’m never going back there again, I’m never picking up a sausage mcmuffin again.
    2. I tell myself that I’m going to head home and MAKE the best frigging chicken mcnuggets ever, my own version of course. (By the time I get home, it usually passes me by)
    3. I remind myself that I’m going to get headaches from eating junk. The body is so clean now that it just naturally rejects crap.
    4. I give up and enjoy it but I’ll NEVER order that sausage mcmuffin with egg.

    joanna

  7. hwhitehead
    July 6, 2009 | 12:25 pm

    How to kick the fast food habit , via @FoodRenegade http://bit.ly/jNgq8

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  8. Silvana Vukadin-Hoitt
    July 6, 2009 | 12:52 pm

    Thank you for posting. Growing up in Europe I never had to deal with the onslaught of all the advertising for fast food, but living here it is a marvel to get through the day w/o capitulating because of time constricts and general madness of daily American life – especially if you have younger children like I do.
    I appreciate that you have come to the same conclusion tht we have – can’t flog yourself if you fall off the wagon, but knowledge goes a long way – and I say ‘no’ much more often now than I used to. Getting involved and reading blogs like yours and other advocates sure does help. Thank you for all your work spreading the information.

  9. KukuwaDance
    July 6, 2009 | 1:52 pm

    Absolutely! RT @FoodRenegade: Still tempted by fast food? Even though you know better? This may help: http://bit.ly/jNgq8 #fb

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  10. Jen (Modern Beet)
    July 6, 2009 | 2:06 pm

    very nice post! I don’t know exactly when it happened, but fast food has been off my radar for a good long while now… oddly I think it might correspond to the time that I stopped having a TV. I guess I never found it that tasty, and with the absence of the advertising of the food giants, any desires faded away. Anyways, glad to have found your site!

    Jen (Modern Beet)

  11. Girl Gone Domestic
    July 6, 2009 | 2:20 pm

    My heart skipped a beat when reading the first paragraph! You are my traditional foods mentor, I thought you were goddess-like in your food choices, and I couldn’t understand how on earth you did it ALL the time. Thank you so much for keeping it all real and attainable. I look up to you even more now. The guilt I feel when I run my kids through the drive thru for the very occasional fast food often sans the HFCS laden beverages, is enough to cause health problems on its own! But our family has also gone from fast food 3x + a week to maybe every other week…that is huge change! And we’re working on even less. Thanks for this post, its encouraging!

    Girl Gone Domestic

  12. Lee
    July 6, 2009 | 2:22 pm

    Great post, Kristen. I’m shocked to hear the YOU succumb to the “thrills” of fast food, and I applaud you for being willing to admit it. I like to say that fast food holds no appeal at all for me, but then I realize that fast food includes not just McDonald’s and KFC, but also Noodles and Co. and Chipotle, and I do occasionally end up at one of those. Ah, self-reflection and reasonable expectations are terrific starting points. :-)

    -Lee

    Lee

  13. Michelle @ Find Your Balance
    July 6, 2009 | 2:32 pm

    Whenever I am en route to New York from boston there are fast food stops all along the way. So I try to bring food from home, but if I haven’t been so smart then, sure I’ll go have some McNuggets or the like.

    And I eat them, slowly as I can, looking at them and really trying to taste and pay attention to the experience. Usually I’m so grossed out I don’t finish and I don’t go back for many months!

  14. Vin | NaturalBias.com
    July 6, 2009 | 2:42 pm

    I used to eat quite a bit of fast food as well. Surprisingly, I didn’t have much trouble giving it up, although pizza was a bit of a challenge.

    Although I haven’t had McDonald’s in a long time, I do like the taste of it. I don’t like to support factory farming and the other unpleasant aspects of the fast food industry, but I don’t see anything wrong with enjoying an occasional fast food meal.

    I don’t think it’s surprising at all for even the most diet conscious people to be converts from fast food. After all, many of us had to learn the hard way, including myself!

    In regard to the advertising, does this mean McDonald’s doesn’t really produce Olympic athletes? :)

    Vin | NaturalBias.com

  15. Raine Saunders
    July 6, 2009 | 3:16 pm

    It’s good to realize that it’s impossible to be good every moment of our lives, nearly none of us can be, and that’s just part of being human. I probably eat better than almost anyone I know, but that’s just because I have a very literal, particular personality. Sometimes I’ll eat something that I know I shouldn’t – such as if I’m at a party and I’ll eat crackers or dips or desserts other people have made that are most likely suspect in their ingredients, or industrial meats and cheeses sitting on a appetizer tray. But I can honestly say I really don’t EVER have the urge to eat fast food, and I haven’t eaten any in about the last five years. The only exception might be if we go to one of the restaurants in our city that serves local, organic food and I might steal some french fries off from my husband’s plate (he eats pretty well, but cheats much more than I do). I guess knowing what I do about fast food repels me enough that I just don’t have the desire to eat it. And my brain remembers how sick I was for years when I wasn’t eating well, and it pretty much keeps me from doing it. But this is a great article to help those who still eat fast food without a backward glance three or four times a week. I also used to be one of those people; glad it’s in my rearview mirror now!

    Raine Saunders

  16. Jendeis
    July 6, 2009 | 3:28 pm

    I often comment on real food blogs about my own battle with fast food, but just realized that I don’t think I’ve ever blogged about it myself. You’ve inspired me, Kristen!

    In graduate school and then law school, I had worked myself up to eating McDonald’s or Burger King five to six times a week. After seeing SuperSize Me, I went cold turkey. At first, it was just cutting out the major fast food stores around me (McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s), then I started cutting out sub shops too. The only fast food we do now is Subway and that’s an extremely rare occurrence.

    Jendeis

  17. Gina
    July 6, 2009 | 4:52 pm

    Great tips. For us, one look at ingredients and nutritional fact information is all it took. We’ve wiped out fast food from for our family. We do miss the convenience but if you plan well, it helps a lot. And when we do need lunch on the road, we’ll opt for healthier options like Whole Foods deli or something light at Chipotle or a local place where we know they’re not serving up overly processed foods.

    All about choices.

  18. Ed Bruske
    July 6, 2009 | 5:19 pm

    Kristen, I stopped eating fast food like McDonald’s years ago and never looked back. Recently, I even quit eating at the trendy local burger joint (Five Guys, think Barack and Michelle). Here’s an alternate strategy: find a local, family-owned restaurant that serves real food and patronize it instead, even if it costs more. I know we are privileged here in the District of Columbia. We have numerous small restaurants now that serve great food sourced from sustainable ingredients. Give them your love and attention.

    Ed Bruske

  19. PIKture_It
    July 6, 2009 | 6:10 pm

    Thank you, Food Renegade! How To Quit Eating Fast Food – http://shar.es/6rI6

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  20. KristenM
    July 6, 2009 | 6:54 pm

    Ed — We plan to eat out about once a week, and we generally only patronize local restaurants that source well. Thankfully, our fast food habit is kicked. But every now and again, we’re in a position in which fast food seems like the only real choice (usually due to our poor planning and a time crunch).

    Gina — I wish I were like you! I knew about the ingredients & nutritional info for at least five years before we actively stopped going to fast food joints.

    Jendeis — Glad to inspire. :) I think we could all use a little inspiration every now and again, and it’s one reason why I *love* blogging & reading other blogs.

    Raine — That may be part of my problem. I’ve never been overweight, never been in radically poor health. So, when I switched to eating Real Foods, started going lower carb, and started taking fermented Cod Liver Oil, I didn’t experience radical healing. I just started feeling less moody & noticed that I didn’t get allergies or colds nearly as often. So, because the ill effects of bad food weren’t immediately felt, they were easy to dismiss. I think there are a lot of people out there in positions like this. Hopefully, this article can help them with a few extra ideas to kick their fast food habits once and for all.

    Vin — Yes, even though my palette is quite trained towards Real Food, I *still* like the taste of Taco Bell. I don’t know why!! It’s a credit to the wonders of food scientists that they can make such crap taste appealing.

    Girl Gone Domestic — Thanks for the compliments. I’m flattered. I am in no way perfect!! My current goal (which I am keeping well) is to eat about 85-90% Real Food, and to fudge in not-so-bad ways when I do fudge.

    Jen — Glad you stopped by! Hope you stick around.

    Silvana — YES! Blogging & reading blogs has been a HUGE boon to our food choices. Somehow knowing I’m accountable to all of you makes a BIG difference.

    Joanna — Well, you HAVE come a long way! I get headaches whenever I eat crap, too. I even get headaches from improperly prepared grains. It’s generally enough to make me never want to eat them unless the circumstances are out of my control.

    Jill — You’re welcome. I always feel a bit odd whenever I let my boys eat fast food. I try to make the “best” decisions I can at the fast food joints for myself, and I put limitations on what my boys get (no sodas or fries or desserts). But, I still let them eat hamburgers or McNuggets or whatever else they want. It’s a fine line to balance, and I wonder how this will carry over into their teenage years when they’ll be acting more independently of me. Hopefully by then they’ll understand more about my food choices and be able to make more informed decisions themselves.

    Local Nourishment — You’re welcome! Hopefully you found some useful tips here. :)

  21. john
    July 6, 2009 | 7:47 pm

    another way to quit it – go see food inc and may never crave a fast food burger again. Generally people don’t like to know about the ammonia in their burgers but I prefer the truth.

    john

  22. Mary Ellen
    July 6, 2009 | 7:50 pm

    Kristen, thank you for this post and your honesty. I remember not too long ago watching Supersize Me, being disgusted by it but then going by McDonald’s the next morning for a sausage biscuit and coke on the way to work LOL! I also never had a weight issue (always been under 100 lbs) so I didn’t think fast food and drinking soda 6x a day was a real problem for me.

    Now that we’ve made changes in our diet towards real foods, I can definitely tell a difference when we do have the occasional junk food. I’ve pretty much kicked my soda habit (thanks to kombucha) but still crave sweets – like frozen mochas. And when I have an urge to go out for lunch at work, I head for Earth Fare now.

    Our kids no longer expect McDonald’s every Saturday when we’re out running errands. But it is a challenge when my Mom insists on going. She certainly doesn’t need it with her health issues, but she seems more into fast food than the kids!

    Mary Ellen

  23. karen c.
    July 6, 2009 | 7:52 pm

    I too struggle with this. 99% of the time, it is me not having time to make lunch before work or the night before. I need more lunch ideas that are portable.

  24. KristenM
    July 6, 2009 | 8:16 pm

    Karen C. — I *highly* recommend you get your hands on The Garden of Eating cookbook. The author (who sometimes comments here as Chef Rachel) teaches a GREAT system for prepping foods & taking Real Food lunches on-the-go.

    Mary Ellen — Yes, about 75% of my kids’ exposure to fast foods has been with their grandparents. It gets the kids out of the house for a while, and they get to play with other kids on those indoor play sets (AC is VERY important in our over 100F summer heat), so I don’t complain! But ANY fast food still feels like too much.

    Johnny — LOL! I’d bet you’d be surprised, though, at how BIG the disconnect still is in most people’s minds between what they KNOW intellectually and what they actually experience. People will be grossed out by the movie, but the next day their habits or cravings will kick in and they won’t think twice about indulging.

  25. NealBeets
    July 6, 2009 | 8:39 pm

    Reading @foodrenegade How To Quit Eating Fast Food http://tinyurl.com/mg5urq

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  26. easyecotogo
    July 6, 2009 | 9:17 pm

    Great read! Reading @foodrenegade How To Quit Eating Fast Food http://tinyurl.com/mg5urq

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  27. Robin
    July 6, 2009 | 9:43 pm

    I remember the orders to Golden Gate well! ; )

    What really did me in was when the fast food joints started to accept plastic. Before, I’d have to run to the ATM, get cash out and it was too much of a pain. It is just too quick and easy now.

    You might be interested in a news story I saw earlier tonight. They took blood and ultrasounds of arteries on the reporters, then had them eat a restaurant meal. About 2 hours later, they took blood and ultrasounds again. The difference was amazing.

    http://abcnews.go.com/WN/Health/story?id=8013761&page=1

    That should take you to the story.

  28. JC
    July 7, 2009 | 3:56 am

    Great post. We all have our “weaknesses”. I’m in Europe right now and I’ve been still eating healthy real food meals because it is easy to do so here. But I’ve been drinking beer or wine every single day and eating bittersweet chocolate every day. Granted it’s organic chocolate with no soy lecithin and not a lot of sugar and I do drink it with raw milk (an irresistible combination) but I really crave it every day. That is why I stopped eating any processed sugar (still occasionally have some raw honey or maple syrup) about 5 months ago, because I find it difficult to control myself. I think it’s important to know yourself. For me, I have to go cold turkey or I find it harder to resist temptation. If I just don’t buy sugar “foods” then I don’t even think about them, but if they’re in the house I’ll eat them.
    Well, I’m only in Europe for a few more days so I guess I’ll be off the daily chocolate and beer once I get home…….
    (for the record, I don’t think a daily drink is too bad but I’ve been trying to avoid gluten so that’s the problem with the beer for me….also, many days I will have 2 or 3 drinks which I think is not so healthy for me)

    JC

  29. Eleanor Sommer
    July 7, 2009 | 6:43 am

    The rule about errands is a must for me. I will succumb if I do not have healthy snacks in car when I leave the house for any length of time, especially if errands overlap or are near a regular mealtime.

    The article about fats reported on ABC is interesting, but I hope the people do not get the idea that good fats in proper proportions are an issue. I’m always afraid that articles and reports such as this one will be totally misinterpreted by both journalists and readers and put us back in the dark ages of trans and fake fats.

  30. danbjorklund
    July 7, 2009 | 8:28 am

    having only fast food as the majority choice for lunch at work follow this article is going to be tough http://bit.ly/jNgq8

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  31. Ndoublel
    July 7, 2009 | 10:22 am

    Longtime lurker here.

    Oh wow, Im glad that real foodies can admit when we have a lapse. My husband and I were chick-fil-a freaks and so is my 2 year old, but since we went the NT way in the last 3 months, i think we hit chick-fil-a twice. We did however have some tacobell…i know, not long ago because they brought back our fav taco. Once I have fast food, i tend to feel really sluggish and bloated and I dont go back for weeks. I think I have some sort of reaction to the wheat or the crappy meat used in many of the products and it just turns my stomach to think about it.

  32. FoodWineBeer
    July 7, 2009 | 11:15 am

    How to break away from FAST FOOD! http://bit.ly/tK9Xe

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  33. Earth Friendly Goodies
    July 7, 2009 | 1:14 pm

    After growing up with a McDonald’s run a couple times a week pretty standard I have mostly grown out of the craving. Until that is someone brings something in to work and the synfully seductive aroma slips through the air to tickle my taste buds. What do they use in those things to make them so appealing? Every now and then I’ll eat fast food, but more often than not after a few bites it just doesn’t taste quite so good anymore. Not to mention the “after feeling.”

    What is odd to me is that those of us hooked on fast food in the past or currently don’t always connect that icky feeling that comes from eating fast food with the fast food itself. Must be another “secret” ingredient put in by the fast food companies. :)

    Earth Friendly Goodies

  34. Catherine
    July 7, 2009 | 1:46 pm

    I grew up on fast food. My mom tried to cook for our family but we preferred fast food. The fast food won the battle. We moved close to Whole Foods and they have a lovely selection of “healthier” fast foods.

    My husbands family are farmers and we moved close to live by them. Country grocery stores are small and don’t have much of a variety. So I had to learn to cook. There are no fast food places, no drive thru’s, or acceptable restaurants.

    This weekend we went into the city for a movie and dh had a phone call on the cell. He parked the car at a donut shop and I had the biggest urge to jump out of the car and raid the store of its glossy, chocolaty cream puffed pastry. Dh stopped me from doing it and I was glad.

    Living away from fast food joints helps a lot as well as having reinforcement from your family.

    Catherine

  35. Lisa Imerman
    July 8, 2009 | 5:48 pm

    I can’t remember how we stopped fast food as it was so many years ago (probably about 5-6 years ago). I would imagine it was gradual but we never went very often anyway. My middle son who is 7 saw super size me with my husband about a year or so ago and he won’t even go to the bathroom at fast food. He taught his brother to be against fast food too (he has never been to McDonald’s that I can remember and he is 4 1/2). I do remember that at the time we quit, the kids were more into it for the toys than the food. They liked the happy meal with a toy, so I came up with the idea to do a “happy meal” at home to satisfy their want for a surprise. I have some cute little tupperware plates that are like a tray with little compartments for things. I got those out and put lunch on it with a napkin, silverware, drink, etc. I got a little toy from my stash (dollar store, books, etc.) and put it under the napkin. We would do that periodically when they wanted fast food. It didn’t take long before they stopped asking for fast food and asked if we could keep doing it at home instead. We still do it every now and then as a treat at home, they get a book or other small toy. We tell them how fast food is created and generally since we eat so well at home they don’t like to eat out as it makes them not feel good.

    Another thing that we do is have some meals that are our go to meals when we are tired or in a hurry. We get all natural hot dogs from a local smokehouse and so we keep several packages in the freezer for those nights when we need 10 minute dinners, we just cook up some hot dogs (we don’t eat buns, so that isn’t an issue) and pull out a bag of frozen organic veges from the freezer and heat them up with some herbs and pull out a bottle of homemade sauerkraut or Kim Chi or pickles and have that with maybe some fruit or a fruit Popsicle for dessert. We also put broth in the freezer so we can pull it out and throw a quick soup together too. We also sometimes do things like scrambled eggs and bacon and toast for dinner which is quick and healthy.. We keep lunchmeat, hotdogs and bacon in the freezer (from this local smokehouse with all natural, pastured meats) for those quick nights. We also frequently have leftovers so we aren’t having to cook every night.

  36. Heidi / Savory Tv
    July 9, 2009 | 4:28 pm

    I think the problem originated for me in childhood, when my mom would take us to McD’s for a “treat”. Even as an adult it still seems like a “treat” at times.

    It’s also a problem when I’m running errands and realize suddenly that I’m insanely hungry, that “must eat now!” feeling. This past year I’ve discovered that a small health food store in town has a wonderful deli with sandwiches and a hot food of the day. So that has been my go to fix when I simply don’t have time to run home and make something. It also feels great to support mom and pop instead of a huge corporation.

    Heidi / Savory Tv

  37. ChaffinOrchards
    July 13, 2009 | 7:38 pm

    Kick the fast food habit, here are some simple steps to minimize fast goods grips on you http://snipr.com/mb5yd RT @FoodRenegade

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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