Is fast food ever OK on a diet?

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QUESTION OF THE MONTH:
I love fast food, but I am trying to lose weight and improve my health. Is it OK to eat fast foods while on a diet program?

ANSWER:

Yes, but as always, there are a few important points to keep in mind. Unfortunately, fast foods are not the healthiest meal choices. Most fast food meals are packed with high calories, added sugars, sodium, fat, cholesterol and preservatives. These can all derail a good exercise program.

When starting an exercise program, we generally begin by eliminating some unhealthy habits. Eating fast food is the most common bad habit that new exercisers must overcome. However, as I have discussed before, setting realistic goals is imperative to a successful weight loss program. Simply quitting your long-term bad habits altogether, at once and forever, is unrealistic. Completely depriving yourself of fast food will increase the likelihood of failure.

So, if you get in a bind and don’t have time to prepare a meal, it may be necessary to incorporate a fast food meal once in awhile. But don’t let it turn into a regular occurrence or you will be right back where you were when you started. If you are going to stop for a quick meal, try following these tips for making healthy choices when eating fast food.

READ THE MENU CAREFULLY Dishes labeled fried, batter-dipped, breaded, crispy or creamy are usually high in calories, bad fats or sodium. Chose grilled meats or items containing more vegetables.

CHOOSE WATER Soda contains high amounts of sugar and many hidden calories. Add lemon to water or order unsweetened iced tea.

GO NAKED When choosing items, be aware of fatty and calorie-laden dressings, cheeses, sauces, etc.

BE AWARE OF PORTION SIZE Most fast-food meals run as high as 1,000 calories or more. Choose a smaller portion, trade a salad for the fries and never supersize.

HOLD THE SALT Fast food items tend to already be very high in sodium. Don’t add any extra.

PAY ATTENTION Chew thoroughly, enjoy each bite and avoid eating on the run too often. Also, stop when you are satisfied instead of overly full.

THINK OF THE BIGGER PICTURE It is understandable for someone to break from a diet every now and then. If you know you will be eating fast food, make sure your other meals that day are extra healthy.

Remember, balance, preparation and moderation are the words to live by when it comes to food. If you apply these principles regularly, you won’t have to sacrifice your health and wellness goals when eating on the run.

Anthony G. Barnes is the club owner at Anytime Fitness in Chester and holds a degree in sports medicine and exercise science. To submit a question for future articles, please contact the author at anthony.barnes@anytimefitness.com

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