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It's time to count cost of fast food to your health . . . and pocket


Fast food

Fast food

Fast food

DOES fast food addiction exist? Do you have a fast food addiction? Do you need to change your current eating patterns around fast food? If you think the answer to any, or all, of the above questions is "yes", then read on to see what you can do to change your habits for the better, from today.

Scientists are very slow to call food addictive, or indeed to associate addiction with any food habits, poor as they may be.

However, research is emerging (rat studies mainly) to show that fast food (high in fat, sugar, salt and low in fibre) can become, indeed, addictive.

Whether or not fast food is addictive; the jury is still out. If, however, you find yourself consistently consuming it, perhaps weekly, perhaps even daily, then it is time to look at why, how much and at what cost to your health.

The following five steps might help you to address the situation and improve on it, with little effort involved.

Your fast food pattern

Do you have lunch in a fast food outlet as many days of the week as you can afford?

Do you look forward to 'dinner' from a takeaway every Friday and Saturday (possibly even Sunday too)?

Would you be lost without the convenience of a take away meal as an alternative to cooking some evenings every week? If so, you are consuming too much fast food.

Is it the fact that you walk past the takeaway on the way home from work every evening that makes it impossible to resist?

Or is it the fact that there is never anything tasty and convenient to cook at home on a Friday night that has you sending your partner in crime out to collect dinner?

Look at the pattern of your consumption. These are habits you have formed over a lengthy period of time and they tend to stick.

It is very difficult to walk past a fast food restaurant when you are hungry and not be tempted. Your senses are aroused by the smell, in particular, of fatty, salty, savoury foods; you would need to be super-human to resist today, something you do regularly.

You are not superhuman, just because you try to avoid something; the temptation remains the same. What you must do is change your route home; delay, delay, delay. If you do not smell it, you may find it easier to resist. Equally, if there is nothing in the house by Friday, then shop differently.

Buy fish, meat, even pizza for the freezer and dig it out on an evening when you think all else is used. Chicken, thawed from the freezer, takes minutes to curry or to bake in the oven with red pesto.

A frozen pizza, while no nutrient bombshell, will entail half the damage (in calorie terms) of a full takeaway equivalent.

Equally, if you make a stew or a curry on the weekend; make double the amount and freeze, to have as a ready-meal, on Friday.

Count the cost

Fast food is not that cheap. I am always surprised at how expensive, in fact, so-called 'meal-deals' are. Yes, they may be convenient, but no, they are not cheaper than good quality foods.

Potatoes are inexpensive, vegetables, ready to stir-fry in minutes are inexpensive; tinned beans with fish fingers and broccoli is inexpensive. A lot of what we perceive as inexpensive is, in fact, expensive per bite.

Your health suffers when you eat fast food regularly. It is high in fat, high in saturated fats as well as trans fats (both of which raise cholesterol and lead to being overweight). It is also very high in salt which leaves you feeling thirsty and reaching for the fizzy drinks.

Fizzy drinks are really phenomenally high in sugar and calories. They are also devoid of fibre, thus leaving you feeling hungry again in a flash. This is all bad news for your health, your waist and that of your family's.

Conscious eating

We eat, often, on auto-pilot. We eat because we saw an ad for food. We eat because we pass a food outlet. We eat because it's dinner time.

We need to sit down, every occasion, every time to eat. You would be astounded at how much less food you would consume if you were to do this, with no exception.

If, instead of munching a burger between A and B, at lunch time, you sat down at a table and addressed what you were eating formally, you might eat a better lunch; having salad with your burger, for instance, and a cup of tea, therefore recognising it as a complete meal.

You would find yourself much less drawn to snacks later on in the day, having had a proper lunch.

We need to taste our food, consciously, in order to enjoy the full satisfaction of eating it. Auto-pilot is a recipe for over-eating.

Regular rewards

Count how much fast food is costing you on a weekly basis.

If you are honest with yourself, you will see that it takes up quite a chunk of yourspending. Save that exact amount of money every week and then treat yourself to, say, a hand-held blender for making soup; a set of steak knives for using on Friday night's home-cooked steak or, perhaps, a new pair of jeans of a size smaller than you are used to wearing!

Hydrate daily

After eating consciously for three weeks, you can again indulge your 'habit' on occasion. I have a once-a-month rule of thumb for those clients who really want to enjoy fast food regularly.

This way you control cravings for fast food, instead, getting the occasional enjoyment out of such indulgence.

Because hunger and thirst signals come from the same part of the brain, it is very easy to mistake hunger for what is, in fact, thirst.

If you do indulge in occasional fast food treats, consume water all of that day. Drink tea. Keep hydrated.

You then have a fighting chance of not feeling overly hungry as a result of your fast food indulgence and eating more calories than necessary that day.