How I quit eating fast food – part 1

almostfit“64 oz. soda? Does it come with a chance to win Boardwalk? Well then hit me Brutha!” – Metroknow, 26 lbs heavier

About 6 months ago, I completely quit eating fast food. For me, this was no minor feat. In the first part of this two-part series, I’ll tell you about my relationship (yes, relationship) with fast food. In part two, I’ll tell you exactly how I’m doing it, and how you can too.

I am definitely a card-carrying member of the fast food generation. I don’t know how many times I have made the decision on the size of a combo at McDonald’s based on which of the larger sizes included the most “extra” Monopoly game pieces, which generally led to winning – you guessed it – MORE fast food. I never won that extra-heavy Hummer with the dual 40 gallon fuel tanks.

Why do did I like Fast Food?

Like it or not, here’s the truth: fast food sells – in a BIG way. For me, here’s why:

1. Availability. In many parts of the country, we are simply overrun with fast food and junk food options. In L.A. suburbs, Portland suburbs, and most small towns, when you drive through the business district it looks like this: McDonalds, dry cleaners, cellular phone store, Jack-in-the-Box, stereo store, Starbucks, Taco Bell, KFC, cheap shoe store, Burger King, Wal-Mart, and then McDonalds again.

Repeat that cycle every 4-6 blocks, throw in an Olive Garden, a gas station, and a few 99-cent stores, and you have a drive across America that repeats itself like a Politician stumping from town to town, from sea to plastic-bag-filled shining sea.

Yes, fast food and dry cleaners are everywhere. And I’m not sure which one is more toxic. Someone oughta’ just get it over with and combine dry cleaners and fast food joints. After all, their prices are comparable, which leads me to…

Almost Fit 2. Price. If there was ever an instance of pure self-destructive dietary temptation, it has been embodied in one thing: the ever-present-well-lit-open-24-hours-drive-thru menu. Double-cheeseburger for .99 cents at 4AM, and a taco? Without even having to sit upright in my SUV? Are you kidding me? I’ll take 3! And a shake and fries too? Good lord how can I NOT buy that?

It is a miracle that you cannot buy cigarettes at a fast food drive thru windows. No really – a true Miracle, as in someone oughta’ alert the Vatican. Whatever group of senators and congress-folk that passed that law may well have surpassed Mother Theresa in lives saved.

3. Taste. Now while some would disagree that for a set of us, fast food tastes, well, pretty dang good, think about it for a couple of seconds and you’ll see why I fall in the “tastes good” camp: Big chain fast food corporations pay tens of millions of dollars to figure out what taste, texture, and temperature combination will be more than just mildly non-offensive; the foodish items have to be so taste-filled and jolly good that an otherwise reasonable person will overlook every detail on where that combination of ingredients came from (and what it started out as), how far it’s traveled (and what rat nibbled on it), who’s touched it, dropped it, sneezed on it, reconstituted it, microwaved the heck out of it, then wrapped it in a container that will take 400 years to melt into the water table.

Your food product better be darn good to get us to forget all that.

That said, I am retraining my tastes, and it turns out that the real thing – you know, real food – actually tastes MUCH better, no matter what those voices in my head tell me every time I come within 500 feet of a container of Mountain Dew. Still doesn’t mean that super sugar taste isn’t sweet.

If I had that job, the one where you decide what goes on the 99-cent menu, I would already have it licked.

When asked how to improve the salability of an item, I would simply say, “Well that’s easy, Mr. Burns, sir! Add more cheap sugar substitute of course, preferably from a corn base, and a whole bunch of salt! Throw in some preservatives and cheap coloring, wrap it in a value menu, and you’ve got yourself the next McRib runaway smash hit! And the kids’ll LOVE it!”

I would be senior management material.

What, as a child of the deep fryer, did I do about it?

I obviously have an unholy relationship with fast food. Clearly. So what have I done about it?

Since the beginning of the year, I have successfully eliminated eating fast food, as well as soda in any form. Quit cold turkey. No more monopoly pieces. No more corn syrupy goodness in a pail. No chance of winning that Hummer.

So how am I doing with that so far? 90% of the time, amazingly well. The other 10%? I think the forces that be have been looking out for me. Let me explain.

Remember that one time? At band camp?

I confess. There was a point, a month ago, that I tried to give in and grab some fast food. I had both kids with me, and it had been a tough day. The three of us were hungry, tired, whiny, and wanting convenience. For me, that spells dietary trouble. And I am REALLY annoying when I whine.

I decided to just forget it – and give in.

I first pulled into the drive thru of the local Burgerville. For those not familiar with it, Burgerville is a local fast food chain that is considered better than average because they buy locally, organic foods, grass fed beef, free range eggs, and so forth. I rationalized, “well, if I’m going to do it, this is the place.” Nevermind that my old meal of choice was a couple of cheeseburgers, with extra sauce, a fry or two, and a seasonally fresh berry shake. Yeah, not exactly in my weight loss plan.

Unfortunately, Burgerville’s fatal flaw? Their drive-thru takes forEVER. Slow fast food. And with 2 tired kids, and no movement of the line, I gave up and moved on. Home? OH NO. I was going to have some fast food, and I was gonna’ have it NOW.

Enter: Taco Bell.

[Tangent: Can I just say that only a mega marketing giant like Taco Bell could pull off having a mascot that looks not unlike a shaved rat, and STILL get us to buy a handful of tacos with unusually finely ground “meat” as it’s central ingredient. But I digress.]

Taco Bell is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Surely I could eat some garbage there! Pulling up to the magic board of ordering love, I noticed that there was a little piece of paper stuck to the microphone post:

“Closed for computer problems.”

Taco Bell closed? What? This does not happen in the civilized world! I mean, if there is one thing you can count on, it’s the availability of melted cheese product at every corner of this great nation!

Being a geek and all, I must confess that I thought to myself, “In all likelihood, those are Windows computers. So did Microsoft actually just save me from myself???”

After that, I did indeed give up. And I was glad I did. We went home, made a simple dinner, and all was well.

No Fast Food.

What’s the secret? Hypnosis? Nose plugs? Pain therapy?

So how did I do it? What secret voodoo magic am I using to avoid the most prolific business in America (not scientific statement; it’s my view of the world from inside my own corn syrup glazed lenses)?

In part two, I’ll describe the steps I took to rid myself of the fast food beast. It’s not as difficult as you think.

[UPDATE 6/18/08: Here’s part 2: “How I stopped eating fast food – 20 ways to end the addiction“.]

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