The other day, I overheard someone from my gym ask another their trainer if it’s okay for them to eat fast food once in a while while trying to lose weight. The trainer’s response — stay away from all food restaurants because “they make you fat”. I was so close to punching him right in front of his client.
Ok, not really. But it was very painful to hear at the time.
As some of you know, I’m a big advocate of flexible dieting. Letting yourself enjoy your favorite foods in moderation allows you to stay sane while getting the results you want at the same time. It’s sustainable and it works. Especially for times that require you to eat outside of your normal routine. That’s why those who go on a strict diet set themselves up for failure because they try to be perfect. It’s easy to forget that life happens — there will always be unexpected variables that affect our lifestyle.
A good example of that is when we go out to eat with our friends, families, and co-workers multiple times a year. It’s practically impossible nowadays to live our lives eating clean 100% of the time, so to try and avoid fast food consumption at all costs is just plain stupid.
When it comes to eating out, yes, it is possible to do so without putting on fat. There are two approaches you can take: 1) ordering only from the light items on the menu, or 2) ordering anything you want. I’ll be going over the latter because I’m sure you want the flexibility to eat your favorite foods. Who wants to resort to eating boring foods all the time anyway?
First Things First
Before you proceed with the rest of this post you should already have some basic knowledge about nutrition, more specifically about calorie and macronutrient counting. If not, read this first. You have to know what your maintenance calories are in order for any of this to work. Come back to this article only after you’ve done that.
Second, you will be using a food tracking app such as MyFitnessPal or Fitocracy Macros to log your nutritional intake. In the example I provide below, we’re using MyFitnessPal.
And finally, this isn’t a post about cheat days or refeeds. It’s simply a short little guide on how to eat anything you want when going on fast food runs. You can also apply this guide for big chain restaurants — but rarely for smaller ones. The reason for this is because smaller restaurants don’t usually list their menu’s calorie/macronutrient content.
With that, it’s important to keep in mind that I am not telling you to go eat fast food on a daily basis. This is mainly a cheat sheet on what to do when life calls for a fast food run because let’s be honest, there will be times when you want to eat KFC, McDonald’s, Sonic, Subway, Five Guys, Panda Express, Chipotle (which by the way is a great option for fast food), etc.
As I’ve been telling people for years, 80% of your diet should be composed mainly of whole foods. I’m talking unprocessed things like chicken, fish, beef, rice, veggies, potatoes… you know, the good stuff.
The Simple 3-Step Process
Step 1: Look up the nutrition facts and log your food before going out to eat
You want to make sure that you log your macros before heading out. This will allow you to see the numbers of what you are about to consume as well as your “remaining balance” in terms of your calorie requirements.
Here’s an example. Fred has a daily allotment of 1,800 calories. It’s Friday night and he is going out to a bar later with his buddies. Assuming that they’ll most likely be going to McDonald’s at the end of the night, he’s planning to have a Bacon McDouble and medium fries. He inputs it on his MyFitnessPal food log, and bam. Fred instantly sees that those two foods alone dd up to 840 calories, leaving him with 960 left for the day.
From here, he has the choice to continue on with his plan to have the McDouble and fries, or to drop one thing or another after seeing how many calories it would cost him. For demonstration purposes, let’s say he sticks with both.
Because he’s left with only 960 calories for the day he needs to plan his meals accordingly, which leads us to the next step.
Step 2: “Budget” your calories and prioritize protein
Now the next step is to make sure that you save your calories.
This means two things:
- Reduce your calorie intake for the day
- Eat mainly protein-dense foods + fibrous veggies
The reduction in your calorie intake is pretty self-explanatory. The high protein meal and fibrous veggie combo is to keep you full for most of the day, and for appetite suppression. You will want to go for lean meats such as chicken, steak, beef, pork, etc.
Another reason for the high protein meals is simply because we are trying to limit carb and fat intake. Depending on where you end up going, there will be plenty of that later on as most foods from restaurants and fast foods chains are already high in carbs and fat.
Step 3: Enjoy your food, guilt-free
Yep, that’s the third step. That’s all there is to it really.
In the example we have, Fred is still left with 360 calories which he can have if he chooses to when he gets home. Because he didn’t go over his caloric limit of 1,800, Fred won’t even come close to gaining an ounce of fat after eating the Bacon McDouble and medium fries.
As you can see, the biggest thing here is to stay aware of your calorie and macronutrient consumption. As Dick Talens says in one of his blog posts about cheating, you have to plan to fail. A lot of people think that eating fast food is one of the culprits of fat gain, when in reality it’s not the case at all. It’s not the food itself that makes you fat, but the amount of food that you eat.
Some other things to keep in mind:
- Going for an unplanned fast food run? If it’s later in day, make it your last meal. If it’s early on, log it, and go about the rest of your day as usual.
- If you’re a busy professional who usually goes to fast food restaurants in the morning for coffee and breakfast, always get food that’s at least high in protein. Let’s take Starbucks for example. Bad choices: danish, scones, and muffins. Better choices: spinach & feta wrap, turkey bacon sandwich, bacon & gouda sandwhich. Of course, the best choice would be to eat homemade food.
- Always remember the 80/20 rule: 80% of what you eat should be whole foods, while 20% can be whatever you want (as long as you’re still hitting your macronutrient numbers)
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