Fast Food: A Treat, Not a Lifestyle.

For all of the blame I put on my parents for the psychological damage that led to my obesity, there were some things that they did right. Fast food (whether it was McDonalds or Wendy’s or Harvey’s) was always a rare treat, not a regular occurrence. I have fond memories of my father taking us to Harvey’s for a hamburger and French fries and a Coke. He enjoyed it as much as we did, but it was an occasional weekend treat. Even when we were on vacation, we would eat at (slightly) healthier restaurants.

Paper routes aside, my first job was working at a computer store called Montreal Data Products, on Mackay Street above St. Catherine Street. It was during that era that I started to go to McDonalds on my own, with my own money. I went a lot. I guess it was when I had my own disposable income (and not just my allowance) that I was able to do so, giving little heed to whether or not it was a good idea.

I do not remember if I ever told my parents that I was doing this, but I do know that had they told me it was a bad idea it would have encouraged me to go more. Remember the psychological trauma I experienced at the hands (both figurative and literal) of my mother? By the time I was fourteen (which is when I started working) I was rebelling. I remember the last time my mother raised a hand to me, I raised mine back at her. I was done doing as I was told for fear of being hit. Unfortunately, there are no good lessons to tell a fourteen-year-old boy making that transition how to differentiate between what is good for you and what is not.

When I was living in Tel Aviv, I worked at a t-shirt and army supply store in Tel Aviv that catered to tourists, and right downstairs from our store (in Dizengoff Centre) was a McDonalds, and I ate there more than occasionally, switching it out for a few other fast-food restaurants in the area. Eventually, a Thai sandwich shop opened down the block, and they made a spectacular chicken sandwich which may not have been truly healthy but was certainly much more so than. McDonalds.

I spent a couple of years eating kosher, so most fast-food restaurants were off limits. Toward the end of my military service, probably the last two or three months, I started to hitch a ride down from my post in the Golan Heights to a bus station which had a McDonalds in it, and I probably did this 2-3 nights per week. By this time, I had grown to hate Army food, and while there were other options, not many of them were as convenient. There was also a girl I was flirting with who worked at the army supplies store next door, so that probably played a part to my frequency there.

My return to civilian life and Canada made much more and much more unhealthy fast foods so readily available. I always preferred either a Montreal smoked meat sandwich with French fries or a large plate of Buffalo wings over a burger… not to mention that the pizza in Montreal is absolutely incredible.

If you want to know how I came to be disgustingly fat, here is your answer. I love a good steak, and I do not need or want any sauce on it, which means it is healthy. I don’t need a giant baked potato next to it. All of this to say that a good steak dinner is not entirely fattening… assuming that whatever negative health effects that may bring on, it is still healthier than any of the fast foods that I mentioned. I became fat off of fast food and an overabundance of junk food snacks, ranging from chips to chocolates to gummies and G-d knows what else.

Is fast food evil? Of course not. Should it be part of your healthy diet? No. As with everything else in life, it is fine… in moderation. If someone makes fast food (all of them are terribly unhealthy, but some are worse than others) an occasional treat with an otherwise healthy diet, they will not balloon up to 300+ pounds. If, on the other hand, the fast food becomes your daily routine, then you are going to pay for it in the end. Weight gain is not the only ill-effect either. Expect to see your cholesterol raised and your blood pressure and all manner of other body measurements that your doctor tracks.

One of the problems with fast foods is that not only are they tasty, but they can also be addictive. Aside from the salt (which is certainly a substance that our body craves), most fast foods contain myriad other chemicals, and once we are used to them, our body craves them. Additionally, the large chains spend billions of dollars on feeding those cravings. McDonalds’ colour scheme is not what it is because Ray Kroc loved orange and yellow and red; they have scientific findings that prove that these colours make you hungry and lower your inhibitions which might allow you to order the extra-large fries or the ten-piece nuggets instead of the six-piece nuggets.

The fast food industry chains (not only McDonalds… all of the chains) have marketing budgets that could cure hunger in the third world, and they spend that money every year reminding you that you deserve a break today, or you can have it your way, or they will deliver in 30-minutes or it’s free, or they have the meats, or whatever the ad campaign might be to get you through their doors, or dialing their numbers. Of course, if you deserved a break yesterday, don’t you deserve one today too?

If you find yourself eating more fast food than you did when you were younger, these are just some of the reasons.

The goal of my weight loss routine is not only to lose the weight, but also to get healthier, and to change my eating habits. I know that I need to change my unhealthy relationship with food. This is going to mean, when I am off the extreme program, that I will be cooking for myself most days, with the occasional restaurant indulgence. More often than not, that restaurant indulgence should still be something healthier. You can eat healthy at a Chinese restaurant, but most of the foods that I like there are wok fried and battered in sauce, which means they are poor choices. Sushi, on the other hand, is a much healthier choice. I believe that when you look at a piece of food and you can easily identify all of the individual ingredients by sight then you are likely eating something healthier than something that is unrecognizable.

Does this mean that I will never eat fast food again? Probably not. I am sure that there will be times when I am on the road, when I know that I have been eating well and exercising and staying in shape when I might allow myself to indulge. With that said, it has to be a treat, and never a lifestyle.

I confess I have never watched that movie about the guy who only ate McDonalds for a year. I do not know what the outcome was, and I do not particularly care. All of our bodies are different, and I know that eating fast foods (what my grandfather would have referred to as dreck) is bad for me and will cause me to return to my previous (current, but hopefully soon it will be previous!) morbidly obese size. I do not want that. I also do not want my doctor to ever have to tell me ‘Okay, now that you have had a heart attack, this is how you have to start eating.’

Conclusion

The occasional hamburger and fries will not cause morbid obesity. In fact, it is relatively simple to make a hamburger and French fries healthy, or at least less fattening. The burger and fries that I would make at home would almost certainly be tastier and would most certainly be healthier than anything I get from a fast-food burger joint. However, it is not only the food that is addictive, but also the convenience that draws us. We live in a hustle and bustle world of in which two-parent families have two parents in the workforce, and so many single parents have to struggle to fit everything into the day, and the time spent shopping, preparing, cooking, and then cleaning for and after a meal can be cut into a fraction by ordering in or taking out. Single people know that it is no fun preparing food for one, and the convenience of take-out is a draw… especially when you do not even have to get out of your car to grab dinner on the way home.

While the convenience is a draw, we have to consider the negative health effects (both short term and long term) of these unhealthy food choices. When we do, hopefully we will make them far less frequently than we do today… and just maybe the chains who spend billions to lure you in through their doors will have less money to spend on marketing.

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