Fast food has become a regular way of life for many people. Recent controversy over how unhealthy fast food is has led many individuals to start looking for effective ways to break their fast food habits. Regardless of why you indulge in your fast food addiction, it is important to understand that you can break the habit if you are willing to really put the effort in.
Examine Your Eating Habits
Step 1: Assess how often you stop at fast food places.
- A) Is it every day or several times per week?
- B) Do you find that your on-the-go lifestyle lands you in the fast food drive-thru more than once per day?
Step 2: Consider what time of day you are stopping at fast food restaurants.
- A) Do you grab a quick bite during your lunch break?
- B) Do you pick up a meal on your way home from work because so you don’t have to go home and make dinner?
- C) Does your morning routine include a fast food stop for breakfast on your way to work?
- D) Do you experience late night cravings that prompt you to get in your car and drive to the closest fast food place?
Step 3: Think about why you make the fast food stops. Identifying the underlying cause for your fast food addiction is an important step in breaking the habit.
Step 1: Review your examination of your habits to determine whether you have an addition. Like just about any addiction out there, it is important to first recognize and understand that you do in fact have an addiction. Without acknowledging that there is a problem, you cannot get the help you need.
Step 2: Accept the fact that you may need to alter your eating habits.
Step 3: Acknowledge that you may have a bigger problem than you realized. For some people, it is an actual physical or physiological addiction that may require much more effort to curb rather than just accepting and altering diet and eating habits.
Step 1: Begin adding up all of the money that you spend on fast food. Try saving the receipts for a few weeks or pay only with a debit card so that you can total your fast food expenses. Chances are that you will be surprised to see how much money you are actually spending. Consider how much you may be able to save by purchasing food that you can prepare yourself at home.
Step 2: Count all of the calories that you are consuming in the foods that you purchase from fast food places. Compare the ways that you can cut back on calories by preparing your own meals at home.
Step 3: Examine what foods you are craving. Do you have a strong desire for cheesy products, dairy items, or red meats? If certain foods seem to be on your list of must-haves, it may be your body’s way of telling you that it needs that particular ingredient. This can be due to a vitamin or mineral deficiency or from poor nutrition.
Step 4: Keep track of how often you are craving specific items. If there seems to be a pattern, you may want to discuss it with your health care provider in order to rule out any possible deficiencies.
Plan A Strategy
Step 1: Consider how you will fulfill your needs once you stop frequenting fast food places. Plan out what foods you will purchase from the supermarket to replace your fast food meals.
Step 2: Look at exactly what foods you are buying. Chances are that there are healthier options available for just about everything you are eating. Take the time to read and compare the food labels in order to choose the healthiest option available. It may be time consuming at first, but once you come to learn what the best choices are, shopping healthy will really be no different than your usual trip to the market. Keep in mind that the fresher the item, the more nutrition it offers.
Step 3: Alter your normal purchases by changing things up and opting for healthy snacks. In order to incorporate the healthiest options, you need to replace that bag of chips with a bag of nuts.
Step 4: Expect possible withdrawal symptoms when you stop eating certain foods or ingredients. Removing excess sugar from the body can leave you feeling tired. Lack of caffeine when the body is accustomed to it can lead to a headache. Know that your body will adjust to the change after several days.
Step 1: Begin by removing soda from your beverage intake. For many individuals, this may prove to be the biggest challenge. Avoid all forms of soda. Diet and caffeine- free sodas are not really any better for you than regular soda. If this step proves to be very difficult, start off slowly. Begin decreasing the amount of soda you consume by replacing a few drinks here and there with a healthier option. Continue substituting other drinks for your soda until you are able to eliminate soda entirely.
Step 2: Stop bringing unhealthy snacks into your home. Replace as much junk food snacks as you can with healthy options. By incorporating new choices and eating them often, you are allowing your tastes to adjust to new flavors. You may actually come to have some new favorite snacks that are good for you.
Form New Habits
Step 1: Carry healthy snacks and drinks with you. Remember that you are trying to take the edge off your hunger. You do not want your snack to be your meal. If this proves to be a challenge for you, try bringing along a limited amount to snack on.
- A) Keep healthy, convenient snacks such as nuts or trail mix in the car.
- B) Purchase a small cooler if necessary. This is a great way to avoid a stop at a fast food place. Keeping it stocked with some yogurt, fresh fruits or carrots and ranch dip can help you to control your hunger until you are able to get home for your meal.
Step 2: Limit your indulgences. If you absolutely must have something that you know is not really good for you, try to keep the portion size small. Purchasing a single portion size rather than an entire box can be effective.
- A) If it is not possible to purchase small sizes and you are forced to buy a large portion, eat only a small amount and toss the rest out. You will want to eat it if you see that it is still available.
Step 3: Stay away from all-you-can-eat offers. Many individuals find that it is too difficult to avoid overindulging. Many people think that they have to get their money’s worth and choose to eat until they are so full that it is actually uncomfortable. All-you-can-eat buffets make most people want to sample a little bit of everything. This almost always leads to eating much more food than is reasonable.
Step 4: Stick to your plan and don’t give up just because you are having a hard time. An occasional lapse is no reason to beat yourself up. If you fall off the wagon, try again and get back on track with a bit more effort this time. It does get easier as time goes on.
- Slowly eliminating one unhealthy food at a time is a gentle way to start cutting junk food out of your diet. Going cold turkey and cutting out all unhealthy food items at once can lead to unpleasant symptoms such as headaches and irritability, and makes you less likely to stick to your plan.
- If you and your friends are addicted to fast food, you can all give it up together. This way you will have less temptation than if your friends are chomping away on burgers in front of you. You may look into groups or networks of healthy people to surround yourself with to provide support through this important stage of life.
- Recommended reading: “Fast Food Nation”, by Eric Schlosser. This book gives you a sense of fast food’s effect on your health, and also its effects on the global economy, agriculture, immigrants, etc. You’ll think about this book when you feel tempted to go to the drive-through.
- Consider setting rules for yourself that will make fast food less convenient. For example, if your favorite fast food place is a long way away, only allow yourself to buy fast food if you walk there instead of driving. Not only will you get a healthy walk in if you do give in to the craving, but it will make cooking your own meal seem easier than the fast, greasy alternative.
- Putting some numbers to your fast food habit might make the reality sink in. Estimate or keep track of how much money you spend and how many calories you consume each week or month on fast food–it will shock you.
- Don’t treat this (or any dieting) a punishment or a hardship, otherwise your regimen will never last. The trick is to replace something that you may like with something healthy that you will like even more. Make this switch slowly, one piece at a time (for example, start by laying off the food court at lunchtime, or avoiding snacks between meals.) Make a small, but real change, and then move on to something more ambitious. Remember that you want this to be an entirely new lifestyle.
If you can’t get by without that morning jolt or afternoon pick-me-up, you could have a caffeine addiction. Here’s how you can know for sure.
Do you rely on your morning coffee to get you out the door — and reach for another cup as soon as you get to work? You could be feeding a caffeine addiction. And once you’re hooked, kicking the habit can be tough.
You might not realize it, but caffeine is the most common mood-altering drug in the world. It is a mild stimulant that works on the central nervous system. Just ask any java junkie — caffeine can make you more alert, give you an energy boost, and keep you from snoozing when you need to stay awake.
Caffeine can be found in many products like tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, and some over-the-counter medications, but coffee is the leading dietary source of caffeine among American adults. Generally, three 8-ounce cups of coffee per day is considered moderate consumption and won’t hurt you, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). However, excessive caffeine use — more than 10 8-ounce cups of coffee per day — can produce physical side effects including tremors, anxiety, insomnia, and a “crash” of extreme fatigue once the caffeine starts to wear off.
Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal
The brain fog and headache that some people get if they don’t have their typical amount of coffee or other caffeinated beverage might actually be a sign of caffeine withdrawal syndrome, according to a recent study.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University Medical School in Baltimore and American University in Washington, D.C., reviewed 66 experimental and survey studies on caffeine withdrawal. They identified these common symptoms:
- Fatigue or drowsiness
- Depression and irritability
- Difficulty concentrating
- Flu-like symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and muscle aches
Typically, symptoms began 12 to 24 hours after stopping caffeine and peaked within one to two days. Some subjects reported symptoms that were so severe they couldn’t work. Generally, the heaviest consumers of caffeine reported the most bothersome symptoms, but even people who missed 100 milligrams, or one regular cup of coffee, experienced withdrawal symptoms. Study participants agreed that avoiding withdrawal helped motivate them to continue using caffeine.
Caffeine Tolerance Is on the Rise
Daniel Evatt, PhD, research fellow in the department of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, says people can stop feeling the effects of caffeine, or become tolerant, leading to the need for more and more to feel alert. But Dr. Evatt also points out that most people find a comfortable level and stick with that. “It usually doesn’t keep going up forever, and not all caffeine users develop tolerance.” However, high doses of caffeine (more than 750 milligrams over the course of every day) can produce complete tolerance. That means the drug no longer has a discernible effect.
The Warning Signs of Caffeine Addiction
Experiencing withdrawal symptoms and tolerance are signs that you are becoming physically dependent on caffeine, Evatt says. He also notes that if you are experiencing the following signs and symptoms, you may have developed an unhealthy caffeine addiction:
- You experience insomnia, frequent headaches, or difficulty concentrating
- You continue to use caffeine despite being told to stop by a health professional
- You have difficulties cutting down or quitting even if you want to
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) doesn’t recognize caffeine addiction as a mental disorder, but it may be included in the updated DSM-V. The World Health Organization’sInternational Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10) does recognize caffeine addiction as a disorder.
Kicking the Caffeine Habit
Evatt is part of a Johns Hopkins team working on a caffeine dependence treatment program. If you want to quit, “I would first recommend becoming aware of how much caffeine you are consuming daily,” Evatt says, adding that many people underestimate their use. He advises people against trying to quit caffeine cold turkey. “Withdrawal headaches can last days in some individuals,” he says. Instead, cut down slowly to lessen withdrawal symptoms.
The American Dietetic Association gives these tips for cutting down on caffeine:
- Mix decaffeinated coffee in with regular coffee
- Drink a latte with more low-fat milk than coffee
- Brew tea for less time
- Pick soft drinks without caffeine
If these measures don’t work and you think your caffeine consumption is turning into a troublesome caffeine addiction, it might be time to find an addiction specialist for treatment.
Copyright © 2012 Everyday Health, Inc.