Fast food for lunch? Not a problem…

Last weekend I attended my first family function as a registered dietitian. That may seem like an interesting opening sentence right? Well the reason I bring this up is because (and my sister is going to laugh if she reads this) for the first time I felt like my new credential, RD, was actually effecting a few of the people around me. My niece had stated that she was afraid to eat one too many cookies when I was in the room (we were at my brother’s graduation party), and my sister had told me later that my niece was calling me the sugar police. Now, my first reaction was a giggle and a smile, but the more I thought about it, I began to realize that this is the farthest thing from the truth when it comes to my own beliefs and practices with being healthy (although I still think “sugar police” is a bit funny). I probably have the biggest sweet tooth out of anyone in my family, and I have written many times about my belief that you can eat anything as long as it is in moderation. Although I am not a huge fast food person and never really have been, fast food commonly gets the misconception of being “unhealthy” as well. Some people, I find, blush a little or break eye contact when you ask “what did you have for lunch today?” and their response is a fast food restaurant, especially ones that have built up a bit of a bad reputation.

I want to break the bias a bit and give my take on the concept of eating fast food. In my opinion, it is all about the choices you are making. Fast food and weight gain or obesity are commonly used in the same sentence… right? At least this is what I find. Well why do we make this connection? Weight gain occurs when one eats more calories in one day than their body needs to produce energy. This can occur in the comfort of my own home, can’t it? 

Without exercise, my body can burn about 1,200 calories in 24 hours on its own. Could I consume this amount of calories in one day entirely from fast food and not gain weight? Of course. Net in = net out. That is the key. If net in > net out, weight gain will occur. Of course there are special circumstances, and calories needs are very individualized based on sex, age, height, weight, lean body mass, etc, so what my body needs may differ greatly from the person sitting next to me. This concept can be followed using solely fast food. Would I recommend eating out every meal of every day; probably not… but that is not the point of this post. The point is that it can be done without gaining weight. If you have to eat out, or your day is very hectic, busy, and fast food just happens to be the best option, there are ways to do it. I will show you how I could do this in one day. 

1,200 Calorie Day:

Breakfast: Starbucks

Egg-white spinach feta wrap: 290 calories

12 floz coffee, black: 5 calories

Lunch: Wendy’s

1 Jr. Cheeseburger: 290 calories

Apple slices: 40 calories

1 small fountain Diet Coke: 0 calories

Dinner: Panera

You Pick 2:

1 cup Low-fat Black Bean Soup: 170 calories

1/2 size Strawberry Poppyseed Chicken Salad + 3 Tbsp Low-fat Poppyseed Dressing: 195 calories

Whole-grain baguette: 180 calories

Ice water with lemon: 0 calories

Total: 1,170 calories


This is just one example of how I could get in my calories needs (with a little wiggle room actually) in one day by solely eating fast food. I did not deprive myself; I was still even able to have a cheeseburger if I wanted! If I had exercised this day, I could have even added in a small dessert or snack throughout the day. It is all about the choices I made. Fast food for lunch? Not a problem! 

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