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I tweeted earlier that I had now officially gone one month without fast food or drive thru, and that my goal is to keep this up.  I “went public” with this achievement and goal for a couple reasons.  The first is the most obvious, and selfish, reason – I need to put it out there so other people can hold me accountable for doing this and give me some well deserved ridicule should I slip back into the deep fryer.  The other reason is kind of like the old joke: “Why did the chicken cross the road?  To prove to the possum that is was possible.”  That is to say, hopefully I can be an encouragement to others that it is possible to avoid the fast food traps and let people know that other people are trying to do this as well.

To be completely honest, while the “one month” statement is accurate it’ll be at least another week until this was a month of “conscious choice” on my part.  You see three days of that month were in the hospital with a broken arm and three or four more days of that were at home recuperating. It was during these days at home, when I had my arm propped up on pillows on the big chair, that my wife just happened to turn on Netflix for me and choose to watch supersizeme “Super Size Me”.  As I was basically a captive audience at this point I watched the whole show.  I had watched part of it before – maybe even most of it – but it was really not at a “teachable moment” in my life as I was during this recovery period.

“Super Size Me”, if you haven’t seen it, is an irreverent review of the fast food industry and really the food industry as a whole.  The premise is that Morgan Spurlock would eat only McDonalds food for breakfast, lunch and dinner for 30 days and see what impact this has on his health, mood, and life in general.  Simple enough.

The “side plots” include vignettes on where the food comes from, how it is processed, what it is made out of, how the same food is now in many school cafeterias, and even in some hospitals.

While the methods of Spurlock would never be classified as “true science”, and there are many valid criticisms of his process and how he chose to carry it out, there are some plain facts that really can’t be refuted. 

  • The quality of fast food can not compare to that of food prepared at home
  • Fast food offers a quick burst of energy from sugar, other carbs, and fat, but at the price of a huge let down later on with even cravings for more of the same kind of food
  • The portion sizes at fast food restaurants vastly exceed the calories needed for a single meal – just look at the history of what a “large” pop/soda has been over the last 20 years as well as what a portion of french fries has been in the same time period.

My Favorite Foods

wendysbaconatorMy “fast food drug” of choice has often been Wendy’s because it is directly across the street from work, and I worked at Wendy’s in high school and learned to like their food.  But even before I broke my arm I had some bad feelings building about Wendy’s.

In the last six months I have been troubled by their new “Baconator” line of sandwiches.  There was a huge sign by the drive thru basically taunting you to get a huge double cheese burger with multiple layers of bacon.  I never did try it – mainly because I really prefer their chicken sandwiches (having prepared the burgers at the aforementioned job) – but the idea that they were enlarging their burgers and adding multiple layers of bacon seemed to me that they were really headed in the wrong direction.

drivethrudiet The other thing I had noticed is from my #2 Fast Food destination – Taco Bell.  They started a new thing this year called the “Drive-Thru Diet Menu”.  I never saw any commercials or explanations of this, but my first gut reaction to it was “this has to be a joke.”

I would never have put together Taco Bell and being on a diet.  I guess they were trying to pull of something like Subway did with Jared several years ago, but that just doesn’t seem to work in my mind with Taco Bell.  Taco Bell is cheap, tasty, and filling food – red meat, refried beans, and some token veggies inside an amazing variety of hard and soft shells.  But it really wouldn’t fall into a diet that someone could follow.  I could buy a “lighter side” menu or even a “more veggies” icon, but I couldn’t imagine someone eating nothing but Taco Bell.

Local Shopping and Local Growing

Local-FirstThe final reason I think I was ready to step away from fast food was something that has really become important to me lately, and that is supporting local businesses and eating local foods.  There are many reasons to shop locally and eat locally-grown foods.  An obvious one is a financial reality in today’s Michigan economy – if I buy from a store owned by local owners and employing local workers, then much (even most) of the money circulates back into the local economy as they do business with other local businesses and contribute to local charities and non-profits, they employ local workers, and even profits go to local owners to invest in more local businesses.

Another big reason is potentially significant health benefits.  When local restaurants buy their food from local farmers (and yes there are great local greenhouses in our area that grow produce all year long) then the food can be much more fresh than if it had to be imported from Southern America (or even South America).  Big chains like fast food restaurants often centralize their distribution of food and even have a lot of it pre-processed before coming to the location (e.g. shredding lettuce, making meat patties, even pre-cooking some food) – as a test, just ask someone where their produce or meat comes from, if they don’t know then that should tell you something.  It’s also much better for the environment for food to travel 10, 20, or 50 miles to your destination instead of crossing the globe.

Another thing you can do if you know where your food actually comes from is you can know what the growers and farmers actually do when they are growing the food or raising the chickens.  Even if you aren’t looking for the food to be organic, it is nice to be able to know what fertilizers and pesticides are used.  What kind of chickens are they (yes there are different breeds)?  You can even, sometimes, go and visit the farms for educational purposes and peace of mind.  You will also notice that some of the “staples” that you have used in the past just don’t grow anywhere locally, but that there are alternatives and different things that you should probably try. I am really looking forward to the local Farmer’s Markets to start up again this spring to see what else I might be missing.

Is It Working?

If I thought about this more I might actually journal my health, feelings and weight loss along the way this year.  One month is not really enough to become a spokesperson or expert for this lifestyle.  But that being said I will say this.  I do generally feel much better while eating the lunch I brought with me, a home cooked meal, or even a soup and salad at Olive Garden instead of a sandwich and fries.  Some people talk about the “food coma” you can feel after a large meal or a meal high in sugar, carbs and fat.  These foods can hit your blood stream so quickly and your body reacts and tries to process (or store) the energy and you can get this feeling of just wanting to crash after eating.  A smaller and lighter meal does not have the same impact – in fact, much the opposite.  I don’t miss the food coma feeling and don’t miss any of the intestinal distress that I don’t need to really explain.

The other amazing thing I have noticed is that my recovery from my broken arm has been miraculously fast.  I am only three weeks from major surgery with a big metal plate being put in my arm and my bicep muscle being torn and cut.  Only one week ago I got my stapes out and my sling taken away.  The amount of healing my body has done in this short time shocks and confuses a lot of people, and even myself.  I have been taking some supplements of Calcium and Vitamin D and D3, but I have also been consuming many more vitamin rich vegetables, mostly raw, than I am used to and drastically reduced my meat and fat intake.  And this is not because I am “on a diet” it is really because I am preparing and bringing my lunch and not visiting fast food establishments.  I can’t directly correlate my rapid healing to eating differently, but I do believe it has been a big part of it.

This next month will be quite different as I expect to be mostly “back to normal” with my arm in a few weeks and the spring melt is enabling us to get outside a lot more.  I still have 3-5 more months until the bone in my arm is healed, but the metal plate, while a drastic and significant surgery, has the benefit of enabling me to use the arm much sooner.

I’ll post again in a month or so, and do ask me about it if you see me.  Some have asked if I could make healthy choices at a fast food place or eat the food in moderation – I don’t think so.  This is probably more of a failing in myself than anything else.  I am going to stick with the “zero fast food pledge” as it is easier for me to accomplish and easier for me to assess and be accountable for.  I’ll need to add some activity and exercise measures in there as well at some point – let’s shoot for that a month from now.