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Fast food survival guide: how to eat out without freaking out

Updated: Feb 5, 2022

Let’s be honest, we’ve all been there.

You’re running late. You left your lunch at home. You forgot to take meat out of the freezer to defrost. Meal prepping didn't happen for one reason or another. One kid has to be at piano lessons while the other kid has to be at soccer practice at the same exact time.

And, against your better judgement, cravings and hunger rear their ugly heads. You are called to a place of convenience and portable food. A place where there’s no mess from cooking, and no dishes to clean after.

The wonderful land of fast food.

Now, before you go on the defense: I am not against fast food completely.

There is no such thing as "forbidden" foods. This simply creates distorted relationships with food. Rather, I am a huge fan of giving people the knowledge they need to make solid choices that are working towards their goals and not against them. Choices that are sustainable for you that gives you a sense of self empowerment that you are making optimal choices even when no one is looking.

Let’s do some quick visualization practice. Imagine that you’re in a hurry, and you wind up stopping at In-N- Out. Do you want a Double double with animal style fries and an extra-large soda? Do it. This is a judgement free zone.

But what if you want to make a healthier choice that works towards your goals? Look no further. These tips will be your ammo for the next time you have to stop for fast food in a pinch and want to make a well thought choice of what will fill your tummy and not kill your goals.


Fast food and most restaurant portion sizes are absurd. One super size meal could easily feed two or three people. From childhood, we have been trained to eat everything on our plate, and not to waste food. But what do you do when portion sizes are double or triple the size of your stomach?

Get the smallest size. Share the meal with someone. Eat half and save the rest for later. Say no to the added ice cream cone for $1. Pass on supersizing. Ixnay on the cheese.


Most fast food places have some decent options you can swap out. These options can not only reduce the number of calories you take in, but also make your meal a little healthier by adding in some fruits or veggies.

Get diet soda or water instead of regular soda. This can easily save 400-500 calories (think of all that sugar in one super sized soda)! Ask for your burger to be bun-less, or wrapped in lettuce ( protein style at In-N-Out). Not because there is anything wrong with a hamburger bun (remember there are no "forbidden" foods), but it will save you some calories.

Instead of a fried chicken sandwich, opt for it to be grilled. And again, you can ask for it to be without the bun or wrapped in lettuce.Instead of getting a medium fry at McDonalds, get a Fruit ‘N Yogurt parfait. It will save you about 130 calories, as well as vitamins, minerals, and fiber from the fruit and some beneficial bacteria from the yogurt. Instead of chips at the sub shop, opt for the apple slices or a side salad. This saves you about 150 calories. And lets not forget about the condiments..

Let's do a quick side by side comparison:

One tablespoon of mayonnaise has about 90 calories. That's equivalent to eating about 2 cups of strawberries.

One tablespoon of your average bbq sauce has roughly 30-40 calories. That's equivalent to eating a whole medium sized peach.

One tablespoon of ketchup:15 calories

One tablespoon of mustard: 5 calories.

One tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (can be used as salad dressing with a fresh squeeze of lemon): 0 calories

I don't personally recommend swapping for the newer meatless options as they are often packed with just as many calories, fats and additives that defeat the purpose of it being a healthier option despite it being advertised as such. But if you're vegetarian, go for it!

A general guideline for a healthy swap: If it will rot or go bad in the next few days, it's real food and likely a healthy option. If it has one ingredient versus many ingredients it's probably real food ( think of an apple that is simply an apple versus a cookie which is flour, sugar, water, chocolate chips, etc.)


Most, if not all fast food businesses have nutritional information and full menus online now. Taking a few moments to look ahead to plan what they have and which health{ier} options you can choose from can make a difference between an informed choice and a hangry choice.

If you are tracking macros this will make all the difference so you can stay as close to your macros as possible.

If tracking macros isn't your thing, look for a few menu options that range from 400-600 calories. This will give you a much better chance at keeping less calories in your mouth versus ordering without planning ahead. Awareness is the key.


This strategy goes hand in hand with the one above with one crucial step added. Remember how awareness is key?

Planning ahead is necessary, but decisions will likely be futile if you do not make the decision before you get to the restaurant. As you pull up you will smell the aroma of chargrilled burgers and freshly fried potatoes. Your mouth will start to salivate and all will power will go out the window. Knowing what your options are without a concrete decision leaves room for you to change your mind at the last second which you will ultimately regret.

Think about what you're seeing when you walk up to the counter to order. Do you see fresh grilled chicken and colorful fruits and vegetables, front and center on the menu? I'll give you a second to imagine it ... go on, picture it in your head... do you see it? You're right, thats a hard NOPE. That's not what the establishment is pushing to sell. And if we can all be honest with ourselves, that's usually not what we are craving when we are in a fast food establishment. Awareness is key. Hang on to that decision you made before you got there and saw all the pictures of the big juicy double cheeseburgers stuffed sky high with applewood smoked bacon and cheddar cheese and whatever other new promotions they have to tantalize your taste buds.


This is the strategy that has saved my butt from many Chik -fil -A and Subway trips (these are my go to fast food choices). SNACKS!!

I have this constant struggle with hunger. Can you relate? It's like this ugly little monster that lives within me and shows up with little to no warning. If there has been more than 3-4 hours without eating, that uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach can show up at any moment. And when it does, I am on the prowl for food. Fast.

Once you have reached this point, will power takes a nose dive and can lead you to make some very questionable food choices that have you guilt tripping yourself later on.

But if you are always prepared for this scenario.... Have no fear, snacks are here!

These strategies may seem simple, but that’s the point. You don’t need some complicated process to make healthier choices at fast food restaurants. You just need to take a few moments to gather some info, and make a conscious decision. Your future self will thank you. Follow these strategies next time you’re going to your favorite fast food joint, and enjoy eating out without freaking out!

Enjoy this guide? Keep in touch and let me know how these tips worked out for you!

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