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The Fast-Food Challenge

You don't have to completely give up the convenience of fast food to lose weight.
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WebMD Feature

Eating nothing but fast food, like the man in the movie Super Size Me, is enough to make anyone fat. But can you indulge every once in a while and maintain a slim physique, or is a 100% ban in order?

Walk into your favorite fast-food joint, and "that smell of salt and fat in the air is almost irresistible," says Joan Carter, RD, a nutrition instructor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

"I love french fries," says Cynthia Sass, RD, a senior dietitian at the University of South Florida. "You can't ask someone to give them up for life. It's just not realistic."

Let's face it, fast food is part of our busy lives -- even for those who make nutrition their career. It's a challenge trying to avoid the convenience. Should we be trying harder?

Facing the Challenge

In fact, no fast-food splurge blows your diet. "What counts is what you eat in a day or over a few days," says Sass, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA).

"Nutrition is not all or nothing; it's about balance," she adds.

The typical fast food meal: sandwich, fries, and soda. But you can balance it by:

  • choosing small fries and water -- nixing the supersized meal. Also, nuggets or grilled chicken are a good substitute for a burger. And toss the bun -- you don't need it.
  • detouring to the grocery store after the fast-food stop. Prewashed fruit and veggies are a high-convenience item there: baby carrots, a small banana, an apple. Cherry or grape tomatoes are plentiful during summer. Just wash and eat them as a snack.
  • carrying dried fruit with you, like dried figs, dates, lemon- and cherry-flavored plums, peaches, pears, cherries, or blueberries.

Also, ethnic take-out foods -- like Chinese, Thai, Indian -- tend to be very rich in vegetables and lighter, so they give you lots of nutrients and more energy than barbecue or burgers.

"It's all about compromising, about deciding where you can give up something or what you're willing to add to give balance," Sass tells WebMD. "That's the kind of philosophy people can manage long term. Otherwise, it's just not realistic. Every time of year is busy. Not all of us can pack a healthy lunch."

"Eating right doesn't mean you have to become a perfect eater," she says.

Exercise Makes the Difference

But if those biggie fries are calling your name, go ahead and enjoy them once in awhile, says Carter, also an ADA spokeswoman. "Life's too short. Anyway, no one wakes up one morning weighing 600 or even 300 pounds. Just like one day in gym will not make you Arnold Schwarzenegger. It isn't one food, one day, that will make you fat."

Just remember, it all adds up.

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