The Fast Food Diet

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on April 15, 2022
3 min read

Cardiologist Stephen Sinatra, MD, believes you can lose weight without giving up the drive-thru or doing much cooking.

The catch? The Fast Food Dietteaches you to choose menu items carefully and stick with the 80/20 rule: If you eat right 80% of the time, it’s OK to splurge the other 20% of the time.

You’ll eat three meals and two snacks a day, all purchased from various fast-food and chain restaurants or convenience stores.

When The Fast Food Diet book was published in 2006, choices included Burger King French Toast Sticks, Panda Express Beef and Broccoli, McDonald’s Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken, and even a Double Chocolate Chip Cookie from Subway. 

Fried foods are not part of the plan, so you’ll have to say goodbye to the fries. Sodas sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup are also off-limits.

But you may not miss them. Sinatra offers suggestions for better substitutions for some of your favorites and easy tips for cutting fat and calories while still enjoying a diet mainly from fast food restaurants.

Alcohol is allowed in moderation. You can enjoy an occasional glass of wine or a cocktail and sip it slowly, savoring it, so you don’t want more.

Limitations: Cheeseburgers? Allowed. Pizza? Allowed. Croissant breakfast sandwich? Yes. The plan is less about what’s off-limits and more about making smart swaps that shave fat and calories, while still allowing you to enjoy your favorite convenience foods.

Cooking and shopping: If cooking isn’t your thing, it’s not required on this plan. You can eat out or cook at home as much as you want, but you must stick to the calorie and menu suggestions in the diet.

Packaged foods or meals: No.

In-person meetings: No.

Exercise: Not required. Sinatra touts walking as the ideal exercise, but doesn’t insist on it as part of the 6-week diet plan.

It will be challenging, but not impossible, for vegetarians to find enough fast-food options to do well on the diet. Those following low-fat, low-salt, vegan, or gluten-free diets should look for another diet plan.

Cost: If you already eat out for most meals, you’ll probably spend the same amount.

Support: You do this diet on your own.

Does It Work?

Although eating fast food is linked to higher weights, healthier fast-food choices can have a different result. There is no specific data on whether a fast food diet will result in weight loss or improved health, but choosing items lower in calories and higher in nutrition is a good place to start -- especially for busy people who don't like to cook.

Is It Good for Certain Conditions?

Anyone closely watching their diet for health reasons should be wary. Check with your doctor first.

Even healthy fast food options tend to be high in sodium, so someone with heart disease or high blood pressure would need to be careful.

In general, people with health conditions can use this book as a guide to making healthier choices while dining out -- but they'd be better off eating most of their food at home.

Keep in mind that the book was published in 2006, so much of the fast food meal options and nutrition may be outdated. Sinatra's website does not include information about the diet. 

The Final Word

The strength of this diet is it's easy to do and won't take much work. The downside is people still have to rely on outside sources to feed themselves instead of learning how to prepare food at home.

This diet might work for someone who eats fast food and wants to make better choices when they're ordering. Basically, it's a stepping stone to a healthier diet. This plan may not work for someone looking for more ways to prepare and eat nutritious whole foods at home.