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Fast Food or Fat Food?

Impulsivity Linked to Fast Food Frequency and BMI 

After a long day at work, there is often little energy left to plan, shop for, and cook a nutritious homemade meal. How convenient—and sinfully delicious!—the drive-thru appears to be. If this sounds like you, ready to turn off the highway to the nearest fast-food joint, you may want to hit the brakes. A study from the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics links this type of impulsivity to more fast food consumption and to greater BMI (Body Mass Index). 

Researchers from Auburn University recruited 478 adults to complete an online survey assessing eating habits and impulsivity. Participants answered questions on how often and why they ate at fast-food restaurants. They also completed a quiz to determine impulsivity, defined as the tendency to choose immediate rewards over long-term benefits. 

Results linked both frequency of fast-food consumption and BMI to greater impulsivity. People with the highest impulsivity ate at fast-food restaurants 19% more often than those with the lowest, and people who were obese showed the highest impulsivity. Though impulsive behaviors means opting for the immediate reward, just 12% of participants said fast-food tastes better and only 10% said it is cheaper than eating at home. What’s rewarding about that? 

People who eat away from home—at fast food restaurants or anywhere else—tend to take in more calories and have greater risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart-disease. Cooking at home may seem daunting, but weekly meal-planning can relieve the stress of scrambling together breakfast, lunch or dinner on even the most impulsive and hectic days. Use the weekend to plan your menu, make a grocery list, do the shopping, and do as much of the prep work as you can. Here are a few tips to make healthy eating a breeze: 

  1. Bake a batch of whole wheat muffins to have on hand for breakfast. 
  2. Cut fresh pineapple, cantaloupe, and mango and store in the fridge. 
  3. Roast large pans of vegetables to use in salads or as a quick side. 
  4. Prepare quinoa, brown rice or other whole grains. 
  5. Cook a pot of veggie chili and freeze in individual portions. 
  6. Stock up on veggies for quick weeknight stir-fry. Try our Lemon Ginger Spring Vegetable Stir-fry

BONUS: Once meals are set, aim to be less impulsive about snacks too. Instead of reaching for whatever is nearest when hunger hits, assess if a better option will be available in the future. A donut may sound satisfying while out running errands, but you can likely wait an hour and enjoy a banana and peanut butter at home. If you know you’ll be out-and-about (or stuck in the office) all day, pack one of these healthful snacks to-go or keep them at your desk.

Published April 1, 2016

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