Fast Food for the Rest of Us by DuctapeFatwa, contributed by DuctapeFatwa

I’ve seen a number of articles dealing with this subject, prissy little pieces about ways to accomodate the unavoidable and ubiquitous fast food into one’s weight loss/diabetic diet, and they always say the same thing, salad, low fat dressing, get the grilled chicken and throw away the top bun.

Mm hmm.

Especially for those who are for whatever reason plunged suddenly into the unenviable position of having to radically change our diets, that is not likely. If you are someone whose lifetime habit has been to order the SuperDouble MegaBaconCheeseBurger, the chances that on your next trip to Burger Doodle, you are going to primly request a salad with low fat dressing while the poster of the MegaDouble beams down on you, and you watch your fellow diners dabbing away mayonnaise with their napkins, are slim.

Yet you know, in your head if not your heart, and definitely not in your salivary glands, that your days of SuperDoubleMegaBacon are over.

Here are some ideas for compromise. One size, however, does not fit all, whether we are discussing burgers or pajamas, so proceed with caution, experiment, test your blood sugar, if applicable, discuss with your doctor, disclaim, disclaim, blah blah:

1) Cut it in half. No, not the SuperDoubleMegaBacon. Maybe the semi-super. Either split it with someone, or remove lettuce and tomato, if present, and take the other half home for either gift presentation or microwaving later. (The way to microwave a fast food burger without turning it into an atrocity is wrap it in a damp paper towel, put it in the microwave, and stand beside it, intoning “One Islamabad, two Islamabad, three…” until you get to nine. Then take it out. Make SURE you have removed lettuce, tomato and pickle first!

2) Downsize. Most fast food places offer a “junior” version of everything. Getting the junior can cut the calories and fat by up to 50%. Almost all have a “regular” burger that has around 300 calories. Some chains, like Burger King, grill their burgers, which can also cut down on fat.

3) De-accessorize. You may be astonished to learn that one of the reasons you can’t eat SuperDoubleMegaBacon Cheeseburgers anymore is closely related to the large amounts of bacon and cheese. Depending on your situation, you can reduce these – get the regular bacon cheeseburger – or eliminate them altogether – get the Super Burger with no bacon and no cheese. The prissy articles will tell you to cut out the mayonnaise and ketchup, too, but let’s be real. The amount of mayonnaise and ketchup that most fast food chains dab on burgers is not going to be the dealbreaker. If you can eat the burger at all, that smear of mayonnaise is not going to send you to the hospital. What you do want to avoid is adding additional mayonnaise like you probably are accustomed to do.

4) French fries. There is not much you can do about french fries except order the small size and share them with a teenager. Especially if you are older, the slowness of your reflexes will ensure that you only eat one or two before the rest of the bag has been inhaled by the teenager, and one or two won’t kill you.

5) Pizza. Pizza, when you think about it, is a very flexible food. You can get a thick crust or pan pizza, load it up with sausage and double pepperoni and extra cheese, and order the largest size, or you can heap it up with vegetables, trust to the stinginess of the franchise to add only a moderate amount of cheese unless instructed otherwise, and get thin crust. I can offer personal anecdotal evidence that Papa John’s thin crust will result in a blood sugar level of almost 40 points lower than the regular crust. Even with pepperoni. Again, the store is in business to make money, they are not going to give you that much pepperoni unless you ask for double, and pay extra. So don’t ask for double. If you want to double something, double the onions, or the chiles, or the mushrooms. If the amount of sugar in the sauce is a concern, order “white pizza.” Garlic and olive oil replace the red sauce, and the same cheese and veggie rules apply.

6) Chicken. Yes, you can order the grilled chicken. Or the roasted or broasted or naked. But if you do not like roasted broasted and naked, you are not going to enjoy your meal, and if you do not enjoy your meal, you are more likely to eat other, even worse stuff to compensate for it, either fifteen minutes from now, or six hours from now, so downsize. Instead of the 4 piece dinner, get the 2 piece snack. If they will not let you substitute green beans or corn on the cob or slaw, whichever you can stand, for the biscuit, order a small of that separately and give the biscuit away. Pay the extra quarter to specify that your two pieces be wings or drumsticks, or one of each. Don’t sit there like a starving man trying to suck every crumb of breading off the bones. Just bite, and when actual flesh is no longer biteable, you are done.

7) Asian food (East) Obviously, the prissy thing to do is order steamed vegetables with no sauce, maybe some Moo Goo Gai Pan if you are feeling especially daring. But if you were the Moo Goo no sauce type, you probably would not be here, reading this. So educate yourself, and compromise. There is a world of difference (and sugar) in the simple brown sauce of a Kung Pao or Szhechuan dish and General Tso’s anything, and of course Sweet and Sour. The staff at most places will help you. If necessary, you can hold up a packet of sugar, shake your head emphatically and frown, and they will then point out items on the menu that have the simple brown sauce, and of course, the Moo Goo. But you can ignore that. The real test of your willpower will come at those SuperBuffets. The best strategy: don’t try to simply pass the General Tso’s by. You will only return for a second plate and fill it up. Get your plate, and put a tiny bit of everything on it. You will not feel deprived, and you will be so full that you will not go back for a second plate of anything, and in addition to the deadly Tso, you will also have eaten enough broccoli and water chestnuts and green onions to offset terrible consequences.

8) Asian food (South) I am still working on this one. So far, about all I can suggest is to get dal or a jalfreezi dish. Or a karai. Most everything else is cooked in butter, coconut milk, cream, yogurt, or all of the above. Actually tandoori is not too bad. It is marinated in yogurt, but at least it is not korma. Say no to the naan and ask for more papadums.

9) Asian food (Southeast) With Thai food, watch for coconut milk. Get Thai chili, simple brown sauce, lots of flavor. (If you do not like spicy food, what are you doing in a Thai restaurant?) If you are in a Vietnamese or Cambodian restaurant, you can let your guard down. Pho is basically beef soup, garnished with things like cilantro and chiles, and lettuce wraps are lean meat wrapped in, well, lettuce. Stay away from the salty lemonade. Not because it is fattening or bad for diabetes, just because it is vile.

10) Ethiopian food. Your main problem here is injera bread. The staff will look askance if you ask for a fork, because injera bread takes the place of utensils, but let them point and laugh and eat the wots with a fork, leaving the injera bread on which they are served. Those little dishes of relishes are your friend. They are vegetables that do not suck. Eat them up and ask for more.

11) Mexican food. This can be great, or it can be awful. You can do a lot worse than arroz y frijoles, and the traditional Mexican garnishes are just chopped raw vegetables. If you do not want to eat wheat, there are corn tortillas, and these are so thin that you can eat a couple of them without drowning yourself in carbs. The only things to avoid are the fried items, like chile rellenos, flautas, etc. Ask for cheese on the side so that you can sprinkle as little as you wish. Mole looks fattening, but the only fat containing ingredient is cocoa.

This list is by no means comprehensive, and I am sure you will have your own favorite fast food tips. What are they?

This entry was posted in About Eat 4 Today, Restaurants.

8 Comments

  1. katiebird January 7, 2006 at 11:45 am #

    Ductape, we almost need a comment area for each of your topics. And I especially like the part about sharing an order of fries with a teenager. That would probably work for the pizza as well.

  2. SallyCat January 7, 2006 at 12:00 pm #

    Great ideas DF!

    I’ll take a look at what and how we eat here and add comments later. A big thing for Mr.Cat has been reducing quantities on his overall carbs. Rather than eliminating things he has reduced quantities – he’ll get an extra plate at a restaurant and remove about 1/3 of what they serve. Then take that home for lunch the next day.

    We haven’t been to fast food in over a year except a maybe a dozen times. Once we (me!) got the taste of fast food out of our system it didn’t taste good any more. And for good measure all the fast food companies are red…so for us it was a dual benefit!

  3. LauraM January 7, 2006 at 12:16 pm #

    We almost never eat fast food. But when I order a hamburger at a restaurant I just get it plain, no cheese or bacon, and have them pile on freebies like sweet onions, tomatoes, pickles and lettuce. I use mustard and ketchup, but no mayo. So it ends up being a not too bad thing.

    One other note: do not under any circumstances eat those fried wonton thingies that they bring with your hot and sour soup at Chinese places. You might as well inject fat directly into your heart.

  4. DuctapeFatwa January 7, 2006 at 12:23 pm #

    LOL katiebird, I had not thought of applying the teenager strategy to pizza. Forget what I said about thin crust – go ahead and get the superstuffed pan pizza with double everything, if you share that with a teenager you will probably get no pizza at all!

    SallyCat, that is a great idea about the extra plate. I think that whether people are raised in the US or in the Majority World, there is this aversion to leaving food on our plates. And this is not a bad thing, food should not be wasted. However there is nothing that says that it has to be eaten at one sitting! But what happens for too many of us is that we see all that food on the restaurant plate, and we are just unable to stop at half of it and ask for a doggy bag! the extra plate technique will take care of that, we can “clean our plates” without doing too much damage to our dietary restrictions!

    Maybe somebody will write a screed in the “diet industry” section about the ridiculous growth of portion sizes in American restaurants. And it is not a question of getting more for your money, either. The prices are inflated even beyond the additional food. This may be more an issue for the weight-loss people, but it is not necessary to be in pain after eating. And I have noticed a definite trend toward that in restaurants, to make one feel, at meal’s end, not pleasantly sated, even “full,” but so overstuffed to the point of discomfort!

    Laura, good point about the fried wontons! And also in South Asian restaurants, beware the pakura or bhaji that may be offered as an appetizer. Though made of healthy vegetables, and even in some cases breaded in chickpea and not wheat flour, they are fried within an inch of their lives, and as is the case with food in much of the Majority World, grease is considered a plus! so they are not even drained. Grease, or fat, is of course essential in some amounts, but western diets get more of it than necessary, however, in some parts of the world where meat is served less frequently, fat is considered something of a luxury, and so traditions have developed that result in dishes that could be just fine for diets being decidedly un-fine!

  5. Puget4 January 7, 2006 at 11:48 pm #

    I don’t eat at restaurants very often, but we went a couple times during the holidays. I asked if they could serve up some low or no-fat dishes. These were mid- to upscale restaurants. Definitely not fast food. They were happy to oblige and the meals looked and tasted exquisite, sans fat.

    It’s worth a try. Ask. The worst they can say is “sorry, no”. And they have to say “sorry”. The customer is always right. :-)

  6. DuctapeFatwa January 8, 2006 at 4:31 pm #

    That’s a good point! Fast food might come pretty much “as is,” but almost all other restaurants, even the smallest, humblest, of any ethnicity of combination, will usually be happy to work with you.

    Especially since what people with dietary concerns generally ask for is less, not more!

  7. chocolate ink January 8, 2006 at 9:27 pm #

    Lots of good ideas Duct. Because unless people want to quit eating completely this kind of food is all around us and I think it’s learning how and when to manage this kind of food instead of the unrealistic expectation that we will just cut out this kind of food altogether. Unless you have unheard of willpower most people no matter what may backslide at times or end up binging due to complete deprivation. Better to incorporate a moderate amount or even tiny amounts of ‘regular’ food and if you do slip up remember not to beat the crap outa yourself for it and just start over.(and also why I never make New Years resolutions-it sets you up for lots of guilt trips)

  8. DuctapeFatwa January 9, 2006 at 10:12 pm #

    Chocolate ink, I hope someone will do a whole screed on the subject of self-forgiveness and getting back on the horse!

    And while some people may do better with the draconian regime, for me, incorporating those small amounts of “regular” food is about the only way I can stay on the horse at all!