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For Eddie Vidmar, fast food wasn’t just an occasional splurge, but rather a way of life.

“The convenience of driving to the window and getting my dinner was often too hard to pass up. No clean-up, no dishes…. just eat your food and toss the garbage,” he says. “What I should have done was realized sooner that the food itself was the garbage.”

At the end of December 2013, Vidmar decided he needed to lose weight and get in shape. His first step was to review what he had eaten the previous two weeks. Not counting breakfast, he realized that eight of the 14 meals he ate during that time frame were from fast food restaurants. “Then I looked at the nutritional content of those 14 meals and found that it was as close to zero as possible.”

Danna Demetre, RN, is co-author of the book Lean Body, Fat Wallet. She echoes what Vidmar observed. She says:

  • Only seven of the items on one popular fast food chain’s menu contain no sugar — even the burgers and fries [contain them]! No wonder you are hooked.
  • It takes at least five hours of continuous walking to burn off a cheeseburger, fries and a soda. Leave off the cheese and it will only take you 4 hours.
  • Many stats show that those who consume fast food tend to get fat in much higher numbers than those who don’t — especially children!

When Vidmar decided to kick his fast food habit, he went all in. Here’s what he did:

In order to break habits, we need to do something every day for 21 days. As a means to that end, I decided to stop eating meat. That kept me away from the fast food places. When that 21 days was done, and I realized I did not miss fast food at all, I stayed with that dietary lifestyle. I drink a protein shake in the morning, another for lunch and then I have a sensible dinner. I eat only fish, vegetables and fruit, and I try to drink a gallon of water every day.

Along with exercise, the change in diet worked for Vidmar. In one year he went from 310 pounds to 235 pounds. (He also raised his credit scores during that time. Here’s how.)  

Better Food Fast

Demetre agrees that habits are key, and can either work for or against us when we try to change. In her book, she suggests practicing a “delay” strategy. “Because fast food is so accessible, we often feel inclined to pull into our favorite feeding hole without even thinking,” she says. “If you make it a new habit to always delay at least 10 minutes before caving into a food craving, you will find the urge passes.”

Also key: have high quality food on hand for when you’re hungry, tired, busy—or all three.

“By packing a healthy lunch or a few healthy snacks – that are both convenient and nutritious – you may find it easier to resist the next request to get the ‘Combo’ or ‘Super-Size’,” she says. She recommends keeping these snacks on hand: 

  • ¼ cup nuts
  • Quality beef jerky
  • Apples, bananas and oranges
  • Quality popcorn

Demetre’s co-author Ellie Kay knows well how easy it is for families can fall into the fast food trap. After marrying her husband, an Air Force fighter pilot, she went from being a new wife and stepmom of two children with $40,000 in consumer debt to being completely debt-free in two and a half years—all on one military income. She and her husband also had five more children together, making her a very busy mom.

“Part of the reason we eat fast food is due to convenience and because we are too stressed for time to eat,” she says. “To counter this, prepare double portions of your favorite casseroles and freeze one for later. Or cut them into single serving portions and create your own healthy, cost-effective frozen dinners.”

When her kids were young and the family was always on the go between school and sports, she made dozens of bean, meat and cheese burritos and froze them. “These were easy to microwave and take on the go,” she says. “I calculated that it saved us an average of $250 per month on what we would spend for fast food.”

And if the problem is that all of the cooking duties seem to be falling on one member of the household, and that person gets tired of cooking, split it up, she suggests. Give each family member the job of making meals one night a week. “Give them a budget and let them watch cooking shows to get inspired,” she says. “There’s nothing like watching the 12-year-olds on ‘Master Chef Jr’ to make your teens get inspired to try something new.” As a bonus, your kids will learn cooking and budgeting skills.

Your Bottom Line

Avoiding fast food isn’t just healthier for your body. It can be good for your bottom line as well. Tom Corley, who studied the habits of the rich compared to the poor and shared that research in his book Rich Habits, found that when it came to eating fast food three or more times a week, 75% of the wealthy did not have that habit, while 69% of the poor did. In his research, Corley says he found that “self-made millionaires made a habit out of eating healthy. This included avoiding junk food, candy and fast food.”

Just be sure to watch your spending as you transition away from the drive-through. If you’re not careful, spending on groceries and take-out can skyrocket. That can wreck your budget, and can also hurt your credit scores if you charge more on your credit cards. (Ideally, it’s a good idea to keep your debt usage ratio on your credit cards at 20% – 25%. You can check yours by getting your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

“Fast food seems cheap until you factor in the damage you are doing to your body,” says Vidmar. “While that $5 deal meal sounds good, it really isn’t. That same $5 will easily buy you fresh ingredients.”

More Money-Saving Reads:

Image courtesy of Eddie Vidmar

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