Can you have fast food when trying to lose weight?

Can you have fast food when trying to lose weight? Yes, you can still eat fast food occasionally while trying to lose weight, as long as you focus on making healthier choices and watch your portion sizes. The key is moderation and balance.

How Fast Food Impacts Weight Loss

Fast food is often high in calories, fat, sodium, and sugar. Eating too much of it can make it harder to create a calorie deficit needed for weight loss. However, completely avoiding fast food is unrealistic for most people. The key is limiting fast food intake and making smart choices when you do indulge. Here are some ways fast food impacts weight loss:

High in calories: Fast food often contains a lot of calories in a single meal. A calorie deficit of 500-1000 calories per day is recommended for 1-2 lbs of weight loss per week. Just one fast food meal can eat up a big chunk of your daily calorie budget.
High in fat: Fast food tends to be high in saturated and trans fats, which are linked to weight gain and health issues.
Low in nutrients: Fast food often lacks the vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients your body needs. This can make it harder to lose weight in a healthy, sustainable way.
Contains empty calories: The high sugar content in fast food provides calories with little nutritional value. Empty calories don’t properly satisfy hunger and can lead to overeating.
Effects on metabolism: Frequent fast food intake may negatively impact metabolism over time and decrease satiety after meals.

So while fast food is not off limits when trying to lose weight, it should compose only a small part of your overall diet.

Healthier Fast Food Options for Weight Loss

If you do choose to eat fast food while dieting, there are some simple tweaks you can make to reduce the calorie content:

  • Opt for grilled chicken instead of fried
  • Choose a regular burger rather than a double or triple patty
  • Ask for extra vegetables as toppings
  • Order a small or child-sized portion
  • Avoid large size fries and opt for a small instead
  • Choose water, unsweetened tea, or diet soda instead of sugary drinks
  • Go for a side salad with light dressing rather than fries
  • Stick to one small packet of condiments like ketchup, mayo or salad dressing
  • Share a meal with a friend or split a meal in half to eat some now and some later

Making substitutions like these allows you to still satisfy a fast food craving without going way overboard on calories.

Some fast food restaurants also offer healthier menu options specifically designed for weight loss. Look for items like:

  • Grilled chicken wraps or sandwiches
  • Salads with lean protein and light dressing
  • Yogurt parfaits
  • Egg white sandwiches or breakfast bowls with veggies
  • Oatmeal or cereal
  • Soup or chili

Sticking to published calorie values can help guide healthier choices. An average fast food meal tends to range from 500-1500 calories. Try to aim for options under 500 calories whenever possible.

Portion Control is Key

Paying attention to portion sizes is one of the most important factors when eating fast food while dieting. With so many supersized options available, it’s easy to eat far more calories than you planned.

Here are some tips for keeping portions in check:

  • Downsize your meals by ordering small or child-sized portions
  • Share a regular meal with a friend
  • Order items a la carte instead of combo meals
  • Skip the free refills on large sodas
  • Use the “half sandwich plus soup or salad” option at sandwich shops
  • Split your meal in half immediately and pack one half to go
  • Use smaller utensils to help you take smaller bites
  • Eat slowly and stop when you feel satisfied, not overly full

Visually compare your portions to the recommended serving sizes in the diet guidelines. For example, recommended serving sizes are 3-4 oz of lean meat, 1⁄2 cup starch or grain, and 1-2 cups veggies.

Healthy Swaps at Popular Fast Food Chains

Most major fast food chains now offer at least some healthier alternatives. Here are some examples of smart swaps to save calories:


  • Big Mac (540 cal) -> Hamburger Happy Meal (470 cal)
  • Large Fries (510 cal) -> Small Fries (230 cal)
  • McCafe Mocha (420 cal) -> McCafe Iced Coffee (100 cal)

Burger King:

  • Whopper with Cheese (670 cal) -> Hamburger (250 cal)
  • Onion Rings (500 cal) -> Side Salad with Light Dressing (60 cal)
  • Triple Whopper with Cheese (1130 cal) -> Chicken Sandwich (470 cal)

Taco Bell:

  • Cheesy Gordita Crunch (510 cal) -> Soft Taco Fresco Style (150 cal)
  • Nachos BellGrande (850 cal) -> Chicken Soft Taco (210 cal)
  • XXL Grilled Stuft Burrito (750 cal) -> Tacos ‘Fresco Style’ (140-160 cal each)


  • Baconator (670 cal) -> Jr. Cheeseburger (290 cal)
  • Large French Fries (500 cal) -> Small Chili (190 cal)
  • Frosty Shake with Fries (930 cal) -> Side Caesar Salad (170 cal)


  • 12” Meatball Marinara Sub (900 cal) -> 6” Turkey Breast Sub (320 cal)
  • 6” Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki Sub (480 cal) -> 6” Veggie Delite Sub (210 cal)
  • Chips (210 cal) and Cookie (220 cal) -> Apple Slices (35 cal)

As you can see, making simple modifications like downsizing portions, choosing grilled over fried, skipping extras like cheese and heavy sauce, and opting for salads, can make fast food substantially lower in calories.

How Often Can You Eat Fast Food and Still Lose Weight?

There’s no universally correct answer, as it depends on your specific calorie needs and diet plan. But most experts recommend limiting fast food to no more than once or twice per week while trying to lose weight.

Any more frequently than that, and it becomes difficult to maintain a calorie deficit consistently. Shoot for keeping fast food to less than 10-20% of your overall diet. Focus on more filling, nutrient-dense whole foods the majority of the time.

Some other tips for losing weight successfully while still occasionally eating fast food include:

  • Plan ahead by viewing menus and calories online to make a smart choice before arriving
  • Increase physical activity on days when you indulge to burn extra calories
  • Don’t “save up” calories specifically for fast food. Stick to your regular calorie target
  • Drink extra water before, during and after eating fast food to prevent overeating
  • Slow down and savor your food. Don’t let fast food environments encourage you to overeat
  • Skip late night fast food runs which are linked to overeating and weight gain

Prioritizing fast food less frequently and focusing on more nutritious whole foods will help boost weight loss success.

Meal Planning Tips

Planning ahead is key to achieving weight loss goals while still allowing occasional fast food. Here are some meal planning strategies that can help:

  • Plan to eat fast food only on certain cheat days, not whenever a craving strikes
  • Meal prep healthy homemade foods like lean proteins, whole grains, veggies and fruits to have on hand
  • Limit dining out to only one restaurant meal per week
  • Eat breakfast at home most days – skipping breakfast makes you more likely to crave fast food later
  • Aim to eat at least 5 servings of vegetables and 2-3 servings of whole fruits daily
  • Cook most meals and snacks at home where you control ingredients and portions

Planning weekly menus, grocery shopping accordingly, prepping food ahead of time, and bringing healthy snacks helps minimize impulse fast food stops.

The Impact of Liquid Calories

One of the biggest fast food traps derailing diets is in the form of liquid calories from sodas, milkshakes, frappes and blended coffees. These calories add up quickly and don’t properly satisfy hunger.

Some tips for reducing liquid calories:

  • Opt for water, unsweetened tea or black coffee
  • Choose diet soda over regular (but limit to 1-2 per day at most)
  • Skip the extra whipped cream and sugary syrup pumps in blended drinks
  • Order a small or child size instead of regular or large
  • Share one large drink between multiple people
  • Add extra ice to water down sugary drinks

The bottom line is to be mindful of excess liquid calories that can hinder weight loss, especially from sugary beverages. Enjoy treats like shakes occasionally but not daily.

Healthier Homemade Alternatives

When that fast food craving hits, consider whether you could satisfy it with a healthier homemade alternative. For example:

Instead of burgers: DIY burger with 90% lean ground beef, whole wheat bun, lots of sautéed mushrooms and onions, avocado slices, etc. Baked sweet potato fries.

Instead of fried chicken: Baked chicken fingers or chicken parmesan over zucchini noodles. Side salad.

Instead of milkshakes: Blender smoothie with frozen banana, berries, spinach, plain Greek yogurt and a dash of vanilla.

Instead of pizza: Cauliflower crust pizza with veggies or grilled chicken. Side salad with light dressing.

Instead of Chinese takeout: Stir fry made with brown rice, lean protein, broccoli and teriyaki sauce.

Instead of soda and fries: Sparkling water with lemon and baked root veggie fries tossed in olive oil.

A bit of meal planning and prep can help you create healthy versions of your favorite fast foods at home, where you control the ingredients. This saves calories and money too.

Should You Give Up Fast Food Completely?

Giving up fast food completely is not realistic or sustainable for most people. With hectic schedules and limited time, you’ll likely find yourself grabbing a quick drive-thru meal occasionally no matter your best intentions.

The key is keeping fast food as an occasional treat in moderation, rather than a daily habit. Don’t villainize or restrict any foods completely. This can lead to cravings, binges and guilt.

Finding balance, managing portions, and making smart swaps helps incorporate fast food in a healthy way. But focusing on nourishing whole foods prepared at home as much as possible is wise for optimal health and weight loss.

Health Risks of Excessive Fast Food

While the occasional fast food meal likely won’t harm your health or weight loss efforts, regular excessive intake can negatively impact health over time.

Some potential risks of too much fast food include:

  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Inflammation
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Heart disease
  • Certain cancers
  • Depression and anxiety

These conditions are linked to diets high in saturated fat, sodium, added sugar and processed foods.

To help mitigate risks, limit fast food to no more than 1-2 times per week and focus on making smart choices when you do indulge. Prioritize home cooked whole foods for the healthiest diet and weight loss.

Final Tips for Fast Food and Weight Loss

Here are some final tips to keep in mind:

  • Track calories even when eating fast food to stay accountable
  • Don’t deprive yourself completely – this can backfire. Have what you crave in moderation
  • Never use fast food as a reward or comfort. Find other non-food rewards and coping strategies
  • Aim for consistent healthy habits 80% of the time. Fast food should be the exception, not the norm
  • Be mindful – eat slowly and stop when satisfied. Don’t overeat just because it’s fast food
  • Don’t rely on exercise to “burn off” fast food excess. Focus on reducing calories first

Yes, you can still achieve weight loss goals while occasionally enjoying fast food in moderation. Just be mindful of health risks with excessive intake and keep it as an occasional treat, not a daily habit. Consistency with healthy eating the majority of the time is key for long term success.


Losing weight while enjoying the occasional fast food meal is absolutely possible. The keys are making smart menu substitutions, watching portions, limiting liquid calories, planning ahead to make healthy choices, and keeping fast food to no more than once or twice per week. Aim for a healthy, balanced diet focused on nutritious whole foods the majority of the time. With mindful moderation and smart choices, you can still satisfy fast food cravings in a way that aligns with your weight loss goals. Consistency with healthy habits over time trumps the impact of an occasional indulgence.

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