beating the drive-through habit

Now the question is if we do have to visit the drive-thru from time to time, is there a way to do so without sabotaging your entire nutritional plan? The answer is yes! There are ways to get around the drive-thru lineup and still know that you are making intentional decisions to help benefit you and your family without sacrificing health. The key here is to keep drive-thru as a last resort vs. the first option. We have to look beyond the habit at the root cause. 

Can we really beat the drive-thru habit and find healthier alternatives to ordering on the go? Or are we overthinking the whole process, and it’s not that big of a deal? Well, there is no right or wrong answer here. In this article, we will discover some ways we can beat the drive-thru habits and mindful practices to keep the drive-thru option as a last resort. First, let’s take a look at the pros and cons. 

Pro: Saves time, convenient and “ healthy option” menus are available.  

Con: Increase caloric intake, hidden preservatives, portion size can be too much and can take a toll on our finances over time. Stress induced, boredom and lack of time management. 

When we look at the increasing numbers of parents working two jobs, having a 9-5, and a side hustle, sometimes time is of the essence. And by the end of a long day, the last thing in your mind may not be to spend another hour cooking in the kitchen but to spend time relaxing and laughing with your family. Longer commutes from work, kids’ activities, and drive-thru options at every exit on the way to and from work can become very tempting when you are stuck in your car and bored. The goal here is not to shame or guilt ourselves out of the drive-thru habit but to become aware of what things we can do to avoid foods that can add undesirable preservatives, high sodium levels and increase trans fat into our diet. 

How To Beat The Habit

When it comes to meals for you and your family, prepping ahead of time can save you time and money. Not to mention extra calories and hidden preservatives, digestive distress. Sometimes we are not even hungry but have developed a habit of stopping at a drive-thru on our commute; mindless eating can take over.  In the Psychological Science, 2010  article, You Are How You Eat: Fast Food and Impatience, three experiments were done on the behavioral effects of fast food, our need for speed, and how this behavior can spill over into other parts of life. If we know that this habit can have long-term effects on other parts of our life and create the need for instant gratification, what are some ways we can actually beat this habit, save time, avoid mindless eating and not have it affect us financially?  How can we truly beat the drive-thru habit and feed our bodies nutritious meals?  Understanding that we have control and choices over what we consume is important here. Below are steps and questions that I ask myself and recommend for mindful eating in beating the urge for fast food. 

  1. Am I starving? When we get bored on our commute or running errands, we can find ourselves in the fast-food line to keep busy. Eventually, this can become a habit.  In this scenario, ask yourself. Am I famished?. In the case you are hungry and need a snack, it’s good to carry a PowerBar, nuts, or fruit with you. I love having a bag of nuts and an apple available or preparing a protein smoothie in a to-go cup, especially when running errands. This will get you through your drive, control your blood sugar levels from dropping and prevent binge eating.  It’s a win-win! 
  2. Am I bored? This is sometimes the key reason we stop off at drive-thrus—the need to keep occupied and busy. Sitting in the car can seem like a waste of time and energy; stopping at fast food can seem productive. Listening to a podcast for audiobooks is one of my favorite ways to keep my mind from not getting bored during a commute, and viola! Drive right past the fast-food lineup. 
  3. Meal Prep ahead of time. This can save you unwanted calories, trans fats, increase sodium in your diet and money.  Taking the time to plan your meals, snacks can help on days you are running late, stuck in traffic longer than anticipated. Having leftovers available from the night before is great. Cooking over the weekend and freezing meals is very helpful and gives you peace of mind as well. 
  4. Becoming aware of your thoughts and feelings. Going through a drive-thru can also trigger the reward center in our brain. The instant gratification and release of dopamine and serotonin can give us a lift in our mood, especially if we’ve had a long stressful day. Here we have to mindfully recognize that this “ reward” is short-lived, and the long-term health effects can affect our mood and gut health.  Changing your mindset here is key. Try rewarding yourself with a favorite home-cooked meal or something that brings you joy when you get home vs. the short-lived reward of fast food. What brings you joy?
  5. Keep a bottle of water in the car.  Sometimes our bodies are dehydrated, and thirst can manifest as hungry. Fatigue can also kick in, and our body is looking for instant energy.  
  6. If, in fact, you are feeling true hunger, then try your best to eat off the “healthy option” menu board. Removing extra sauce, cheese, and even eating an “open face” burger, where you only eat one slice of the bun. Skipping on the fries ( I know I am taking the fun out of this. But you’ll thank me later) If we do make a trip to the drive-thru, we also switch the pop for water or orange juice for my son and me. 
  7. Stress can play a big part here.  Comfort eating can be a big trigger for late-night drive-thru trips. There were times in my life where my stress levels were off the roof, and fast food was my late-night indulgence. When I started to work through what was causing me stress and uneasiness, the fast-food habit was the first to go. The food wasn’t the problem; it was the bandit. Discovering my emotional stress and triggers helped me let go of my drive-thru habit.

It’s during stressful times like these that we often drive to fast foods and eat impulsively.  It helps to understand the root cause and develop an action plan to work through or learn the steps to manage your stress. The key here is to understand that we are all human, and some days will not be ideal. There will be days where it’s not going to work out as planned, and that’s okay. Keep in mind that if it starts to become regular trips through the drive-thru, that you may need to have a closer look at your time management or old habits, have compassion for tough days, and reach out for help. We never have to do this alone and having support and accountability through unlearning habits and creating new ones allows for consistency and a lasting lifestyle change. 

Download the this or that’s of breaking the drive-through habit below!


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