All my friends in college knew me as a crazy chicken nugget lover. No, not tender (and healthier) Tyson chicken nuggets, I'm talking about McDonald's nuggets.
I was a Division 1 student-athlete in college, and even after a run test that forced me to do inhuman amounts of sprints in crazy intervals, you know what I craved as a reward after such a tough workout? Nuggets. The drive-thru people knew me by name, and my boyfriend at the time even bought us the 20-piece box for our Valentine's Day dinner—how romantic?
To dive a little deeper into the beginning of my cravings, growing up, I wasn't really allowed to have food from popular fast food spots. I had that mom who would say "there's food at home" every time I saw the luminous golden arches while we drove through congested traffic.
When I told my family and friends my first job would be working at a health and nutrition based site, they all gave me the same excitement mixed in with a look that seemed like it was saying "why you" to me. It was no secret that I liked to indulge in a Taco Bell $5 Nacho Fries Box, the $5 Go Biggie Bag from Wendy's, or a McDonald's 2 for $5 Mix & Match Deal a few times…a week.
I wanted my eating habits to change because for the first time in my life, my mind was always wrapped around the next chance I got to eat something. My snacking habits were out of control because fast food wasn't as satiating as "real food." I would wake up absolutely starving after a night of Wendy's, and I would scarf down a bowl of cereal, granola bars at the office, chips I bought from our downstairs lobby, or anything else I could get my hands on that sounded good.
Going into this challenge of giving up fast food for 30 days, my body had clearly been changed from the toned abs and legs I once had. I wasn't getting "fat" in my eyes per se, but the bloat on my face, stomach, and even legs was showing. The way I knew it was getting bad was looking at the photos and seeing the small differences of bloat on my face. Plus, I also felt rundown and tired all the time. My goal was to reset my cravings for fast food and get a better understanding of how often I was consuming it. Now, see what happened when I gave up fast food for a month.
What I ate
I quit cold turkey. That's right. No more Baconators, or Doritos Locos Tacos, or my beloved chicken nuggets for 30 days. However, I didn't go full kale-and-eggs-with-lemon-water diet right off the bat. I still ate the foods I normally enjoy, but tried to make some healthier tweaks.
Instead of deep-fried buffalo chicken sandwich with fries, I got a buffalo chicken salad and shared fries with the table. I bought southwest-style salad mixes from Trader Joe's instead of Taco Bell when I wanted something spicy. I drank tea more than soda or sugar-and-cream-filled coffee because I wanted something sweet and caffeinated but without so much sugar, dairy, fat, or carbonation.
Instead of a slice of pizza every Friday from Joe's on my street corner, I treated myself only once in the whole 30 days to the greasy delicious slice. I made homemade beef and broccoli from a Trader Joe's frozen bag instead of a takeout option. I don't consider Asian takeout to be in the same category as fast food, but I wanted to see if there was a version that made me feel less bloated.
While grocery shopping, I bought whole grain versions of breads and pasta and even gluten-free versions of mac and cheese because I noticed the bread was also giving me that feeling of bloat. When I went out to eat, I ordered kale salads whenever I had the chance (with steak at restaurants or chicken at build-your-own places) and added my favorite toppings to the kale. By the end of the month, I was actually craving the kale salad that became my go-to "treat yourself" lunch option instead of my usual half sandwich, half mac and cheese combo meal.
Halfway through the month, I weaned myself off soda, and I was craving citrus fruit water. I'm usually unknowingly dehydrated, and now my skin feels great. Now, being hydrated is something I don't even think about anymore. I used to go hours (sometimes days) without anything water-like, and now I enjoy hydrating with a few glasses before noon.
How it made my body feel
A clean diet is a real thing. I can honestly say I felt "clean" the whole month. I was a lot more energized. My schedule stayed pretty much the exact same as it has in previous months, yet I had unexpected extra energy. Enough to even participate in a few workouts!
When I was eating basically all fast food, any physical activity didn't last long because I would get tired and stop. After being forced to do workouts all through college, I vowed to not work out anymore because I was so burned out. This month, however, I was going out of my way to find activities to get involved in that would allow me to become tired by more vigorous activity instead of everyday turmoil running me into the ground.
My cravings became less and less frequent, and I actually craved the good tasting clean foods I had been making myself eat. The only craving of fast food that I sort-of caved to was Chipotle. But I didn't get queso or extra cheese, and I switched my bowl to a salad with the same toppings but there was more lettuce. I craved feeling full but not "stuffed," and didn't force myself to finish every bite of my meal unless I was truly hungry. This challenge actually taught me how to eat more mindfully. It's crazy how even the way you eat your meal can determine how your body will process it, both physically and taste-wise.
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How it changed my emotions
The only time I was really distraught about being on this cleanse was when fast food was presented to me for free. Working in food media allows me opportunities to try free foods, but even after being handed a free Wendy's gift card and meal, I managed to make it through the day with my cleanse's reputation unscathed.
My mood changed in some ways, too. I noticed I slept much more soundly this month. I woke up more refreshed and not as tired. This resulted in less cranky behavior and less irritability when something frustrating happened at work or my personal life. Food can definitely change your mood, and my better eating habits resulted in a more positive mood.
How it changed my appearance
I remember my hair and skin sometimes felt a little more greasy during my fast food binges. Surprisingly, my skin was much drier this month. I'm not sure if it had to do with my diet, but I've had the driest face, arms, and legs for the whole month. Nothing a little lotion didn't fix, but it felt like my body had nothing to expel through my pores. In a good way!
I noticed by the end of the month the bloat on my face, arms, stomach, and legs had decreased. My jawline was just as defined as it had been before the bloat became noticeable, and the workouts I did, as well as the bloat-free diet, gave me back my flat stomach. I even noticed my leg muscles becoming more defined and the bloat in my hips went down.
How it felt eating fast food after 30 days
Want to know what happened when I ate fast food after the 30 days was up? I was completely sick to my stomach. I was so excited to get back to my S'Awesome sauce-dunked nuggets and fries and polishing off that with a mini bacon burger and an orange Fanta. There's no denying the satisfaction of a huge meal for only $5. But the bodily feeling of "satisfaction" had definitely changed.
I was only halfway through the fries when I started to feel full. I took a break, and got back to the fries. Had to take another break to eat the nuggets. Managed to down a little bit of my drink, but I felt, in a way, defeated. My new diet in no way had me eating more food. I was just eating more satiating food. The foods I had been eating had no problem making me feel full. But I couldn't help but feel angry that I was going to waste money on my food delivery, so I took another break to get to the burger. A meal I once had at least three times a week was now impossible to finish. A day after the meal, I was feeling the same bloat I felt for a few months straight before my cleanse.
The day after eating fast food again, my face and hair felt greasy again. I was freshly showered and clean, but I didn't feel it. I felt awful and run down. My body was literally craving those clean foods instead, something I never thought I would write. I believe the red meat and bread had a very large part in the sick feeling because I had almost completely cut it out for the whole month, and I'm definitely not looking forward to feeling like that again anytime soon.
How I'm going to implement these changes moving forward
I learned a lot about my diet and what the body can do with the fuel you are putting into it. I used to joke about the phrase "you are what you eat," but now I know it's true. I was bloated and felt greasy, and it was because my body was trying to tell me to not eat as much of those foods.
Now, I don't think people should NEVER eat fast food, that's not my point. But for me, the bloating effects from a fast food diet were hard to live with, and I needed a change. It's just something I wasn't sure I was aware of and kept giving it to my body. Yet, I had no idea a simple tweak in my diet could enhance my overall mood and motivation. The food I ate—and liked—truly did shock me.
Moving forward, I'm going to try to keep myself to eating fast food once every other week, or when it's necessary and I need something cheap and quick. Fast food is definitely something I enjoy, and I don't plan on giving it up cold turkey again.
I'm a young woman entering my mid-20s, and I want to live them to their fullest potential, while still eating whatever I want. Sometimes that's French fries with S'Awesome sauce. Sometimes that's a kale salad. Who knows, maybe I'll change my wedding reception dinner from chicken nuggets to veggie nuggets one day?