Diary Of A Fiend

A Fast-Food Junkie Kicks The Habit

An Experiment By Dawneka Akins

I don’t  know what to eat. Growing up, food was just food in my household. It all served the same purpose. No one in my family cared about nutritional value. No one scanned the back of packaged foods to find out percentages of sodium or grams of sugar.

For years, I watched my greatest teacher, my mother, whom I imitated, pile mayonnaise on just about everything she ate. I too fell into that habit. As time progressed, my siblings and I grew older and the time my mother could spend preparing meals became more and more limited.

Fast food became the alternative for dinner.

This blog is about my decision to change. It’s the diary of my month-long experiment – like the movie “Super Size Me,” but in reverse. I’m giving up fast food for all of October.

Over the years, when time didn’t permit me to prepare a meal, fast food became more than a convenience. I’m 21 now, and fast food has become an addiction.

 My taste buds became obsessed with the heavy doses of salt, sugar, and grease. Once the aroma from a restaurant enters my nostrils, I’m instantly reeled in like a fish hooked with fresh bait.

In an effort to reclaim my health and escape the powerful grip of my fast food addiction, I’m going on this journey. I’m not alone, though. Delinda Horton, a nutritionist at the West Oakland Health Center, is guiding me.

I have to admit it: I am a little nervous. We’ll see how this goes.

Friday, November 5

My month-long battle against fast food is finally over. My fast has ended.

It took a lot of mental strength for me to resist temptation and ignore the commands of my appetite to eat whatever pleased my senses – the junk food that’s everywhere, looking and smelling delicious.

I look back on where I was at the beginning of this experiment and compare that to where I am now. My mood was altered because I could not eat fast food. I became angry at times when I could not give in to my cravings and buy McDonald’s french fries.

My anger was a signal that I had a problem: I was a fast food addict.

Throughout this experiment, my meals have been well portioned and nutritious. At least, I’ve did the best I could. And there was a lot to that – being more deliberate about my eating choices, reading labels, considering what I put into my body before putting down my hard earned cash for a meal. Starting my day with oatmeal and boiled eggs (instead of a Big Country breakfast burrito from Carl’s Jr.) provided me with nutrients that were sufficient for my mind and body.

I had turkey sandwiches for lunch, fish with broccoli and carrots for dinner. That all feels like a world away from the Burger King Whopper burger meal with fries I use to eat regularly.

Through my new diet, I’ve learned that, while it’s important to manage your weight, it’s even more important to care for your body internally by having a proper diet.

Here is one of my greatest triumphs: I’ve just about broken the habit of being a slave to my junk food cravings. I’ve strengthened my self-control. Some may think because this journey has ended that I will return to the Big Macs, fries, sodas, chocolate sundaes, and eat whatever other fast food I please. I’ve heard people say it takes about six weeks to make or break a habit. Well, my fast food fast was about 31 days, and I consider my addiction broken!

I feel I’ve restrained my taste buds somewhat. When I smell KFC’s chicken or when the aroma of McDonald’s food wraps itself around my nose, I actually feel a bit nauseous now. I just don’t crave it all anymore.

Although my “no fast food” diet is supposed to be over, I plan on maintaining my new-found habits. Not to say that I won’t ever eat out again, but I will keep it very limited for the sake of my life.

The next obstacle I’m tacking head on is my sweet tooth. I crave chocolate more than anything. I’m taking things one step at a time. I look forward to continuing my new diet and becoming more healthy as it becomes a new habit and leads me to a healthier lifestyle.

To me, this ultimately means a better, longer life.

Wednesday, October 27

My day started with a well-portioned breakfast of scrambled eggs, potatoes, and rice. About two hours later, while I sat outside of Macy’s waiting to clock in, I snacked on a green apple and listened to my iPod.

About an hour and a half into work, my manager asked me if I would be interested in working a full-shift that day. I agreed, since it meant more money on my next check. Instead of getting off midday, I would punch out at 8pm.

As I left my manager’s office, I realized how much of a problem a longer work day would pose for my diet. At the facility where I am staying, they give us tickets which we hand over in exchange for our bag lunches. No ticket, no lunch. I had misplaced mine, and couldn’t think of any other good solution for lunch.

When it was time for me to take a lunch break, I was clueless, and I needed to think quick. I work in a mall filled with the “don’ts” of my fast food fast: Burger King, Tokyo Grill, and the Great Steak & Potato Company were my options. With their bright signs and great smelling food, these restaurants seemed to be clamoring for my attention, as if chanting “Pick me, pick me!”

Indulge in nutritional sin or go hungry – these were my choices. I remembered that my nutritionist Delinda once told me to make the best possible decisions about what to eat from the options available to me. “Great Steak it is,” I whispered to myself as I made my way over to the restaurant.

I ordered a cold turkey and Swiss cheese sub – the best of some bad options. I wouldn’t call this a relapse. Delinda has reminded me many times that going hungry is never a good decision.

Of course, visiting the food court at a shopping mall is stepping into a vortex of fast food temptation. So, I’m extra proud of my will power. I resisted ordering the jalapeno and cheese fries I saw on a poster board at the register. While heading back to work after lunch break, I congratulated myself on a job I felt was well done.

Monday, October 25

About 3 days ago, while waiting to clock in at Macy’s where I work inside of a mall, I went into a restroom. I walked by the weight scale I always see but shy away from because I feel that knowing my weight gives me a reality check about my poor eating habits.

Just as I was about to exit the restroom, I glanced at the scale once more. “Insert 25 cents,” it read. The scale also promised to give me my lucky lottery numbers for the day in exchange for a quarter.

Giving in to my curiosity, I took off my jacket, stepped onto the scale, and inserted a quarter into the machine. I stood as erect and still as I possibly could, as if waiting for a judge to hand down some damning verdict. I hadn’t stepped on a scale in several weeks. Not since I began this experiment that feels almost Biblical. I, Dawneka, must not, for a month, eat from the alluring tree which bears that most tempting but forbidden fruit – fast food.

I peeped down at the small screen. “Stand still,” it read. The scale’s LED display soon revealed my weight. To my surprise, I had lost six pounds! “Losing two pounds per week is healthy,” Delinda, my nutritionist, once told me. Her words echoed in my head.

“I’m right on track!,” I thought to myself.

I lost weight, I assumed, simply because I took the steps to eliminate fast food and adapt to a healthier diet. I honestly haven’t changed any of my daily routines, which don’t include regular exercise, and I still lost some weight.

For about two weeks now, I have been eating a piece of fruit – apples, pears, and bananas, mostly – with the majority of my meals or shortly afterward. These fruits don’t soothe my sweet tooth. No slice of apple has yet come close to a piece of Hershey’s With Almonds. But the fruit has been useful in satisfying my appetite.

I’ve also been eating unsweetened oatmeal or scrambled eggs for breakfast, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at lunch. For dinner I’ve been eating chicken, beef, and fish, along with broccoli or carrots. The portions fill me up just enough, so I don’t go hungry and I’m not stuffed.

For me, these are major steps away from a Carl’s Junior Big Burger and KFC Snackers.

Excited about what the scale was telling me, I left the bathroom and stepped out into the shopping mall with an entirely new attitude. Losing weight excited me more than the short-lived rush from the taste a Big Mac or any other fast food could bring.

Monday, October 18

Today I finally had the crucial discussion I needed to help me to continue my no fast-food diet as planned. I spoke with my nutritionist Delinda Horton, the absolute necessity in this experiment.  She gave me some much-needed answers to questions concerning my diet.

Delinda told me that my food portions depend on the amount of calories I use daily. “Calories in, calories out,” she said. For me that simple formula gets complicated. True, I don’t get a lot of exercise, although all the lifting and running around I do at my department store job is a workout. But I also can’t pack a lunch or eat out during the day.

Sometimes I survive on just apples. Not a good idea, Delinda told me.

She encouraged small, healthy portions when I can afford it. She also reminded me not to regulate my diet too much right now, since I’m often just trying to survive on what I can afford, and not go hungry.

And get this: I can eat chocolate chip cookies! She told me that I should treat myself to something sweet once a week. This was a concern of mine, since I have a huge sweet tooth. I want to stay committed to this experiment, but everyone has a breaking point. Mine would be going without any sugar.

I have also wrestled with the fast food question. I don’t always know what “fast food” is. Would a salad with lettuce, tomato and cheese from McDonald’s spell the end of my commitment to eating well, especially if I had to choose between that and going hungry? “All fast foods are not bad foods,” Delinda replied.

Where I live right now, I have almost no control over my meals, which are all prepared for and served to me. I can’t request “a little more of this” or “just a little of that.” I do not have a kitchen to use as freely as I please, and I don’t have access to a refrigerator. When it comes to choosing between healthy eating and the cheap convenience of junk food, I feel as if I’m being backed into a corner.

However, I will continue my fight. “Eating healthy – I don’t care what people tell you – costs,” Delinda insisted, summing up much of my experience so far. Until I get paid later this week, I only have enough cash for my hour-long commute between home and work.

Therefore, I will have to figure out what I will do about lunch since I will be at work.

I will have to make the most informed decisions I can about what I eat, as Delinda encouraged me to do. That involves being choosy about the food I’m served at the facility where I am living.

Today for the first time, I actually ate a healthy snack that didn’t taste so bad. My editor Christopher gave me hummus and sugar snap peas to snack on when I let him know that I hadn’t eaten lunch.

“Not bad. Not bad at all,” I thought to myself as the taste of hummus – which I’d never had before – reminded my taste buds of chicken and mayonnaise.

I can do this.

Monday, October 11

Over the past three days of not eating fast food, I’ve noticed something: I do not crave it whatsoever except when I’m being coerced by advertisements that promise me a lot of delicious food for just a couple of my well-earned pennies.

For instance, one time I was watching television and on comes this commercial for Carl’s Jr. There was a woman lying on the beach with a huge, scrumptious-looking burger gripped in her hands.

She appeared to be in complete ecstasy as she took bite after bite. Her eyes were shut tightly and her head was thrown back as she chewed. The burger dripped with ketchup, mayonnaise, and some mystery sauce.

The woman almost made me feel like heading to Carl’s Jr. just to see what was so extraordinary about the taste of this burger. The sight alone of the burger activated my tastes buds and made me salivate.

My craving for fast food comes on strongest when I walk by a restaurant, mainly McDonald’s.  The aroma of its food flirts with my senses. Sometimes I get lured in when I see advertisements frequently on my television screen that prey on my appetite and cause my appetite to manipulate my mind. The site of steamy, golden french fries from McDonald’s or a Pizza Hut slice with melted cheese being stretched across the television screen causes my taste buds to feel as if they have to have what I’m seeing.

My cravings become so powerful that I actually began to trick myself into thinking about why I should buy it immediately. “Well, it’s only 99 cents,” I think, taunting myself with that lure “only” that’s a staple in fast food ads. Most of the time I fall for my own trick and give in.

Two days ago, I was on my way home when I noticed something absolutely ridiculous. It was a huge picture of McDonald’s french fries plastered across the entire right side of a city bus. I commended myself even more for not giving into my flesh and heading across the street to McDonald’s. I can see how fast food has a strong hold on so much of the population’s diet; advertisements are everywhere and tap into every human emotion possible to make the sale.

Besides my battle with fast food, I’ve noticed another culprit involved with my poor diet: my notorious sweet tooth. My cravings for the most sugar-polluted snacks are just about uncontrollable.

Once again, my nutritionist is a priority in my life. I need help.

Sunday, October 10

I’m only ten days into this, and so far, my mission to live without fast food has not been completely unbearable. I’ve had my moments of weakness, but I haven’t put a drop of Burger King, McDonald’s or any other place’s food to my lips.

Through this process, I’m teaching myself the true purpose of food: nourishment to the body, not delight of the taste buds.

People say that you can eat food that is both healthy and tasty, but I’m not so sure about that.

It is difficult to adapt to healthy eating with limited time and funds. Often I find myself trying to figure out how can I satisfy my hunger when I don’t buy groceries regularly because I’m always on the go, and I don’t have much money.

I went into 7-Eleven one day after work. I was hungry and I hadn’t been to the grocery store. Is the food 7-Eleven sells considered fast food? I tried to purchase healthy: a turkey & cheese six inch sub, and a bag of salt and vinegar chips. I also got a can of Arizona Mucho Mango. The painting of several plump mangoes on the can convinced me this was juice, and juice is good for me, right (I didn’t read the label revealing only 5% juice and 26 grams of sugar – mostly from high fructose corn syrup – inside)?

Okay, maybe that doesn’t sound exactly healthy, but I also needed my taste buds to be satisfied.

Where’s the balance?

Thursday, September 30

Tomorrow begins a new chapter in my life. I’ll begin a month-long journey on a path I’ve never taken. I’ll commit to something that I have not contemplated in all of the twenty-one years I have been on this earth: giving up fast food.

“Only a month?,” some may question. But to a person like myself, fast food is a staple of my daily diet. 31 days is an eternity.

On the way home today, I stopped at McDonald’s to grab some dinner. “I may as well indulge in nutritional sin once more,” I thought to myself. After scanning the menu a bit I made my order. “Can I have a Number 1?,” I asked. I actually almost added a hot fudge sundae to that order when the server asked me if that was all.

After paying, I drifted around until my order was announced. When grabbing the cup for my drink and the bag that contained my Big Mac and french fries from the counter, I felt like a Death Row inmate receiving her last meal.

I sat down in one of their plastic brown chairs, and started eating. I chewed slowly, savoring the food as if it were the last time the flavor would tango with my taste buds before life as I knew it came to a halt.

I cannot help but feel anxious as well as excited about the road I will tread in a fast food-less diet plan. I told my oldest brother about my experiment. “Well, good luck,” he said. “And remember: mind over matter.”

He’s right. I can do this. After all, it’s a step towards a healthier me and possibly an extension on my life.