How to Break Up with Drive-Thru Dining

by Coach Stevo
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How to Break Up with Drive-Thru Dining

Hi there. I know we’ve been only been friends for a little while, but that’s why I’ve brought us together for this chat. It’s high time we got honest and clear with each other. We need to talk about what you’re doing at night. On your way home. When you think no one else is looking. We need to talk about the Drive-Thru.

There is hot debate over who invented the Drive-Thru (McDonald’s and In-’N-Out both lay claim to that dubious honor), but the impact of all those customers lined up for convenient bags of burgers, fries, and sodas is clear: 65% of McDonalds’ annual sales, $10.55 billion, go through car windows. And what people are buying is clear too: Convenience. According to QSR, an outlet that reports on fast-food industry drive-thru sales, it takes an average of 189 seconds for customers to get their food from the drive-thru window. That’s just over 3min from the speaker to a 1400-calorie meal in your hand—and you never even have to stand up. And before you pat yourself on the back for passing up the burgers for coffee, remember that a Starbucks’ grande Salted Caramel Mocha Frappuccino has as much sugar as 7 Kripsy Kreme donuts, and comes with a straw so you never even have to look down to eat it.

As a coach, I’m not bothered by that burger or the 7 donuts, for that matter. The problem I have is the “189 seconds and it comes with a straw” part. Anything that convenient is likely to be abused, and if you want to break up with the Drive-Thru, we have to make the healthy alternative even more convenient.

Josh Hillis, possibly the world’s best fitness coach for ladies looking to drop fat, says it’s all about planning ahead. “My leanest clients, including the fashion models, are great at food preparation,” he says. “Quite simply, the better you are at the habit of putting food in plastic containers, the leaner you get, and the easier it is to stay there,” says Hillis. So learn from the best and focus on getting better at the basics.

Make dinner before you leave the house Dinner is not a surprise; it’s pretty much a nightly occurrence. So plan it out, chop it up, portion it out, and put it in the fridge before you’re anywhere near that fast-food window. Then you won’t spend your drive home worrying about prepping, cooking, and cleaning—you just have to tackle reheating. Pressed for time in the morning? Make dinner the night before, or pre-plate a few meals on Sunday.

Have a snack in your car As I mentioned last week, we make the poorest food choices when we’re hungry. Always carry something with you—baby carrots and peanut butter, or trail mix, to tide you over until you can make it home for a full meal.

Take the long way Sometimes the best way to get away from a bad relationship is to avoid the person. That strategy works for fast food, too. It’s a lot easier to take the back roads than to drive right past those golden arches. And let’s be honest: You’re not “just gonna get the salad,” are you?

Invite someone over If you know you don’t have any food in the house, and fries sound so good you can almost taste them, go on a preemptive strike and invite a friend over for dinner. You can meet at the grocery store, order some healthier take-out, or combine what’s in your fridges for a creative leftovers dinner. Any menu the two of you create will be better than continuing the cycle of convenient, car-based calories.

Reflect on how you got here When there’s a paper bag in your lap and the smell of KFC on your breath, it’s time to ask yourself a simple, nonjudgmental question: “How did I get here?” At some point in your day, your plan proved too hard, too complex, or too unreasonable. Reflect on what you can do to make your evening meal simpler and more convenient than those 189 fateful seconds to help you break free of the pattern the next time.

There is nothing wrong with an occasional burger or blended coffee drink. The problem with drive-thru dining is how easily it can turn convenience into a mindless habit. Dump this loser and build a healthier, happier relationship with your food by planning ahead, instead. You deserve better than 3 minutes!

Fess up! Do you have a bad drive-thru dining habit? What are you going to do to change it?

About the Author

Coach Stevo

Coach-Stevo-Logo.pngCoach Stevo is the nutrition and behavior change consultant at San Francisco CrossFit. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Chicago and an MA in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University. He teaches habit-based coaching to wellness professionals all over the world and he contributed to Intervention by Dan John in 2012. 



37 responses to “How to Break Up with Drive-Thru Dining”

  1. Fenris says:

    Planning ahead is difficult when there’s more than one of you. Can plan dinner down to the last thing, and then get to dinner time and Husband won’t want it. Or if he really fancies a take away he will go on about it for days until he gets one, and cause it’s all i’m hearing about i want one as well. Or if we’ve had a long rough day sometimes neither of us can be bothered to come home and cook any way. Plus where i love, there is a KFC, subway, starbucks, McDonalds and pretty much a chippy on every street which ever direction i go in so avoidance is pretty much impossible 🙁

  2. Amy Marie Rembacki says:

    As a dual working household, we are always on the go…. I cook all day on Sunday to make sure that we have our meals ready to go within minutes of arriving home. Whether it is a slow-cooker meal that is cooking while we are at work, or a meal that I’ve prepared in advance, dinner is always done and on the table with 15-20 minutes. We are a military family, and I guess it is fortunate for me that my husband is NOT picky when it comes to food. He eats what I cook, and that’s it. lol. When we want a dinner out, it is usually also planned in advance. It just makes my life easier with such a busy work /school week. I was a fast food junkie before, and I’ve thankfully changed my ways and have lost 150 pounds! It’s totally tasty, and addictive which is why it is so popular… food is a drug, and when it is cheap and easily avail, it is easily abused! Be careful!!

  3. Jerry Peoples says:

    My problem was it was always too easy to go to. I would literally leave the gym and get a #3 from mickey dees. Friday nights was a double whopper combo from Burger King. My last fast food purchase was at Five Guys when on vacation 2 years ago.

    Wont lie and say i dont miss the taste of those burgers but for me it has had to have been cold turkey which i did.

  4. Debbie Stair says:

    Great article!!!! I have “dumped” this habit but every now and then it tries to poke it’s head back into my life! Be Strong! Stay Focused! Be Prepared (with your food choices/snacks) I have lost 72 pounds and feel great!!! Thanks for the encouragement! 😀

  5. Travelbug1955 says:

    There is nothing wrong with eating at a fast food restaurant as long as you plan on what you are going to order. If you order that Whopper, ask for no mayonaise and don’t eat the bun. The food is healthy without those two things. Fast Food restaurants have healthy choices and it’s up to you to choose them. I will never stop eating fast food and I have lost 55 pounds so far. I make the right choices.

    • girlaflame says:

      I agree, especially if you are just starting out in your healthy lifestyle, just find something on the menu that you like and that fits into your calorie budget. Later when you feel more confident if you want to start phasing it out all together you can. But for many people, going from drive thru 3x/week to not at all is just setting yourself up for failure. There are a TON of habits that you have to master to have a healthy lifestyle. Trying to do them all at once is why a lot of people fall off the wagon.

      • Coach Stevo says:

        I completely agree, and my entire practice is set up around a “one habit at a time” strategy. The most common struggle I see is the struggle to do too much too soon.

    • Coach Stevo says:

      Absolutely, it’s all about priority, focus, and making your environment reflect those choices. So glad you’ve found a way to do that successfully!

    • Suzanne D. says:

      Carls Jr is my new favorite thanks to this strategy. The jalapeno turkey burger is filling and doesn’t kill my daily calories. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that the santa fe grilled chicken sandwich is lower calorie – its as bad or worse than some regular burgers because of the sauce and cheese.

  6. Joyapadd says:

    My problem is lunch. I don’t go until 1.30 and of I had a stressful morning even if I brought healthy snacks I feel my mcd’s will help my mood and it does while I’m eating but then when I get home I have the guilt trip but I will do it all again at least 2 times a week. No willpower and it. Has nothing to do with time or convenience.

    • Coach Stevo says:

      It sounds like it has more to do with reward. You are rewarding yourself with McDonald’s, but then it sounds lie you feel guilty about the overindulgence. According to our best understanding of brain functions, habits work on a subconscious loop of “Reminder, Routine, then Reward.” Is there something else that you can reward yourself with when you are stressed that will not trigger such a guilty response? Like a walk, a bite-sized candy, or even just an old-fashioned pat on the back for making it through the morning? Rewards like these have been show to be effective in randomized control trials for creating new habits, even for people trying to quit smoking.

  7. Shirley says:

    I used to have the habit bad. Once I joined MFP over a year ago, I really got into the planning. I enter everything into my diary the night before, even if I might change my entries the next day. I have everything for work — lunch, snacks, drink — packed and cut up so I only visit the vending machine once every few months. And I tend to have a meal at home in mind so I don’t stop at the drive-thru. I still do it once every month or two, as a treat. But a big deterrence to that? Seeing how crazy fast the cals and fat add up on MFP, and how I might not even feel quite full. Also, now that I lost all the weight I’m not going to put it all back with McD’s. 🙂

  8. Adrian Milliner says:

    I’m lucky enough to find the smell of McD etc stomach churning and I certainly wouldn’t want my car stinking. I’m further lucky enough that my car’s cup holders are next to useless. Didn’t stop me from getting fat though!

  9. JofJLTNCB6 says:

    May I never blame the ease of access to food for what and how much I eat.

    • Coach Stevo says:

      Then you should never read “Mindless Eating” by professor Brian Wansink, PhD. of the Cornell Food Lab.

      • JofJLTNCB6 says:

        Whether or not I read (or have read) that book, I still will not blame the ease of access to food for *my choices* of what and how much I eat. While I obviously can’t speak for others, as for myself, I do not let convenience alone dictate what or how much I eat. I propose that neither should anyone else.

  10. Anthony says:

    There is some genuinely good advice here. Especially with the planning ahead. I find when I make my meals for the entire day and then input them all at once into my calorie counter I never deviate from what I have planned.

  11. GolfCrazy says:

    I really don’t have a problem with fast food, my problem is that I am addicted to McDonalds Diet Coke! I swear, they have put some additive in there that calls my name. But, I made a rule that I am pretty good about sticking to. After my morning 32-ouncer, I can’t have any more diet coke until I have drank at least 32 ounces of water, and then for any other diet coke I drink the rest of the day I have to drink equal amounts of water. I run to the bathroom a lot!

    • Coach Stevo says:

      I use a very similar strategy for people who drink alcohol at night (like myself). Every ounce of drink is an ounce of water.

  12. Spyros Bogdanos says:

    I have been completely addicted to fast food. I have friends who are drug addicts and chain smokers. Come from a family of alcoholics on both parents sides. I don’t smoke, drink, or do drugs but I know what addiction looks like and have a full fledged addiction to the drive-thru.

    I’d eat fast food several times a day for much of my life, I’ve only tried quitting ‘cold turkey’ as I can’t imagine trying to pace myself, every time I eat fast food I want it more and more. Eating fast food a couple times a month, or not at all, has really helped me lose weight. In some cases, not eating the bun and avoiding cheese or mayo makes the fast food healthier, but still outrageous amounts of sodium, because that’s all in the meat.

  13. sparlingo says:

    I like that you’re not painting the food itself or even the corporations as evil, but rather highlighting the role of convenience in our choices, and how that can adversely effect our health if we allow it to.
    Planning is king, for sure! I also plan my back up plan . . . that is, if my planning has sucked this week and I “must” eat out, I know my best options and exactly what they cost me, nutrition/calories wise. My falafel pita at a local “fast” food joint actually fits nicely into my nutritional goals for the day, and finding a pita place doesn’t take much longer than pulling into Wendy’s. Also, I’ve found the nutritional info and already have it plugged into MFP – the result being that I leave with the data I need to know I’m not derailed, and to go on making healthy choices from there.

    • Coach Stevo says:

      Thanks for your compliments and your strategy of “Planning the Back up Plan” is one I work with a lot of clients on. I call it, “Feigned Retreat.” You get to a fallback position (in this case, a salad at McDonald’s) then regroup for a better plan tomorrow!

  14. Wileen Reber says:

    My drive thru is: Dunkin Donuts.. for an iced coffee with a little cream and a little mocha. As a senior citizen…. I could get a free donut with that, but I always refuse. Otherwise, I don’t do drive thru food ( I am very fussy about keping my MINI clean, and we don’t eat in cars in our family.

  15. Karin says:

    Great advice! But here’s my problem- I work at a fast food place. :S
    I get there before I’m able to eat dinner and then I smell everything and I’m so hungry and food is half off and I plan exactly what I’m going to have and it just… happens…
    Also, when I’m with less strict managers I have a tendency to just eat fries or whatever whenever I want because it’s so readily available.
    I guess the same thing applies- prepare and have snacks at work and stuff but it’s so hard still!

    • Brittany Ontiveros says:

      I know this pain… I work at McDonalds, and if its not eating the food there its the chips and candy that everyone brings in… or “oh we have a new burger! lets all try it!” I Hadn’t eaten at work for almost two months… I was bringing my lunches and doing really good! but… i fell off the wagon… I hope i can get back to the place where i was planning my meals… It is hard for me being surrounded by french fries all day… But i learned if i bring something i like more than those (a yummy stir fry or a truly amazing salad) I wasnt nearly as tempted because what i had was better!

  16. Jen says:

    Mom to an always daycare ill 7.5 month old and a long list of duties at work. My name is Jen and I’ve been off drive thru for 3 days! I decided to stop when I read an article about drive thur food even the employees won’t eat and 2-3 things I eat and have eaten were on the menu!

    I will kick this habit lose this baby weight if it kills me.

  17. Laurie Conrad says:

    When I went 100% plant based and learned what was in that so called ‘food’ I never drove through again. While it’s convenient, there is nothing more inconvenient than poor health. Plus it’s almost just as fast to go into a grocery store and buy a banana – seriously I timed it once. And it was cheaper. I think we have all been trained to believe that drive throughs are fast food but they really aren’t. The fastest food is fresh produce, conveniently located right at the front of the store next to the checkout stands and you can eat raw fruit in your car on the way home – it even comes in its own wrapper so there is no litter either. It’s all about frame of mind.

  18. MicheleSandon says:

    I would love to add to this that the oven is our friend when we haven’t thought ahead:

    the other night, I didn’t feel like cooking, but, threw some salmon pieces and chicken on a pan, some asparagus and mushrooms in a covered dish and a bag of California mix veggies in another covered dish…I baked them in the oven while enjoying a show on t.v. It took 5 minutes to prepare…..and the family was able to eat….

  19. Design Grrl says:

    Back when I was eating fast food wayyyy too often, I quit by putting my purse in the trunk of my car when I was running errands. That way, I had no way to buy anything while in my car, because my wallet was in the trunk.

    • Coach Stevo says:

      THAT is the best tip I’ve heard all day for how to engineer your environment to avoid making poor choices. I’m stealing it. 🙂

  20. Darlene Augustine says:

    We use to be lovers!!! It got to the point that I would sneak out get something or stop at MckieD’s on the way home, get a whole “meal”, eat it in the car and then go home and have dinner too!!! I stopped lying to myself, people can smell what you’ve eaten anyway, although I use to try and hid it! I’ve come a long way baby! I went cold turkey for quite a while then when my husband and I where out one day, we ended up stopping at McKieD’s because it was so late and we hadn’t eaten. But I was very strict on myself and with the help of their “Nutritional Values Guide” I choose wisely. Because I chose wisely I thought it was time to let it back in my life but ONLY on a rare occasion. I have made a lot of changes in my preparations too! I go to Costco’s and get the chicken and ground turkey and fish that are individually wrapped. I also cook large meals and than weigh them out and freeze them for days that we are going to be busy or want to bring with us somewhere. It’s easy to pop in the microwave and put in a picnic bag for lunch or dinner at the park or beach. I buy plenty of fruits and veggies to pick on for quick snacks. And I buy at Costco the bulk snacks that are individually wrapped too! Also, Bulk bottled water to take with me everywhere so we don’t buy on the way a sugary beverages at a convenient store. Healthy and saves money! I’m finding I don’t throw out moldy or expired food too because of the changes I have made, saving even more money. I love making bean and veggie soups and freezing them too! I’m worth the changes I’ve made and the good healthy choices I make and so are you! I don’t deny myself any foods, just weigh them and plan ahead! Another thing – try washing tomato, lettuce and onion, slice them up, put on a dish and wrap up with celifane to put on sandwiches and use less meats and cheeses.

    • Chubbygirl says:

      Omg I totally do that! Well I should say did that…about sneaking fast food and then eating dinner with everyone else. Mostly because I was ashamed about eating fast food and didn’t want to explain why I wasn’t hungry. bad habits but I’m getting past them!

  21. My biggest struggle is I absolutely LOVE a greasy fast food burger. It is my all-time favorite food.

    I’ve been really good about slowing down and not eating anywhere near as many of them, but damn… I HAVE to have one, now and then – and when I get it – the next day it is very hard to resist doing it again.

  22. FatBastard says:

    We’re all dead in the end anyway, why does it matter. Plus I imagine most of you believe in God and heaven so why not get there a little faster. CHOW DOWN WIDE LOAD!

  23. Sharon Roberts says:

    The last few years I’ve developed a serious fast food problem. I used to do most of the grocery shopping and cooking, and I’d plan ahead so I usually had dinner leftovers to take for lunch, which I’d pack the night before. I’d get home at a decent hour and make dinner. I’d eat lunch out 1-2 days a week, and we’d eat dinner out 1-2 nights a week, usually weekends and rarely fast food. Then I went back to school for my law degree.

    Now my husband does most of the shopping and cooking. I leave the house about 7:30 am and don’t get home some nights until 9:30 pm. I never know what we have in the house to eat, and while he trys to buy food for me he doesn’t seem to get it – he’ll buy lean cuisines for me to take for lunch and breakfast shakes for breakfast. A lean cuisine and a shake won’t hold me until 9:30 at night! So I’ll tell him to buy bananas and some nuts and cheese and apples for snacks, so then he buys that stuff INSTEAD, when I wanted it with. Meanwhile there’s a Panera Bread downstairs where I work, and it’s so easy to order online and go down and get it. There are vending machines in the law school, and on the way home I pass 3 Wendy’s, an Arby’s, a Taco Bell, and a Burger King. If I take an alternate route as suggested in the article I pass a Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Steak ‘n Shake. It’s hard when I’m so hungry and tired and don’t know what there is to eat to not eat out!

  24. aynate1 says:

    @design_grrl:disqus That is a great idea because I’m in the drive through rut right now and I am tired of it. I am bored with it, but it’s convenient. I’m so glad I read this article.

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