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Side Effects of Giving Up Fast Food, According to Science

Weight loss isn't the only improvement you'll see when you ditch fast food from your diet.
FACT CHECKED BY Kiersten Hickman
fast food burger

If you frequently turn to fast food joints when you're hungry or pressed for time, you're far from alone. According to a 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a whopping 36.6% of Americans eat fast food on any given day. It's not just your wallet that will hurt if you keep this habit up—the consumption of fast food has been linked to everything from weight gain to chronic disease. Fortunately, giving up fast food could help you get healthier in a hurry. Read on to discover the side effects of giving up fast food, and if you want to start making healthier meals right at home, check out the 100 Easiest Recipes You Can Make.

1

You may crave the foods you ditched.

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If you've been relying on fast food meals to get through the day, be prepared for some serious cravings in the days and weeks after you first ditch them.

"Withdrawal from junk foods is marked by irritability, mood swings, and cravings. You will have to test your patience to see the positive results," says Hiba Batool, a nutrition researcher at Marham.

According to a 2017 review of research published in the journal Obesity, regular fast food consumption was significantly associated with food cravings, but those cravings diminished over time after the fast food was phased out. If those hankerings are getting the best of you, discover What Your Cravings Say About You—And How To Crush Them.

2

But your desire for healthy food may increase.

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As those drive-thru treats make up a less significant part of your diet, your desire to eat healthier foods may soar.

"Your taste buds and appetite will change because your gut microbes will. Switching out fast food for healthy alternatives can feed your good gut bacteria and help them grow. In turn, they will drive up your desire for natural, whole foods, since it's what they love to eat," says microbiome scientist Sofia Popov, MSc., founder of GUTXY.

In fact, according to the aforementioned Obesity study, as the individuals studied lost weight, their desire for fruits and vegetables increased significantly.

3

You'll lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.

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The vast majority of fast food items, from burgers to chicken nuggets, are high in fat, sodium, and calories, all of which can contribute to the development of heart disease over time—but giving up fast food can help you lower your risk.

"Fast food also has a lot of options that are fried in hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are high in trans fat. Research shows that trans fat from vegetable oils may contribute to cardiovascular disease," says Heather Hanks, MS, a nutritionist with Instapot Life.

According to a 2012 study published in the journal Circulation, fast food intake was significantly associated with death from coronary heart disease—but cutting those foods now can lower your cardiovascular disease risk. Want to keep your heart healthy? Try these 20 Foods That Can Help Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease.

4

You'll slash your diabetes risk, too.

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The same 2012 study published in Circulation found that fast food consumption was significantly associated with the development of type 2 diabetes. Among the Singaporean adults studied, those who ate fast food two or more times a week increased their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 27 percent. However, by ditching those junk foods now, you can help preserve your health in the long run.

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5

You'll lower your Alzheimer's risk.

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It's not just your waistline that's being affected by those trips to the drive-thru—your cognitive capability may be at risk, too.

"Fast food is energy dense and nutrient poor, it lacks the vitamins and minerals needed for cellular function, especially when it comes to brain health," says Monisha Bhanote, MD, FCAP.

In the long term, the consumption of fast food can cause "structural changes in the brain can occur which affect our memory," according to Bhanote.

A 2019 study conducted by researchers at Australian Catholic University even found that, over time, consumption of fast food is associated with various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. And for extra protection, avoid these 5 Foods That Increase Your Alzheimer's Risk, Say Doctors.

6

Your mood may improve.

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Want to boost your mood in a hurry? Start by skipping that fast food joint on the way home.

A 2011 study published in Public Health Nutrition even noted that, among a cohort of 8,964 individuals, fast food consumption was significantly associated with the development of depressive symptoms.

"Fast food can interfere with adequate neurotransmitter production affecting mental health as well as damaging our neurons," says Bhanote, who explains that this can dampen a person's mood if those fast food meals are a regular occurrence.

7

You'll likely lose weight.

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The first step toward ditching those pounds you're trying to lose is easy: giving up fast food. A 2018 study published in the journal of Preventive Medicine and Hygiene found a significant link between fast food consumption and abdominal obesity. In fact, the danger of consuming fast food—and the associated obesity risk—start young. A 2014 study of schoolchildren found that, regardless of socioeconomic status, obesity and fast food consumption were significantly associated.

"Giving up these foods can help you lose weight, reduce blood sugar levels, and improve mental health—especially if you replace them with anti-inflammatory foods, such as lots of fruits and vegetables," says Hanks. And for more easy ways to lose those extra pounds, check out these 15 Underrated Weight Loss Tips That Actually Work.