Why do you keep going back to fattening fast food restaurants, even though you know, deep down, that it’s not doing anything good for your health or your waist line?
Well…because it’s simpler. Because it’s convenient. Because you don’t have time to cook. Because it’s easier than packing lunch. Because it’s affordable. Because it tastes good. Because it makes the kids stop nagging you. Because it’s right around the corner from your office. Because they’ve got healthy options too. Because life gets busy. Because it makes you feel better. Because it’s one thing off your plate to worry about…
Because of all of these things. And because of NONE of these things.
Because behind the operation of every fast food joint is a gang of fast food business-oriented executives, solely interested in driving profits by keeping customers like you coming back. And, behind them, is a slew of food researchers and scientists getting paid to figure out exactly how to keep customers like you coming back. Every ingredient, every meal, every combo, every special, every package, every logo, every ad, every slogan, every design, every food wrapper, every color, every condiment, every piece of wallpaper in a fast food restaurant is carefully pre-selected to keep customers like you coming back for more.
Incidentally, they also keep customers like you gaining weight and addicted to unhealthy eating practices. If customers keep coming back anyway, they don’t really care.
But you care. You care about your health. You care about having a lean body, a trim waist line, positive energy levels and a healthy lifestyle. You care about making the right choices that will help you achieve these things.
Choosing to care about these things more than fast food can feel like an enormous struggle, especially when you don’t see how fast food chains keep trying to secretly make your choices for you. Only you can choose to care more about yourself then they do. That starts by recognizing some of the creepy ways that fast food chains keep you coming back for more – even though coming back for more keeps you gaining weight, unhealthy, and drives you ever further from the very things that make you happy and feel good.
Skip the fast food and check out these deliciously mouth-watering burger recipes that you can make yourself with healthy ingredients.
5 Secret Ways Fast Food Chains Keep You Coming Back & Gaining Weight
1. People Choose Combo Meals – Even When They Don’t Save Money
A study published in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing revealed some surprising customer ordering patterns that occur at fast food restaurants. When combo meals and super-sized meals are offered, customers are far more likely to order more food in larger sizes than they do when simply ordering separate items à la carte – even when they don’t save any money or get any extra value from the combo option.
“We were very much surprised that people chose the combo meal option even when there was no price discount,” said Professor Kathryn Sharpe, lead co-researcher of the study. “When a bundled meal is offered, these menu items are made more salient to the consumer and consequently it is more appealing and easier to select ‘Meal #3’ rather than choosing each item individually.”
The consequence of this handy bit of psychology that fast food chains use against you: not only do you end up eating a carton of fries plus a soda when all you wanted was a basic burger, but the researchers also saw that you’re far more likely to “super-size” your meal and select larger portion options when ordering that combo. Sharpe reported that consumers tended to purchase smaller portion sizes when they bought à la carte, but were more likely to up-size their drinks and fries when ordering combo meals, adding an additional 250 calories to their tray.
Customers perceive extra value in “the bargain”, feeling like they get a lot more food for just a couple of extra bucks; what customers don’t perceive are the hundreds of extra calories they get in the bargain as well.
In actuality though, it’s the fast food chain – whose costs for those add-in combo items are mere pennies – who get the real bargain in the end. At your waist-line’s expense.
2. Fast Food Is Formulated to Keep You Feeling Hungry
Another bonus that fast food companies reap from customer combo mentality is the profit-winning effect that those strong, competing flavors have on your tongue and on your brain.
According to Dr. Alan Hirsch, director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, your taste buds are naturally wired to detect the more subdued flavors of natural foods, and to help ensure that your body gets a variety of nutrients by encouraging you to crave a variety of differently flavored foods (such as vitamin-rich sweet fruits, mineral-rich bitter vegetables, naturally iodine-rich salty foods, etc.). Your taste buds also help to signal your brain when you’ve had enough food and should stop eating.
Unfortunately, fast food recipes are designed to trick your tongue and your brain into thinking that you should keep eating more and more. Chock full of artificially enhanced chemical flavorings and unnaturally intense flavor contrasts, our sensitive taste buds quickly become confused. Research has shown that the pairing of certain heightened flavor contrasts – such as artificially sweet soda paired with very salty French fries – continually re-stimulates hunger feedback loops in the brain that keep our appetites turned on. The extreme sweetness of the soda stimulates a craving for something salty, so we reach for salty fries which make us crave something sweet again, so we gulp back more soda which makes us think we need more salt, and so on, keeping your taste buds overstimulated and preventing them from sending the proper “you’ve had enough, stop eating!” satiety signals to your brain.
What’s more, fast food is specially designed to be eaten – well – fast! It’s carefully crafted to involve minimal fuss, to be eaten with your hands, to be easy to get into your mouth and to have a soft texture, that requires very little chewing.
It’s not just your taste buds that signal the brain when to stop eating; the act of chewing activates certain satiety signals in your brain as well. And once the food gets down to your stomach, more satiation signals are sent to your brain to join the “you’re done!” chorus. These internal feedback alerts from your tongue, your jaw and your stomach take some time to come together to flag your brain and create a sensation of fullness – about 20 minutes. Therefore, the longer it takes you to eat your food – the more effort it requires to consume, the longer it stays in your mouth, the more thoroughly it’s chewed, etc. – the more likely your brain will accurately register when it’s time to stop eating and the more likely you’ll turn down seconds before you’ve consumed too many calories.
But if you’ve chowed down your super-sized combo meal too quickly, then you’ve probably overeaten by the time those satiation alerts reach your brain, making self-regulation and portion control far more difficult, and making overeating and excessive calorie consumption far more likely.
In 2010, New York photographer Sally Davies photographed a McDonald’s hamburger and fries that she had purchased and placed in a jar. She continued photographing her Happy Meal jar at regular intervals; five months later, the food looked pretty much the same as it had when she first bought it. Five years later, there were still no obvious signs of degradation. Not a single furry speck of mold in sight. Which begs the question: if molds, fungi and bacteria aren’t willing to eat it, should you be?
A slurry of additives and preservatives are regularly mixed into fast foods to help restaurants save money while artificially enhancing its faire. Various chemical preservatives are used to prevent bacterial, mold and pathogen growth while also preventing hydrogenated oils from going rancid, stretching shelf-life and pushing off food spoilage to eerily unnatural future expiration dates. Emulsifiers and thickeners are added so that cheaper parts of mechanically separated meats, poultry, fish, egg, and cheap fillers can be glued together, shaped and textured into seemingly higher quality meat patties, chicken nuggets, fish fillets and egg omelets. Food solvents like propylene glycol – also used in anti-freeze, deodorant sticks and air conditioner lubricants – are used to enhance the colors of the food and to keep that “healthy” fast-food salad looking crisp and fresh. Flavor enhancers like monosodium glutamate, yeast extract, autolyzed yeast, gelatin, sodium caseinate, textured protein and others are added to boost taste and keep the appetite stimulated, encouraging you to keep getting back in line and ordering more. Artificial food colorants are added to make cheeses look more cheesy, to make fruit sundaes look more fruity, and to make the condiments look more…well, more like acrylic paint.
The problem is that many of these additives have been scientifically linked to weight gain, insulin resistance, high blood sugar, obesity, metabolic disorder, diabetes and inflammatory bowel disorder. They damage our intestinal walls, interfere with our liver’s ability to break down fat, and disrupt the activity of the friendly bacteria in our gut that support healthy metabolism, proper digestion and fat burning.
These additives are used to make fast food seem more like real food, but your body knows the difference. Not only does your body’s ability to break down body fat become compromised by these additives, but your body also has trouble breaking these additives down and eliminating them, which means they wind up getting stored in accumulating fat cells as well.
4. Fast Food is Always On Your Mind and In Your Face
A UCLA study found that towns and cities with more outdoor fast food ads and billboards were more likely to have higher percentages of overweight residents than areas less dominated by these ads. Fast food marketers follow a pretty fail-safe sales approach: the more often you see it – on billboards, on television, online, on magazines, on buses, on buildings, etc. – the more often you’ll crave it.
And the best way to make sure that you’ll finally cave to your cravings is by making sure that you have every possible opportunity to, just about anywhere you go. Almost every mall, rest stop, shopping plaza, gas station or neighborhood store in North America features a burger bar, pizza place, or taco house lurking conveniently nearby. Ah, what the hell – it’s right there, you’re suddenly inexplicably hungry, you may as well pop in for a quick bite, no harm done, right?
5. Fast Food Restaurants Manipulate Your Senses
Like carnival fun houses designed to distort conventional perceptions, fast food restaurants are intentionally constructed, fabricated environment of carefully controlled sights, smells, tastes, sounds and sensations, all aimed at tricking your mind into stuffing your face.
To start, the color schemes you’ll find dominating most exteriors and interiors of fast food restaurants aren’t chosen at random – they’re selected based upon countless scientific studies that link particular colors to particular behaviors. Colors like red and yellow have been shown to be more attention grabbing, to stimulate hunger and appetite, to lead to faster eating and to encourage more reckless (spending) behavior. The fact that McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s and Burger King all use red and yellow in their logos and in their interior designs is no coincidence. They know something you don’t know: Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.
The appetizing food smells pleasantly billowing out into your nostrils even before you’ve walked through the eatery doors are no accident either. Companies like ScentAir are paid to pump restaurants full of mouth-watering artificial aromas, to either mask the food’s natural scent with more appetizing smells or to deceptively enhance them. Not only do these synthetic scents help to make the food taste better, but they also keep your appetite aroused and incessantly tempted to order more, says a Cornell University study.
The Cornell researchers also found that fast food restaurants keep our sense of imagination fueled with ad phrases, menu language, designs and graphics that trigger food fantasies and cravings. “Flame-grilled”, “hot and juicy”, “dark and rich”, “saucy and sizzling”, “eat fresh”, “finger-licking good”, and other such slogans and evocative food descriptions cause people to fantasize about certain appealing features, flavors and textures of the food – even if they aren’t really there. The study found that 27 percent of customers were more likely to order an item off the menu if it was preceded with more descriptive food adjectives. Customer orders were also manipulated by particular graphics, fonts and design elements on the menu, that draw the eye towards specific items and increase the likelihood that they will be chosen.
Still have a hankering for a hamburger? Then do yourself a favor: drive right on by that fast food restaurant. They’re not looking to satisfy your craving – they’re looking to make sure you never quite manage to, so that you’ll stay hooked and keep coming back for more.
Instead, make these deliciously mouth-watering burger recipes in your own kitchen, from healthy ingredients you can trust.