Most people won’t bat an eyelash when you tell them that eating fast food isn’t good for their health. It seems obvious, since the majority of the items on drive-thru menus have a high calorie count. If you want to take care of your body and avoid weight gain, opting out of picking up a cheeseburger on the way home is probably the best choice, right?
This is certainly true, but weight gain isn’t the only reason to reconsider your fast food habit. Researchers have found that the effects of regular fast food consumption are varied and, honestly, kind of weird.
Check out these six unexpected and strange ways fast food is changing you.
1. There’s a downside to speedy service.
When you hop in a drive-thru lane, you expect to order and have your food within a few minutes, right? If you wanted to wait for your food, you probably would have opted to cook at home or chosen a sit-down restaurant. Blitzing through the drive-thru is awesome when you’re in a hurry, but it actually isn’t great for your brain.
Fast food plays into our culture’s disconcerting preference for instant gratification. The more we take advantage of being able to get the things we want right away, the less patient we become overall. Fast food is just one more thing fueling our impatience, according to ScienceDaily.
In general, we only need to get our food within minutes when we actually need to save time, like if we’re running late.
Research has shown, however, that even when we’re not actually in a hurry, just being exposed to fast food branding and products causes us to behave as if we need to eat on the run.
2. Fast food is changing your relationship with the dollar.
It’s no surprise that fast food and spending money go hand in hand, but the model used for upselling food items may actually be changing the way we regard the dollar. This is because the fast food industry employs one very smart technique to get consumers to spend more than they initially planned.
It’s called the spare-change effect, and fast food restaurants are capturing extra sales by using it on their customers. When an order is placed, employees are trained to offer an upgrade that results in the cost being rounded up to the next whole dollar amount.
In most customers’ minds, it’s just change, but for the restaurant, it’s profit, according to Harvard Business Review.
While many consumers report appreciating the use of this technique, we can’t help but wonder what could have been bought with all that spare change—besides a small fry, of course.
3. Fast food might change how you see the world around you.
Recent reports indicate that in the United States an estimated 15.7 million adults found themselves struggling with depression in 2014. Depression is a complicated disorder with a litany of factors that can contribute to or cause its varied symptoms. Those dealing with depression can experience hopelessness, difficulty sleeping, and a loss of interest in the things they enjoy.
Researchers now believe that regular consumption of fast food plays are role in the depression of some American adults, too. In fact, adults who eat junk food like baked goods and fast food on a regular basis are 51 percent more likely to report experiencing depression than those who do not, according to a study published in Public Health Nutrition.
4. Fast food is changing your past.
Okay, so maybe fast food isn’t actually changing your past. Last we heard, even the top contenders in the fast food industry haven’t mastered time travel, but there is actually something about the fast food experience that changes the way we think about the past.
Research has shown that we don’t just like the way fast food tastes. We also like that it makes us feel nostalgic, according to Psychology Today.
This is so true that even the packaging of fast food products can activate feel-good memories, and the branding can remind us of instances in our pasts when we were happy while eating fast food.
It’s brilliant for marketing, but it may mean you’re enjoying fast food more because you’re prone to nostalgia than because you actually love the grease and sodium within.
5. It is harder to know when enough is enough.
The high calorie content of fast food items is often blamed for the weight gain and poor health of regular consumers, but there is more to it than that.
The salt and fat content of most fast food has been linked to food addiction and compulsive overeating, according to Current Drug Abuse Reviews. So when it comes to fast food, the more you eat, the more you may want to eat—whether you’re actually hungry or not.
Additionally, advertising easily triggers individuals struggling with addictions to certain foods. One glance at the golden arches might be enough to prompt a regret-worthy binge on a burger and an extra large fry.
6. Your brain is getting hooked on the marketing.
We won’t try to deny it—fast food tastes good. The occasional burger and fries won’t hurt most people, but the deliciousness of fast food is exactly why you shouldn’t make it a habit.
This is because your brain responds to marketing so reliably (and so profitably). When it comes to the delicious saltiness of french fries or the crispy bacon on your last cheeseburger, you brain is learning to associate your favorite flavor with the restaurant’s brand.
It is a Pavlovian response according to Psychology Today, meaning that you recognize the brand and want to reward yourself with the food. The more you repeat this behavior, the more your brain expects the reward of food to follow a sighting of the brand.
The stronger that association becomes, the more likely you are to be utterly hooked on the brand itself.
Here’s what to do if you’re a fast food lover.
If eating fast food is a habit for you, it can be incredibly difficult to cut back. That’s because fast food isn’t all bad. Drive-thrus are convenient for busy moms, and many fast food chains offer affordable meals that appeal to the family on a budget.
If you’re a fast food lover, there are small ways to cut back on fast food that will make a big difference for your health in the long run. You can begin by committing to only ordering the most nutritious items on the menu when you do decide to treat yourself.
This will help you to avoid consuming too many calories, which is the number one cause of weight gain.
If unexpected hunger is the reason for your impulsive french fry binges, keep snacks on hand at all times. When you can avoid getting to the point where you feel like you’re starving, you can stop making regrettable decisions about what to eat.
Lastly, if you are really having a hard time saying no, try cutting back in small increments, like eliminating one fast food stop a week.
You won’t succeed if you don’t plan ahead, so pack a lunch in advance or be sure to throw dinner in the crockpot so you won’t have an excuse for turning into the drive-thru on the way home.
Of course, healthy lifestyle changes aren’t always easy, but the benefits of opting for healthy, home-cooked meals instead of regularly consuming fast food are worth the sacrifice.