You knew it was coming. In America we cannot approach the subject of weight without knocking boots with the demon that is the fast food industry. You have heard it all: they are out to get you hooked on their food, they don’t care about you they care about profits, etc. For a long time everything you heard about fast food was true and it may still be true today. However my recent trip to McDonald’s will illustrate that if you can shake the addiction to grease, beef, and french fries you can now go to most fast food restaurants and emerge unscathed.

My meal at McDonald’s today consisted of a Classic Chicken Sandwich (grilled) with no mayonnaise, a side salad, and a packet of Newman’s Own ranch dressing (which of the 2oz it contains I might have used 1/8 of it). If we are talking calories I had a lunch consisting of 560 calories, and that’s if I had used the entire packet of dressing (which I didn’t). The handy “Bag-a-Meal” site helps the customer add up what they ate in an effort to help them plan their eating.

I have a friend who has decided to quit smoking. His struggle is equal parts mental and physical and he will have to face both to overcome his addition. I have eaten at McDonald’s since I was old enough to consume solid food. My visits to McDonald’s were special occasions and I remember almost always getting either a Happy Meal or (when I was older) or the Two Cheeseburger Meal (it used to be a #2, now it’s a #4). The McDonald’s experience was one of abandon, where I got to have a mountain of delicious fries and a “tasty” burger. After 22 years of the occasional-regular visits my ordering habits became routine.

When I began coming to this McDonald’s I did exactly that. I treated it like a special occasion instead of just lunch. The experience was not just a physical one of eating, it was a mental one as well. I had to change how I viewed eating at McDonald’s before I could change how I ate there. Now when I look at the menu I find myself cycling through the mental process of OMG FOOD SO GOOD HAVE FRIES NO wait you are trying to lose weight and run 5Ks and do yoga so you like the chicken sandwich get that and they have a salad now…and then I step up to order. It is a mental game, convincing myself that it is not a treat, it is something to fuel my body. Just like my friend will need to work through his mental game to break the habit and routine of smoking.

McDonald’s spent many years as one thing to the American public, so when they added healthy options it was easy for them to say “We don’t understand why people are still getting fat, we have so many healthy options!” And they absolutely do. I’m not sure they could offer more without becoming a different kind of restaurant. The difference is that people have not changed how they approach the experience of dining there. McDonald’s is about burgers and fries and fun, not salads and chicken breast sandwiches. As long as they continue to offer both side by side, I would wager a guess that most will continue to choose the former while only the strong willed and dedicated will chose the former.

You can eat fast food and still lose weight. The question is whether or not you are strong enough to try.

Tune in tomorrow when I will discuss the intricacies of the effects of the internet on the male genitalia.