7 Ways Fast-Food Companies Make You Crave Junk Food
Last Updated: Feb 15, 2017
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You would think that the insane amount of calories, pitiful nutrition labels and overall guilt that comes with eating fast food would be enough to keep us away. But it’s time to cut yourself some slack because there’s more to your irrational cravings than meets the eye. Fast-food companies actually deploy a slew of tactics to keep you crawling back for more. To identify and understand these methods in hopes of protecting yourself from future binges, read on.
FAST-FOOD COMPANIES MAKE IT CHEAPER TO BUY “MEALS” THAN A LA CARTE ITEMS.
BuzzFeed reports on a study that found that people will eat significantly more when their meal includes a variety of foods. In other words, you’re likely to consume more calories if you have fries with your chicken strips than you would if you simply had more chicken strips.
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THEY USE FINGER-LICKIN’-GOOD VOCABULARY.
Believe it or not, certain words tend to make us drool. One study found that 28 percent of surveyed consumers were more likely to buy beef if it were labeled “premium,” and another found that fast-food companies are increasingly using the word “snack” on menus to get people to eat during nonmeal hours, according to Time. “Using descriptive keywords has a phenomenal impact on how we view a dining experience,” Brian Wansink, Ph.D., author of “Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life” and leading expert on eating behavior and food marketing, tells Men’s Health.
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THEY POST BILLBOARDS AND OTHER ADS EVERYWHERE TO GRAB YOUR ATTENTION.
A 2013 UCLA study identified a correlation between fast-food advertising and obesity. “Previous research has found that fast-food ads are more prevalent in low-income, minority areas, and laboratory studies have shown that marketing gets people to eat more,” said Lenard Lesser, MD, a research physician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute in California. This study suggests that there’s a specific relationship between outdoor advertisements (aka obnoxious billboards featuring pictures of your favorite burrito) and obesity. According to Huffington Post, these companies spend the second most amount of money — after television — on outdoor ads.
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THAT SMELL OF FRESHLY BAKED BUNS IN THE AIR? TOTALLY MANUFACTURED.
Nothing triggers the appetite like the scent of french fries or Cinnabons in the air. Our bodies’ sense of smell intensifies when we’re hungry, and apparently it’s a two-way street. According to a study published in Obesity, A Research Journal, external stimuli like smell can increase our production of ghrelin, a hormone that controls our hunger. Cinnabon takes advantage of this phenomenon by placing their ovens near the front of the store and heating sheets of cinnamon to produce drool-worthy smells, according to Huffington Post. Panera Bread adopts a similar tactic by baking bread at peak consumption hours.
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FAST FOOD STRIVES TO BE CONVENIENT.
When Americans decide what they want for dinner, convenience ranks pretty high on their lists of priorities. A 2010 study from the National Center for Health Statistics found that obesity prevalence is similar among all income and education levels. In fact, fast food is most popular among middle-income people. That means, contrary to popular opinion, people generally aren’t turning to fast food because of the low price point. Instead, Americans are looking for convenience. And, as Stanford University writes, one journalist estimates that nearly 20 percent of American meals take place in a car. Chains like KFC take advantage of this with products like the “Go Cup,” which is built to fit in a cup holder.
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THINKING ABOUT FAST FOOD MAKES YOU FEEL HURRIED.
There’s a reason going to McDonald’s always feels like a rushed experience. A series of psychology studies reported on by the New York Times revealed that the mere thought of fast food makes people feel more hurried, less likely to savor an experience and less likely to save leftovers for tomorrow. And when you feel rushed and eat quickly you’re more likely to become obese, another study suggests. According to Ian McDonald, professor of metabolic physiology at Nottingham University, “Eating too fast overrides the mechanisms that tell our brains we’re full,” Daily Mail writes. Furthermore, it takes about 20 minutes after you start eating for your stomach to tell your brain that it’s full. As far as amount of curly fries you can eat in that time — the possibilities are frightening.
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FAST-FOOD COMPANIES TARGET CHILDREN.
Fast-food companies don’t just think about the here and now. A Yale Rudd Center study found that in 2013 children viewed an average of 13 food ads per day, 23 percent of which were for fast-food restaurants. That matters because a 2012 study concluded that adolescents who were familiar with fast-food TV ads were more likely to develop obesity, according to Huffington Post. And, according to Fox 31 Denver, another study suggested that “fast-food ads targeting kids were more likely to include toys and giveaways,” drawing children in. By reaching children early in their lives, these companies incite habits that are likely to continue down the road.
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