- Food delivery services have exploded in recent years.
- Takeout food is energy-dense, nutrient-poor, and associated with obesity.
- User retention strategies used by the food industry make it difficult to break the habit of ordering takeout.
- Accountable goal setting is effective in promoting positive food choices.
Food delivery services were one of the few industries to benefit during the COVID-19 pandemic. The remarkable rise of Just Eat, Deliveroo, and Uber Eats has had a lasting impact on the food we eat and how it arrives on our plates.
In 2021, the market size of the fast food and takeaway industry in the UK was 19 billion pounds sterling. In the U.S., fast food sales account for over 300 billion dollars in consumer spending, with both U.S. and UK markets believed to have grown substantially during 2022.
As restrictions were lifted post-COVID, and people began to return to restaurants and cafes, large food delivery services continued to invest in new strategies to attract customers and maintain their market share. Today, it’s hard to switch on a digital device without being bombarded by advertising for a range of food delivery services. What’s more, if you do enter an app or click on a link to such a service, it’s disconcerting how quick and easy it has become to have food delivered to your door.
What’s the harm?
Takeout food is energy-dense and nutrient-poor. Fast food and takeout services are strongly associated with obesity. In response to ongoing criticism concerning the harmful effects of fast food in recent years, big players within the industry have introduced healthy options to their menus. However, do people really choose healthy options when they order takeout?
In a recent study of frequent online food delivery service use in the UK, participants reported that they do not use online food delivery services to purchase healthy food. People also reported that the use of these services to purchase unhealthy foods has been normalized and that they are often seduced by novel advertising and price promotions.
What to do?
Many of us start the year with good intentions to motivate ourselves to be healthy, with the pursuit of a balanced and nutritious diet being the key foundation on which to build positive habits. However, breaking the habit of ordering takeout online is increasingly difficult, given the growing presence of delivery services and the increasing arsenal of strategies used to cajole you into clicking. The following three tips can help you to gain back control and avoid temptation when you’re feeling at your weakest.
1. Cut the digital ties. In the past, you could simply throw away all the takeout menus from your apartment, and that was that. Now, even if you delete the app for your chosen food delivery service in a moment of strength, you may quickly be ushered back via social media or email with a single click. As user retention strategies become more advanced, so too must your efforts to cut the digital ties with food delivery services.
If you’re serious about ditching your takeout habit, start by deleting the apps and erasing your accounts - but don’t stop there. Try blocking the websites for the most popular services on your laptop and smartphone. If you’re unsure how a simple search of "How to block websites on your X" relevant to your chosen device should point you in the right direction. To further thwart any future attempts to sneak past your defences, you may try disabling auto-logins linked to your google, outlook, or social media accounts.
The key is to put up as many hurdles as you can to give in to temptation. The greater the effort required to dismantle the battlement you construct around an unhealthy meal, the more likely you are to come to your senses and stay on track.
2. Prepare for your weakest moments. A common piece of advice for sticking to a healthy diet is to plan your meals in advance. Having the ingredients and recipe waiting for you when you arrive home makes a lot of sense, but this is unlikely to stop you from succumbing to temptation when you’re at your weakest.
A simple tweak is to store some homecooked meals in your freezer that just require you to nuke them in the microwave when you’re hungry. Yes, this might not be as healthy as cooking it from scratch on the day, but it will keep you on the straight and narrow when your stores of motivation are depleted.
A further step on days when you’re likely to waiver (such as Friday nights or holidays) could be to leave something defrosting ready for when you’re likely to be hungry. You may be less likely to order takeout if it means seeing a healthy meal you prepared earlier go to waste. The secret is to not underestimate how lazy you can be when you’re at your weakest and to be as methodical and prepared as you can when you’re at your strongest.
3. Be accountable to those who support you. Finally, being accountable to those who have your best interests at heart can be a powerful motivator to improve your habits. Many people choose to publicly broadcast their goals and resolutions at the beginning of the year. However, over-sharing your goals can actually harm your chances of achieving them.
The good feeling you receive when others applaud your admirable intent may serve as a sufficient reward and trick your mind into feeling like your goals have already been achieved. Instead, be very careful when deciding to whom you will be accountable. Try to find someone in your life who genuinely supports your efforts to improve your health. You also need this person to be able to dish out some tough love when you need it.
Finally, and most importantly, this must be someone you respect and want to be accountable to and whose feedback you will be willing to take on board. If you don’t have someone like this in your life, perhaps reach out to online communities. Health and living forums can be useful places to look for like-minded individuals with similar goals. How you make yourself accountable to your "takeout sponsor" depends on you.
One simple suggestion may be to send them a photo of your dinner each night without fail. This can be an enjoyable way of tracking your meals and a social way to exchange recipes and inspire better diet and nutrition. However, you choose to be accountable. Tracking your goals is an essential part of being able to achieve them.
None of this is to say that ordering a meal online is inherently bad or deviant behaviour. Having a generous spread of food delivered to your door is an enjoyable modern convenience experienced by those fortunate enough to enjoy the luxury.
That said, the commercial pressures driving the new and innovative strategies employed to entice the use of food delivery services can make it hard to stay in control of your diet. By cutting ties with predatory food services in the short term, focussing our efforts on good nutrition, and enlisting the support of others, we are more likely to stay in control of our food choices.