Fast food restaurants are everywhere these days. Convenience and low prices keep people in the drive-thru, but do you really know what’s in the food you’re getting from these chains? There’s a reason fast food is so affordable, and it’s not because they’re trying to end world hunger.

Not As Pictured

Fast food chains are masters of advertisement. No one can escape the reach of their ads. These establishments are really good at making your mouth water with pictures of food. It may look beautiful and appetizing on a billboard, but just wait until you unwrap that sandwich. “Appetizing” is not the first word that leaps to mind.

There’s no end to the grossness. Mushy burgers that look like they were sat on, wilted salads with toppings thrown on whole, and even sandwiches made with mystery meat pressed into a shape like Play-Doh; we’ve eaten them all.

And they were delicious. God help us, they were so good to eat. But wait! The problems with fast food go deeper than appearance.

More Than You Bargained For

Nutritionists tell us that the ideal amount of fast food you consume hovers right around zero. These places are all about the quick fix for hunger, and flavor beats nutrition every time. It’s hard to get a healthy, well-rounded meal from your local drive-thru. In fact, food scientists design these menu items to keep you feeling hungry and coming back for more.

It’s actually pretty impressive how many calories are in fast food meals. The Harvard Medical School conducted a survey in which they asked adults, teens, and children how many calories they’d find in a fast food lunch.

The participants in every age group vastly underestimated the calorie count in their meals. Adults eat 836 calories worth of fast food during a typical visit. Their estimates were low by 175 calories. Teenagers were even worse—they guessed that their meals had 259 fewer calories than their typical fast-food lunch of 756 calories.

Even more alarming, a full quarter of the participants in the study underestimated the calories in a fast-food lunch by 500 or more. This suggests that we can’t accurately measure our consumption when it comes to fast food. You might think you’re sticking to the diet, but chances are you’re getting more than you bargained for.

The Effects of Fast Food on Your Body

Now it’s time for the real dismaying news. Not only are fast food meals loaded with excessive calories, they also contain a lot of carbohydrates. When your body breaks down simple carbohydrates, it converts them into glucose, or sugar. This creates a spike in blood sugar, which then causes your body to release insulin. With too much repetition over time, this chain reaction can lead to disastrous effects, including weight gain, insulin rejection, and type 2 diabetes.

Of course, sugar isn’t the only health threat in that delicious, delicious burger. Most fast food meals also contain high levels of sodium, trans fats, and saturated fats. These all play their part in weight gain, but they play a part in other health problems, too. Regularly eating fast food is linked to depression, acne, headaches, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, bloating, and heart disease.

Knowing all of this, is that burger really worth it? Help future-you make better food choices by taking some time each week to plan and prepare your meals. Pack a bag lunch as often as possible. Setting yourself up for success takes just a few minutes each day—which is about the same length of time it takes to get through a busy drive-thru.