Why I Spent 30 Days Eating at Gas Stations

By Frank Beard on Monday, January 22, 2018

We often hear that eating on-the-go is unhealthy, but is that actually true?

By: Guest Blogger Frank Beard 

Frank Beard 2012

The new year is a time when many of us decide to make positive changes to our health. That used to be me, back in 2012. I was overweight, out of shape, and ready for a change. I eventually lost more than 80 pounds and began to pay more attention to the discussion about what it means to live a healthy life.

That’s when I noticed something. Fast food, gas stations, restaurants—they’re often spoken of as part of the problem. The message isn’t always direct and overt—as in movies like Supersize Me—but sometimes more subtle, such as the coworker who says he struggles to lose weight because he eats out frequently.

But there’s just one problem: it isn’t true. What we eat is more important than where we purchase it, and healthy choices can be made anywhere. 

Nor is it realistic for some of us to always prepare our own food. The FDA claims that approximately one-third of Americans’ calories come from outside of the home. This isn’t due to laziness, but rather the demands of modern life. We work long hours, non-traditional hours, multiple jobs, and sometimes shuttle children to and from extracurriculars. Grabbing a snack or a meal on-the-go may be the logical choice.

I even created an experiment to prove that it can be a healthy choice.

Frank Beard CyclingThe idea came to me during 2016, when I traveled around the United States each week for a previous job. The majority of my meals were at gas stations and restaurants since I was only home on the weekends; but rather than experiencing a decline in health, I felt fantastic. I ran during the week, cycled on the weekend, and found plenty of healthful options on the road.

I called my experiment “30 Days of Gas Station Food.” For one month, I ate exclusively at gas stations. I traveled across 9 states, visited more than 200 stores, and tracked every calorie on MyFitnessPal. I even lost six additional pounds.

Hy-Vee Fast FreshBut something else happened. Rather than just eating protein bars and beef jerky at a caloric deficit, I encountered good food—like the celery and peanut butter that I enjoyed last week at Hy-Vee Gas in Urbandale. That’s because whether it’s fruit and veggies or healthful made-to-order meals, gas stations and convenience stores have evolved. Today’s leading brands offer something for everyone.

The industry also understands that healthful food is part of the future. That’s why last May, after speaking about my experiment at the Partnership for a Healthier America’s Summit in Washington, DC, I introduced the chairman of the National Association of Convenience Stores—who then announced a partnership with PHA. Think about that for a moment. The gas station industry’s trade association has partnered with a healthy-living organization founded by our former First Lady, Michelle Obama. And it was the first retail trade association to do so.

Here’s something else to think about.

  • 93% of Americans live within 10 minutes of a convenience store
  • There are more than 154,000 convenience stores in the United States
  • The convenience store industry serves nearly 160 million customers per day—approximately half of the US population
  • More than 23 million Americans live in food deserts—often relying on convenience stores for groceries

Rather than treating convenient food as part of the problem, perhaps we should embrace it as a potential part of the solution?

Over the next few months, I plan to blog more about this issue as part of a series on convenience retailers. I’ll share what the industry is currently doing, why the time is right for more partnerships with convenience retailers, and I’ll teach you everything I know about finding healthful food at gas stations. (Hint: it’s easier than you think) I’ll also profile local Iowans who frequently rely on convenience stores for daily needs.

Stay tuned. 

Frank Beard is a speaker, writer, and convenience retailing advocate from Des Moines, IA. His "30 Days of Gas Station Food" experiment raised significant awareness of the industry's evolution from vice to nice, and was featured in publications such as Men's Health and People.com. Frank has spoken at the Partnership for a Healthier America's 2017 Summit, the NACS Show, Outlook Leadership, and numerous regional and corporate events. He is also a regular contributor to NACS Daily, NACS Magazine, and an analyst/evangelist for convenience store trends at GasBuddy—the mobile app that helps millions of drivers find their Perfect Pit Stop. You can find Frank online at www.frankbeard.org@FrankBeard on Twitter, and @30DaysofGasStationFood on Instagram.