Your Guide to Eating Out

31 Oct

Researchers have been exploring the link between the obesity epidemic and trends in eating out. Both obesity and restaurant use are on the rise. Why are many restaurant meals so bad for you? Because they flavor their foods with compounds that promote weight gain and obesity, such as sugar, high fructose corn syrup, processed grains and trans fat. Many places also use portions sizes that are blown way out of proportion.

Some statistics that may scare you:

  • 1/3 of the calories the average American consumes today come from restaurants. That is 2 times what it was just 30 years ago.
  • 49% of the average American’s food budget goes to dining out.
  • Eating out just one meal a week can add 2 pounds to your weight per year.
  • Lunch is the worst meal to eat out; it adds about 158 calories to your overall daily intake. Dinner adds 144 calories and breakfast 74 calories.

Researchers have also noticed that the recession is not affecting these trends. Instead of saving money by preparing foods at home, consumers are simply choosing cheaper dining out options. That means more fast food and take-out, which in general, are even worse for you than a lot of sit down restaurants. Many people are also looking to get more for their money with super-sized options, hurting their health even further. As you can see it’s turning into a cycle.

Don’t get swept up in they cycle; take control of your health and your waistline by learning to prepare more of your meals yourself. When you do eat out, be conscious of what you’re ordering and eating. Brian Wansink, Cornell food psychologist has some great dining out tips for you:

Limit your menu extras.
When you go out to eat there are so many options and way to customize your meal – drinks, appetizers, salads, soups, entrees, sides, desserts etc. Before you go out to eat, limit yourself to 2 extras in addition to your entree. For example, 1 drink and 1 side or 1 salad and 1 dessert. Obviously it would be even better to share with someone.
Be aware of your environment.
Restaurants set the mood in a way to get you to order and eat more. Especially with lighting. Dimmer lights increase the chances you’ll relax and stay longer – ordering and consuming more. Be aware of this and take it slow, enjoy your food. Set your fork down between each bite. Your body takes at least 20 minutes to register feelings of fullness, so take the time to let it do it’s job.
Don’t eat more to be polite.
We tend to eat more when we dine with others. Many times this is out of politeness – we don’t want to push our plate away when someone else may still be eating. Dining with one other person increases calorie intake by 35%, and that number jumps to 75% when dining with a group of 3! To avoid this trap try to be the las to start eating and leave some food on your plate.
But it looks so good!
Restaurants work hard to make their food look appetizing. But you shouldn’t eat it just because it looks good. While you’re eating, keep in mind that people will automatically eat 90% of what’s in front of them, regardless of portion size. Make a conscious decision to eat only half of your entree. Or ask your server bring a to-go box up with your meal so you can box up a portion of it before you start eating.
Keep a mental tally of what you’ve eaten
When you dine out you don’t have all the dishes as a reminder of what you ate. We use visual cues to register fullness as well as mental ones. So keep a mental tally of everything you’ve had to eat. Diners in restaurants eat about 28% more when they don’t have the visual reminder of what they’ve consumed.


Jameson, Marni. “Eating at restaurants boots risk of obesity, experts warn”, July 4, 2011.
Wansink, Brian. “The science of restaurant reflexes” Better Homes and Gardens, March 2011.


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