The first study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and found that when looking at 19 restaurant chains the average meal contained a whopping 1,128 calories! For many women trying to lose weight, their suggested daily caloric intake will often be 1,200-1,400 calories per day, so we can see why eating out is so challenging for people trying to control their weight.
Sitting down in your favorite restaurant almost guarantees a calorie overload for both men and women. Did you know that, along with those excess calories, the average chain restaurant meal also contained 151 percent of the recommended daily salt intake, almost 90 percent of your daily fat needs, and 60 percent of recommended cholesterol intake?
That study focused on large restaurant chains and you might be tempted to think that those small, hometown restaurants might be healthier.
Actually, the opposite may be true. Another study, also published in JAMA, looked at these smaller non-chain restaurants and used calorimetry to determine how many calories the average lunch or dinner entrée contained. What they discovered was the average meal at these small restaurants contained 1,327 calories–and that was just the entree! The calorie measurement did not include appetizers, drinks, or desserts!
So, here is my advice: Study the menu items carefully. Many restaurants are now required to have calories listed. Go for the broiled or grilled options. Ask for dressings or sauces on the side–and add just a small amount. Another major pitfall is the evolution of larger portion sizes over the years. But just because larger portions are served doesn’t mean you have to eat it, right? This is more difficult than it sounds; many studies have shown that people will eat whatever portion is served them–so I suggest that you plan to share your entrée with whomever you are dining with. When I’m dining with someone, we tend to each order a salad and then split the entrée. Many restaurants will even nicely split the entrée onto two plates for you! If your dinner partner doesn’t want to share an entrée, ask the kitchen to box up half the entrée before they bring it out to you–then you won’t be tempted!
Eating out should be a joy–and it does not have to compromise your health if you take a little time to scan the menu for the lower calorie choices, share entrees, and drink plenty of water throughout your meal. This can help you feel nice and full! And be careful with the three D’s–drinks, dressing, and dessert!
To your health!