Americans dine out an average of 4-5 times per week spending more than $350 billion a year on what used to be considered a luxury. Today, dining out has become more of a favorite pastime or convenience and less of a luxury. As the demand for fast food grows, portion sizes are growing as well. Restaurant portions have become so large that they are generally 2-3 times larger than servings recommended by the American Dietetic Association. Fast food restaurants decided that “large” isn’t large enough so they added “super-size” to the menu. It’s no wonder the U.S has become the fattest country in the world.
Americans are indulging, but at the same time the diet/fitness industry is raking in profits by the billions and people seem to be demanding healthier food choices. In response to this, 40% of restaurants are including low-fat, low-calorie, light or healthy/heart-healthy dishes on their menus and the FDA is making sure restaurants stand behind their claims. As of May 2, 1997, by law, restaurants are required to prove the validity of their low-fat, low-calorie claims, upon request.
Super-sizing and gargantuan portion sizes are terrible trends affecting America’s hearts and waistlines. Excess seems to be the norm, but it doesn’t have to be. It is possible to dine out without consuming two or three days’ worth of food in one sitting. Making sensible choices when dining out and following a few simple rules can help you avoid extra calories and fat that can lead to weight-gain and other serious health problems.
Portion control is one of the most important things to remember when eating at home or dining out. There are many ways to cut down on portions. Order ala Carte, order appetizers instead of the main dish or share a meal with a friend. More often than not, the appetizer is closer to a normal serving size than the main dish. Again, most entrees are 2-3 times larger than a normal serving size. Also, don’t feel the need to clean your plate. This is one of the main reasons why many people overeat. That “clean your plate” mentality is something Americans were raised on. When you feel “comfortable”, simply ask the waiter to remove your plate or ask for a doggie bag if you would like to take the remaining portion home. Remember, it takes 20 minutes for the brain to send a signal to the stomach that you’re full, so chances are after 20 minutes of eating, you’ve had enough!!!
According to Dr. Joanne V. Lichten, a registered dietician and author of several books on diet/fitness, “defensive dining is a way to cut calories and fat.” Special order your meal, meaning, order grilled instead of fried or ask for fatty condiments on the side. Snacking on bread or chips before a meal can add several hundred calories to an already hearty dish. Ask your server to remove the bread or chips from the table or call your order in ahead of time so it’s ready when you’re seated. Also, it’s ok to play with your food. Try trimming visible fat off meats or dabbing oil off foods such as pizza. Another valuable tip to remember is to drink plenty of water and avoid beverages full of calories. Remember fruit juices, regular sodas, beer and wine can add more than 100 extra calories to your meal.
There are many “little” things you can do to save large amounts of calories without ever feeling deprived. To find out more about dining lean pick up a copy of Dr. Jo’s Dining Lean: How to Eat Healthy in Your Favorite Restaurants. If you travel a lot and believe you can’t possibly eat healthy on the road, pick up a copy of Dr. Jo’s How to Stay Healthy & Fit on the Road. Both books offer tons of tips on how to control your calories at home and on the road, calorie/fat charts, pictures of accurate portion sizes and nutrition information on foods served in some of America’s favorite fast food restaurants.
Taking the time to become aware of what you eat, how much you are eating and following a few simple “rules” is the way to maintain your weight or even lose weight whether you dine out often or not.