Before I start talking about restaurant food, I want to say that eating out was one of the major pleasures of my life. It took off pressure, it was soothing and comforting, not to mention the
convenience of not having to cook at home. This lifestyle suited me perfectly. It also resulted in
the accelerated weight gain that finally put me over the top and obliged me to take action. After
about 2 years of this life, I took a vacation one summer and traveled home (to Europe) to visit my mother. Beyond a warm welcome, she was utterly shocked: “My God, you’ve gained so much weight!” – were the first
words out of her mouth. I was taken aback, since in my opinion, I wasn’t really ‘that fat’. In my
work environment as a doctor, many people were significantly heavier than I was, so my
impression was “I’m not there yet. Nope, not me… Nothing to worry about!” Of course, my
loose lab coat served me well, hiding the rolls of fat without a trace. So I never really had to
think about it.
It was only during my vacation in Europe when the realization set in: I was
significantly overweight compared to my old friends, my relatives, even my 70-year old mother.
That’s when it all started. My desire for change, that is. In the beginning, I started with a diet of
about 1400 calories per day. This was of course hard to stick to. Due to the limited calorie
allowance, it precluded restaurant food. To be honest, it was one of the hardest things I had to do
in my life. Also, there were no rewards in the beginning: The weight hung on to me stubbornly
for the first 2 months. Many times, I was on the point of giving up and running into the first fast
food place to gorge myself on everything I could eat. Fortunately, I held out. During the 3rd
month of this diet, I started seeing a difference: The pounds started falling off, slowly at first,
then more accelerated. Encouraged at this change, I added exercise and started taking weight loss supplements. With lots of sweat and effort, at the end of 6 months I was back to my high school weight. People would ask me: “Whatever happened to you?”, to which I would respond: “The best thing in my life.” And indeed, it was. And I
consider myself fortunate for waking up in time, before I was too far gone.
A large part of the above odyssey was without a doubt caused by my eating out indiscriminately,
over extended periods of time. So if anyone knows how much damage restaurant food can do, I
am that person.
- The portions are ridiculously large – probably on purpose, to cause patrons to become dependent on food and keep coming back. The truth of the matter is, most restaurant portions are about 3 times the size of a normal portion. So, if you’re a restaurant lover like I used to be, keep this in mind: Eat about one third (and certainly no more than one half) of the portion on your plate.)
- In most restaurant, there is plenty of indiscriminate mixing of high calorie food, especially fats and
carbohydrates (the most damaging combination from the point of view of weight control).
- Alcoholic drinks and cocktails are being heavily pushed, sometimes with free refills. By
the way, the calories brought in by 2 such drinks are probably enough to substitute for an
entire meal. To give just an example, a Margarita or Pina Colada brings in 300-400
calories (dependent on the size), and one 5-oz Mudslide may bring in 700-800 calories.
- Soft drinks with free refills bring in another heap of unnecessary calories. A glass of
regular Pop usually contains 100-150 calories, dependent on how much ice there is in the
- The vast majority of restaurant desserts are, forgive the choice of words, obscene: Huge
cakes and pies dominate the selection, often topped with ice cream, fudge, nuts, caramel,
etc. The calorie count for one serving probably exceeds 1,000 calories.
- The exact calorie count of restaurant food is difficult to gage, since there is no way to
tell exactly what ingredients and how much of them went into each dish. Therefore, if
you are on a specific calorie allowance, eating restaurant food is an almost sure way to
break it. When all said and done, a restaurant meal could easily amount to 3,000 – 4,000
calories (much more than your calorie requirement for the entire day, which on average is 2,000 calories or less).
- And finally, here’s the most important negative of restaurant food: It’s called trans fats. These are industrially processed (hydrogenated) oils and shortenings, which have a
longer shelf-life and are therefore advantageous for the restaurant industry. They are widely used in restaurant kitchens for deep frying and cooking. These trans fats are highly detrimental for one’s
health, and have been blamed for the massive increase in cardiovascular deaths in recent
years. However, there is largely no regulation preventing the restaurant industry from using
trans fats. It is my firm conviction that these compounds are heavily used by many
restaurant chains, and not just fast food places. Generally, most restaurant foods
have a distinctive oily taste, which I believe to be due to the use of trans fats. Moreover,
food items that are basically lean by themselves (such as grilled fish or vegetables) are often drenched in
fat and impregnated with the same fatty taste.
Trans fats are known to cause accelerated
weight gain and obesity. When compared to other foods, foods rich in trans fats appear to cause more
weight gain for the same calorie content. Moreover, they have somewhat of an addictive
quality, and may increase your drive to eat more fatty foods. Our body appears to have
more difficulty breaking down trans fats (which are industrially processed fats different
from naturally occurring fats) – such that trans fats are more likely to be stored as fat deposits in the
body. Of course, this also means we may feel hungry and energy-depleted shortly after
the meal, since our organism isn’t able to properly burn these foods for energy.
- With very few occasions, eating out is synonymous with overeating. As such, weight
gain is to be expected.
- Oftentimes however, weight gain may not occur until 24-72 hours after eating out,
when your body had the time to store the nutrients into fat deposits.
- During that 24-72 hour window, additional exercise and a mild cutback in calories
can actually prevent the occurrence of weight gain.
- On the other hand, eating out repeatedly during that 24-48 hour window ensures that
weight gain does occur. In other words, eating out daily makes weight gain almost a certainty.
- As a rule of thumb: After any episode of overeating, the organism needs a period of
5-6 days to return to its normal equilibrium. Episodes of overeating occurring more
frequently than that are likely to result in weight gain.
The conclusion of this page is (no big surprise there): Avoid restaurant food whenever you can. It is decidedly detrimental for your health and weight. What’s worse, it can become addictive, which means you
become desensitized to what is really going on, and to the overall impact on your life. Fast food
places are usually the worst, but higher quality restaurants can be just as damaging.
If you absolutely have to eat out, choose health food restaurants, and watch your portions
closely: One third to one half of the food on your plate should be about right. And even so, you
may still end up eating more calories than you should.
Should you still end up in a restaurant (despite the previous contents of this page), here are a few tips to help safeguard your figure:
- Refuse the Margarita offered by the waiter.
- Stay away from alcoholic beverages, including cocktails, beer, etc.
- Rather than a regular soft drink, choose a diet drink, water, tea or coffee.
- Choose a ‘grilled’ or ‘broiled’ dish rather than a ‘fried’ dish.
- Choose fish entrees over meat entrees.
- Avoid bacon, red meat, or meat with visible fat content.
- Choose lean meats such as turkey breast or chicken breast.
- Avoid any ‘stuffed’ fish or meat dish.
- Go easy on sauces, especially the ones that are creamy in appearance.
- Avoid baked potatoes topped with butter and sour cream.
- Avoid French fries, or any other deep-fried dish.
- Avoid burgers
- Avoid dishes containing ground meat (the fat content of such meat is usually high)
- Go easy on pasta and marinara.
- Choose vegetables and rice (preferably steamed) for a side-dish.
- Scan the menu for the so-called ‘guiltless dishes’ (low-fat dishes offered by some restaurants)
- Stay away from soups that contain the word ‘cream’ or ‘chowder’ (e.g., cream of potato,
clam chowder, etc)
- Choose low-fat or fat-free salad dressings.
- Go easy on the croutons and cheese that come with your salad.
- Do not eat more than 2 slices of bread or 1 dinner roll.
- Skip desert (except perhaps coffee)
And keep in mind, from the point of view of weight control, coffee-shops and bars qualify as restaurants as well, and can be just as damaging to a weight loss program. Check out these links for more info:
restaurant food: Coffee-Shop Tips
restaurant food: Pub and Bar Tips