Toledo loves to dine out! I’ve often said that on any given Friday night, half the city is out at restaurants and the other half is in the service industry serving those diners. That’s probably the reason many restaurant chains (e.g. Taco Bell) like to use Toledo as a test market for their new product lines. Our top-three cuisines are American, Chinese, and Italian, and it should come as no surprise that pizza is especially popular. Did you know Americans combined eat the equivalent of 11 acres of pizza a day?
But here’s the kicker: If you’re one of the thousands eating out tonight, you’re probably overdoing it. Even if you’re trying to make healthy choices, your meal probably still contains too many calories and fat grams and too much sodium. This is true not just for fast-food establishments, which often bear the brunt of blame for providing “bad” nutrition and contributing to the obesity epidemic, but also for most sit-down, table-service restaurants. These establishments also routinely serve oversized portions loaded with calories and sodium—often more than what you should eat over the course of an entire day. In fact studies show that in many instances, one main entrée can contain more than a day’s worth of calories before factoring in the beverage, appetizer, and dessert.
Unfortunately, despite being armed with this information, avoiding overstuffing in restaurants isn’t as easy as it might seem. Most of us do not have the willpower to just eat half our meal or stop when we’ve had enough. This is due to the cephalic response that Pavlov studied. When we see and smell food, our sympathetic nervous system revs up, insulin is secreted to lower our blood sugar, and our stomach relaxes, preparing us to eat all the food within reach.
So what can you do to avoid overindulging in restaurants if physiology is fighting against you? When you know you’ll be dining out later, try to budget your daily calories by eating a lean, low-calorie breakfast and lunch. Then, before heading out, keep your appetite in check by having a healthy snack, such as an apple or yogurt. Also, plan to exercise a little longer on the day before and after your restaurant meal to compensate for the additional calories.
Once you’ve arrived at the restaurant, other helpful hints include skipping the appetizer if you know you want dessert (or vice versa), choosing one or two appetizers instead of an entrée and pairing them with a side salad, and splitting or sharing your entrée (ask for a to-go box and set aside half your entrée to take home—before you start eating). Also, avoid deep-fried foods. Instead, choose grilled protein options, steamed vegetables, and salads ala Sally Albright (served with the dressing on the side). Many establishments make it easy to find healthy entrees by designating them as such on the menu.
Don’t forget that drinks can be loaded with extra calories as well. Try to avoid sugar-sweetened beverages, and remember that alcohol contains calories too. If you do plan to drink alcohol, avoid drinks with lots of extra calories from juices or mixes. Better yet, forgo the alcoholic beverages and sodas altogether and ask for a nice, refreshing glass of water with lemon instead.
You can blame biology or lack of willpower, but it’s difficult to dine out and avoid or limit your favorite dishes. So it might be a healthier option to eat more meals at home, where you can control the fat, calories, and sodium. Dining in can also be a better choice for the budget-conscious. Although it may not seem like it lately, meals prepared at home with meat and vegetables bought at the grocery store are much more affordable than restaurant meals.
Wherever you choose to eat, remember that there’s no award for cleaning your plate! So, Toledo, go ahead and dine out (or in). But when you do, remember to do so with moderation, using the tips I’ve provided here as your guide. ❦