When I was growing up, eating out was a special occasion. My mom, sister and I would go to a sit-down restaurant on Sunday with my grandpa and grandma. We’d dress nicely. We enjoyed the event because it didn’t happen that often.
Times have changed. I’ve read some statistics that report half of all meals are eaten away from home! But when I ask my patients about their eating out frequency, they usually say they only go out once or twice a month. How could these numbers be so far off from the statistics? So I probe a little further, asking about beverages, snacks, and drive-through meals, and the frequency increases exponentially; anytime you are not preparing your own food is technically considered “eating out,” even if that meal is eaten in the car or on the go. And though our amount of eating out has altered, our attitude about it hasn’t. For most it’s still considered a special occasion, so people keep “treating” themselves – resulting in a calorie intake that is much greater than when eating at home.
Even if you do try to make healthier choices when eating out, the odds are still stacked against you; the average restaurant meal has between 200-500 calories more than that same meal prepared at home. Figure in the calories that you would have burned by cooking your own food but are not (over 150 calories an hour), and the cost of eating out suddenly becomes about much more than money – unless you live in the United Kingdom, in which case it’s pounds either way.
I would also suggest that the types of foods opted for when eating out aren’t even something we would venture to prepare at home. How many of us make deep-fried onion blossoms on a regular basis, death by chocolate 10-layer cakes, or milkshakes swirled with peanut butter cups and salted caramel? But I suppose that is part of the appeal – we would never make it ourselves, so it’s new, exciting, and different. Of course, that’s typically the argument people make when having an affair, and how many times does that work out for the best?
News headlines at least once a year highlight the monster-sized portions we are served at restaurants, yet when I show these amounts to patients they consider them “normal.” That’s because whatever we are exposed to regularly becomes the norm, so we think that only a platter-full of food is adequate to fill us up. There is something called “the completion compulsion;” we will finish whatever is put in front of us, even though we might be satisfied with much, much less.
My recommendation is not that we stop eating out, but perhaps eat out less, and make wiser choices when we do. Look up the menu, and nutrition facts if available, on the restaurant’s website before you go. When you get there, order just an entrée and skip the dessert or appetizer. Take half of everything home or share it with your dining companion. And start to rethink what it means to eat out – it’s now the norm, and not really so special after all.