12 Best Restaurant Weight Loss Tricks

Posted on March 16, 2011


The best part: You can still eat all the foods you love, at all the restaurants you love, without condemning yourself to coma-inducing calorie counts. With these 12 rules to live (skinnier) by.

1. Don’t assume fancier means healthier
Fast food can make you fat, so dinner at a sit-down chain must be better, right? In fact, our menu analysis of 24 national chains revealed that the average entree at a sit-down restaurant contains 867 calories, compared with 522 calories in the average fast-food entree. And that’s before appetizers, sides, or desserts—selections that can easily double your total calorie intake.

Bonus Tip: Not all restaurant meals will detonate your diet. See which made our popular list of The 39 Best Healthy Foods in America.

2. Don’t get “supersized”
Sure, it feels like you’re getting a bargain because you’re getting proportionately more food for proportionately less money. But a “value meal” is only a value for two sets of people: the corporations that make the food and the corporations that make liposuction machines and heart stents. Because food is so inexpensive for manufacturers to produce on a large scale, your average fast-food emporium makes a hefty profit whenever you supersize your meal—even though you’re getting an average of 73 percent more calories for only 17 percent more money. But you’re not actually buying more nutrients; you’re just buying more calories. And that’s not something you want more of.

3. Don’t order the “medium” soda
That “medium” soda may actually be a large. Duke University researchers discovered that some fast-food chains encourage their customers to buy larger soft drinks—which justifies higher prices—by increasing the number of ounces in all sizes of drinks. They know what you may not: Most people subconsciously pick the middle option without considering the actual amount, says study author Richard Staelin, Ph.D. Remember, 8 ounces is one serving. That means a “small” Coke at McDonald’s is already 2 servings of carbonated sugar—and a large is 4!

Bonus Tip: I’m giving a free iPad to one lucky Twitter follower! To enter, simply follow me on Twitter.

4. Remember, the waiter is a salesperson
A 2005 study published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services found that you’re more likely to order a side dish when the server verbally prompts you (“Do you want fries with that?”). Restaurants know this, and now you know it, too. When the waiter makes a suggestion, remember his job is not to make you happy. His job is to extract money from your wallet and insert fat in its place.

5. Don’t celebrate any old meal
Before you head out to your next meal, really take stock of how many times you’ve eaten out this week. A 2008 study in the International Food Research Journal found that people are less likely to make healthy restaurant choices when they feel that they’re dining out for a “special occasion.” If you’re eating every meal at home and dining out truly is a once-a-week splurge, then don’t worry about it so much. But if you’re like most of us, eating out is probably more like a once-a-day splurge. And if that’s the case, remember, there’s nothing special here. Eat smart today because you’ll have to do it again tomorrow.

6. Grab a smaller plate at the buffet
When, for a 2008 study published in the journal Obesity, researchers offered patrons two plate sizes, 98.6 percent of those with the highest BMI took the larger of the two to the buffet. A bigger plate tricks your eye into thinking you’re not eating as much when you load it up—and after you start eating. Use a smaller plate, get a smaller belly.

Bonus Tip: The same principle holds true for drinks. The larger the cup, the bigger your gut. Check out our list of The 20 Worst Drinks in America for a eye-opening lineup of belt-busting beverages that’ll drown your diet aspirations. (It’s baffling that some drinks can pack more than 2,000 calories!)

7. Eat dessert elsewhere
Need a simple way to cut down on desserts? Pay for your meal and take a walk. Researchers in the U.K. found that taking a short walk can weaken chocolate cravings. In the study, regular chocolate eaters refrained from eating the treat for 3 days and then either took a 15-minute walk or stayed idle. The strollers’ cravings dropped by 12 percent after a walk, but those of the coach potatoes intensified. “Like chocolate, exercise may increase the levels of feel-good chemicals in the brain, reducing a desire for sweets,” says study author Adrian Taylor, Ph.D. If, after a little stroll, you’re still hungry, go ahead and indulge—at least you earned it!

Bonus Tip: If you do choose to indulge in dessert, there are plenty of passable treats out there—but many more diet-paralyzing pastries. Check out our slideshow of the 15 Worst Desserts in America.

8. Resist the blob mentality
Your dining partner may be making you fat. Researchers from Eastern Illinois University have discovered that people consume 65 percent more calories when they eat with a person who opts for seconds than when they dine with a  companion who doesn’t. “Just being aware of it can help you avoid becoming a victim,” says Men’s Health nutrition advisor Jonny Bowden, Ph.D. Instead of taking seconds, opt for a cup of herbal tea after you finish your main course. It will keep your mouth busy while providing a refreshing, no-calorie end to your meal.

9. Guzzle the icewater first
Thirst can masquerade as hunger, which is one reason dieters should stay hydrated. Now German researchers have found another reason: Water fuels your body’s fat burners. For 90 minutes after drinking 16 ounces of chilled water, adults saw their metabolisms rise by 24 percent over their average rates. The increase is partially attributed to the energy your body generates to warm the water during digestion.

10. Cut up your food
Japanese researchers recently proved what dieticians have been saying for years: Slicing your food into strips or chunks may help you eat less. Study participants who compared equal amounts of sliced and whole vegetables rated the sliced serving as much as 27 percent larger. The end result: Believing that you are eating a larger portion of food causes you to feel more satisfied with fewer calories.

11. Watch out for weekends
A study in the journal Obesity reveals that people eat an average of 236 more calories on Saturday than on any given weekday. Blame it on the break from your usual routine. “Since your day is not as structured on the weekends, neither are your eating habits,” says study author Susan Racette, Ph.D. Approach your weekend like any other day: An opportunity to treat your body as well as it deserves.

Bonus Tip: Keep your weekends free—of these meals. Don’t miss our slideshow of the 37 Worst Restaurant Dinners in America.

12. Start small
Here’s the good news: No one is going to stop you from ordering seconds. So be like any good businessperson, and start small. Here’s exactly how expensive it really is when you go for the “bargain”:

•    7-Eleven. Gulp to Double Gulp Coca-Cola Classic: 37 cents extra buys 450 more calories
•    Cinnabon. Minibon to Classic Cinnabon: 48 more cents buys 370 more calories
•    Movie theater. Small to medium unbuttered popcorn: 71 additional cents buys you 500 more calories
•    Convenience store. Regular to “The Big One” Snickers: 33 more cents packs on 230 more calories
•    McDonald’s. Quarter Pounder with Cheese to Medium Quarter Pounder with Cheese Extra Value Meal: An additional $1.41 gets you 660 more calories
•    Subway. The 6- to 12-inch Tuna Sub: $1.53 more buys 420 more calories
•    Wendy’s. Classic Double with Cheese to Classic Double with Cheese Old Fashioned Combo Meal: $1.57 extra buys you 600 more calories
•    Baskin Robbins. Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, Kids’ Scoop, to Double Scoop: For another $1.62, you’ve added 390 calories

The bottom line: For 8 bucks, you’ve bought yourself 3,620 calories. If you eat each of these foods once a week but go with the smaller size—again, your favorite foods, but more reasonable sizes—you’d save about $417 a year. That’s enough to put you on a plane to the Bahamas, where you can show off your new body. After all, you’d also save 188,240 calories a year, or 54 pounds of belly fat! I can think of no better investment.