What and how you eat
    The Food Pyramid
    Counting calories: a key to diet literacy
    Your activity level
    The best form of exercise
    Chart your weight
    Sustainable agriculture
    Medical condition
    On hunger
    On eating out
    On cooking
    On addiction
    Food as love
    Spiritual Vegetarianism
    On temptation and resolve
    Six months report
    Dieting as meditation
 Grapevine Revisited
 Christmas Letter

This website is now published on my mobileme account. Any opinions expressed, however, are totally my responsibility.

The original website was published through the courtesy of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

Jim Andris, Sept. 17, 2003.

On eating out

Generally speaking, eating out is a temptation to eat wrong. But you can eat out and eat right if you just discipline yourself and remember a few simple facts and rules.

They want you to eat more than you should

And why is that? Well, they want to make money and they can't make as much if you eat less. For example, Reuters carried this story in June of 2002:

WASHINGTON -- Supersize portions at convenience stores and fast-food outlets cost Americans billions of dollars in obesity-related illnesses, consumer and health groups said Tuesday. The food industry is manipulating people into eating more than they need or want, the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity charges. The group represents the American Institute for Cancer Research, the Consumer Federation of America and the Center for Science in the Public Interest in a campaign to downsize supersizers. The group recommends that people order half-size or the smallest portions in restaurants. Eventually, they say, the food industry will get the message.
The federal government estimates that a third of all cancer and heart disease and up to 80 percent of diabetes could be prevented if people ate less, ate better food and exercised more. Health costs related to obesity totaled $117 billion in 2000, the Health and Human Services Department says.

This is generally true whether or not you eat in an inexpensive, fast-food restaurant or an up-scale three or four star place. I don't know if it's still true, but at McDonalds (yes I have), when I tried to order just a burger, I was informed that buying the burger and small fries was more expensive than buying their "real deal meal." This consisted of large fries, sandwich and large beverage. This is all about "sales volume." I finally decided that on the rare occasions that I went there, I would decide exactly what I wanted before I went to the counter and then stick to my decision. And, by the way, McDonalds has added healthier choices to its menu. Of course, if I really want to eat healthy, I still don't go there. But you have to hand it to them, their bathrooms are generally some of the better ones right off the freeway. And . . .

Things are improving

This story ran April 15 in the New York times:

Like many other fast-food restaurant chains espousing the less-is-more, healthy food approach, the maker of Big Macs and Happy Meals has unveiled a new menu item designed to get adults to eat healthier and exercise. McDonald's is calling its new selection the "Go Active! Adult Happy Meal.'' It will include a salad, bottled water, and even a pedometer and literature explaining the benefits of walking. Along with the adult happy meal, McDonald's is also trotting out a broad new marketing and educational program to help children and adults find a "better food/energy balance in their lives,'' company officials said today at a news conference in Washington D.C.'s National Press Club.

"We want to help adults achieve the right balance between their daily calorie intake and physical activity, and to help children adopt active, balanced lifestyle habits early on,'' said Michael Roberts, the president of McDonald's USA.
McDonald's action comes at a time when the fast-food industry is dealing with widespread criticism and legal challenges about its contribution to poor health and obseity. Surveys and government studies show that more than 60 percent of adults and 20 percent of children are now overweight or obese, and consumers filing lawsuits blaming fast-food makers for their wide girths.

In various subtle ways, things are changing for the better. According to a story in the Boston Globe, U.S.A. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson has launched a "fight against obesity" as of March, 2004. The current administration approved a new, humorous advertising campaign aimed at motivating an overweight nation to look in the mirror and lose those love handles, the potbelly, and the double chin. The story goes on to quote Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, saying that while she was happy the Bush administration was drawing attention to obesity, the ads are only "a half-measure" to address it. "What they should be doing is trying to get junk food out of the schools, requiring calorie-labeling on chain-restaurant menus, prohibiting junk-food marketing aimed at children, and funding every state program to promote physical activity."

Effective diet control when eating out

In most restaurants where you sit down and have a server, the guidline for tipping is to give a proportion of the total check, say 15% or 20%. Duh! Now was there ever a better incentive for a server to try to push more food? The way to handle this is to decide before you order what a server probably deserves as a rule and then use that as a guidline for your tipping, no matter what you end up ordering or how much you end up paying. Many times, if you make this clear to the server (perhaps subtly), they will be glad to assist you in maintaining your diet.

This will not solve all "food pushing" problems, however. Here is something that happened to me just today at brunch. So I'm at a very elegant and expensive ($30/head) brunch with my spouse and five other friends. I had already decided just how to handle this. This would be my only meal today. I had tea for breakfast, and I will have a small snack before bed. At the brunch I would have three plates. The first would be my breakfast plate (about as much food as I would have had for breakfast). The second plate would be my dinner plate (ditto). And, if I got to the desset plate, then that would be my lunch plate.

The server comes around with the orange juice, and the glasses are very large. I say to him, "I'm just going to have a half glass of orange juice." And he gives me just that. I drink it and go for my first plate. I come back, the huge glass is full of orange juice. Now it doesn't take rocket science to figure out what has happened. Either the server thinks he is giving good service, or he just forgot and filled everyone's glass. Which leads to Rule #42: If they give you more than you asked for, don't eat or drink it. Oh, and Correllary #76: The best way to stop a zealous waiter from serving you more (bread, juice, coffee, etc.) is to leave it uneaten on your plate or undrunk in your glass. I would even assert that if you are in the "better" restaurants, where the servers are under the gun to give service (for the tip), if you drink even part of it, or eat a bite of your bread, they will give you more. You know, it just isn't worth the hassle to try to retrain these folks, and it isn't worth the pounds that will creep on to your body, which lead to overweight, and then obesity, and then, well you get it. And for those last ditch defenders of eating such unwanted food (the starving Chinese, etc.), it will actually save food in the long run. Think it through, and you'll see that it will save food to turn it down.

Also, many restaurants make it difficult to order smaller portions. I finally had to just decide to look at the serving before I begin to eat and mentally mark off what seemed appropriate. Then I ask for a take home bag or box, take the rest home, and eat it the next day. I've been in restaurants where the entree servings were ridiculously large. 16 oz. of animal flesh is too much food for anyone but a serious bodybuilder to eat at one sitting. It was beautifully presented, but it was designed to make you feel like the $20 that you paid for it was well-spent.

So what can you do?

Eating the right amount of the right food can definitely be a challenge, but you can do it. And you will probably irritate some of your friends and even more waiters in the process. But your friends, well, they will get over it, hopefully, and begin to accept a slimmer, fitter you. The waiters and restauranteers need to get over it. So what can you do?

  1. The next time you eat out, rate the restaurant and the server on how willing they are to work with you. If you find a place that consistently makes eating right a hassle for you, then stop going there. Insist on a place that wants to assist you in making yourself healthy and happy. For example, suppose you tell the waiter you and a friend want to split a salad. The response can range all the way from providing the split salad to the two people on two separate plates to just setting the salad down in front of one person and letting them figure out how to split it. Don't go to the latter place again, or speak up and say, could you please put this on two separate plates? If they refuse tell them to take it back. Well, you get the idea. Some restaurants have a "plate charge" of $3 to $5 dollars. So if you want to pay it, do, and if you don't want to pay it, leave. It all revolves around how badly you or your eating companions want to eat at that particular restaurant.
  2. Now, let's assume that you are in a friendly place, and your eating companions aren't also going to push food to you. ("Let's split a dessert." "Oh, go on, one bite won't hurt you.")
    • Either pass on the pre-meal bread, or take one piece and have no more.
    • Order a cup of clear broth soup or a small dinner salad when others are having appetizers.
    • Choose half orders when you can.
    • Make an appetizer your meal.
    • Just decide to eat only part of your food. Eating it all won't help the rest of the starving world a bit. In fact, if everyone left food, then restaurants might make the portions smaller and there would be more food for the rest of the world.
    • Take it home. And eat it later. You don't like left-overs? Then leave part of your food. Your mother told you not to? Then order a salad. You don't like salads? Why are you reading this?
    • Never have rich desserts with a meal. It's not a good idea either for your digestion or for your waistline.
    • Eat slowly and stop before you feel stuffed.
    • Accept the challenge to use your mouth part of the time during dinner to make conversation. Without it containing food as you are talking.
  3. Remember that you are trying to change your eating patterns from ones that will make you overweight and unhealty to ones that will make you fit and healthy. Read over the suggestions above. Do they make eating out sound unpleasant and unrewarding? Are you struggling with overweight? Then you may need to restructure your thinking along these lines, EVEN THOUGH you find them unpalatable.
  4. Think of one or two more ways that you can eat healther. Use your creative powers to develop a unique approach just suited to your needs.