Fighting Obesity: The Restaurant Angle

Guess what? Eating out leads to weight gain.

In fact, the USDA calculated that for each weekly meal outside the home, we gain 2 pounds of body weight annually.

Here are two more interesting facts:

  • About 30% of our total calories are consumed outside the home.
  • This is double what it was just 30 years ago.

Why is eating out so hazardous to our waistline?

Mostly because portion sizes are much bigger today than in the past.

Restaurant owners know that consumers optimize value for money. And more food means more value.

Or does it?

Bigger portions equal more calories. And since restaurants are a business, they don’t necessarily invest in the healthier calories, but rather the cheapest ones that taste good. Lots of fat, sugar and sodium.

The USDA found that there are not enough veggies in a restaurant dinner compared to a home cooked meal. And eating out for breakfast will not add a sufficient amount of whole grains to your diet compared to home.

Calorie labeling on menus, while still a recent phenomenon, has not made a significant dent in our consumption habits.

So, what will it take for us to either

a) eat more home cooked meals, or

b) get chefs and cooks to prepare healthier meals for us when we eat out?

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  • Michelle

    So a person who eats out once a week will gain 100 lbs. annually? Either the math is way off or your writing is completely unclear: “for each weekly meal outside the home, we gain 2 pounds of body weight annually.” Let me start by saying I don’t take anything the USDA says without a few grains of salt ( case in point: Food pyramid/plate/let’s all eat corn based crap recommendations) and this blanket statement is ridiculous at its core. How can such a statistic possibly be calculated accurately?  There are plenty of restaurants where people who actually give a s*** about health and fitness can go and eat normal portions of things like sushi, local meats, fish and produce, ethnic cuisine and things prepared to order. These are people who make educated, thoughtful food choices at home as well, teach their children to do the same, and have active lifestyles.  Then you have the great unwashed who flock to the all-you-can-eat $5.99 lunch specials at chain places where all the food is processed crap made in a corporate kitchen, shipped frozen to the restaurants and reheated…and who glug down a few large sodas or mixed drinks…and order desserts…and then go home and crash on the couch to gear up for their next meal. To equate my family’s miso soup, edamame, sashimi & hand-rolled sushi meal with a similar family’s heaping bag of Taco Bell takeout or loaded potato skins, dripping bacon cheeseburgers and mountainous brownie sundaes as at a place like TGIF, for instance, is absurd.

    • Laura

      The statistic said that a person eating out once a week will gain 2 lbs ANNUALLY, not 2 lbs each meal. At the end of a year, if I eat out once a week and you don’t I’m likely to weigh two pounds more than you. That seems quite possible.
      Sure there are some good choices when eating out, but statistics are always looking at aggregated data from large groups. They have there issues but they have there uses. Take away message here: The more one eats out the more likely it is that one will gain weight.

    • Laura

      The statistic said that a person eating out once a week will gain 2 lbs ANNUALLY, not 2 lbs each meal. At the end of a year, if I eat out once a week and you don’t I’m likely to weigh two pounds more than you. That seems quite possible.
      Sure there are some good choices when eating out, but statistics are always looking at aggregated data from large groups. They have there issues but they have there uses. Take away message here: The more one eats out the more likely it is that one will gain weight.

    • Gerome

      Goodness Michelle. Each meal/week = 2 pounds/year. Exceptionally clear. But for you: as an example, if this is correct, if you dine out 5 meals per week, you should expect to gain 10 pounds per year.

      The USDA is delighted to know that you are eating miso soup (is it eat soup?, or do you “take” your soup? I digress.) In any event, I don’t think anyone did equate your perfect meal plan with those of us who are less enlightened and eat Taco Bell when we can’t dumpster dive. Yes, I’m a bad eater. But then again, if we all ate hand-rolled sushi, there wouldn’t be any more fish in the sea, would there?

  • Ray Claude

    The obvious answers are awareness (question a) and withdrawal of patronage (question b). I have a question as well. What is to motivate eaters to gain this kind of awareness and to restore their ability to exert control in the marketplace? I suggest that motivation could well arise from anger and dismay at being so badly misled on matters of nutrition for so long, by so many, and from nearly every quarter. I will be interested in others’ views.

  • Chole

    I agree with Michelle.  The math just doesn’t add up.  even on a week of vacation when we eat all meals out I rarely gain more than 5-10lbs… not the 42 that this would assume.

    • Chole

      Or is the study saying that if on average you eat 3 meals out a week at the end of the year you will have gained 6lbs?  very unclear to me.

  • HeidiF

    I think it means. Eat out once a week on average you gain 2 pounds a year. Eat out 10 times a week you gain 20 pounds a year. Like the other posters said, I think it depends on what you eat when go out.

    I think the biggest problem is that the food industry has made a huge profit selling people highly palatable but unhealthy food. So many people seek this food as a major source of pleasure and comfort in their life, so much so that they can’t stop even though they become overweight, obese, even morbidly obese.

    Food is such a quick fix. And we are a quick fix society: drinking, smoking, recreational drugs, caffeine… We all want to feel good and we want to feel good now. And we get all these marketing messages that it is ok to just get a quick fix. And everybody else is doing it right?

    Feeling really good without any kind of fix is really hard. When you take care of your body and exercise you will feel good but it won’t be a quick fix and it won’t be easy. But while you are getting your quick fix it feels good but afterward it usually feels pretty bad. When you are exercising sometimes it feels hard and you suffer but after you always feel good. You never wish you hadn’t worked out but pretty much always wish you hadn’t eaten that chocolate volcano cake. Seems like a simple lesson but so hard to learn. I think it has a lot to do with the reward centers in our brains that we don’t completely understand yet. We always want to reward ourselves with a beer, or a burger, or a latte.

    We have to change our whole society to value feeling good by working for it. Not drinking it or eating eat, but creating it. How we do that exactly I don’t know. I think as more people get really sick and or/die from obesity related illnesses it is going to become more apparent that we need to change our societal lifestyle.

  • Dave Schy

    The question you ask depends on your definition of “us”!  If someone is down to their last dirty dollar they will instinctively choose the value menu item that will give them the most calories (energy) for that dollar. Someone who is a little better-off has the advantage of planning a well balanced daily diet centered on healthy ingredients, if they so choose. Restaurants offer menu choices based on the history of what is selling well. As eating habits change we see new menu items, such as oatmeal, being offered.
    Cooking at home is always the best choice because you can control the amount and quality of ingredients in each recipe. It is also less expensive because at the restaurant you are paying all other costs such as labor, rent and profit, which are included in the price of your food.
    Here is a great breakfast idea that you may want to try.
    http://www.newtaste.com/quinoascramble.html

  • Brian

    Increased calories could be part of the reason, but what about low quality carbs. When you eat out, it is really have to have anything w/o getting highly refined white carbohydrates. Even when you order a salad, it comes with croutons and the dressing is loaded with sugar. Also, White bread is still the de-facto standard in most restaurants. And try to order a side of vegetables. It’s almost always potatoes. Maybe it’s not just more calories, but the kind of calories that make us fatter.

  • http://twitter.com/timfelsky timfelsky

    Or maybe just don’t eat the whole portion at once. I’ll save half a portion as leftovers, order off the kiddie or value menu, or throw away stuff if it means I can eat a sensible portion of the food I love!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/DrSusan-Rubin/1372112028 DrSusan Rubin

    Also keep in mind that the NRA- the National Restaurant Association ( not the National Rifle Association) works diligently with the ABA (American Beverage Association) and the GMA ( Grocery Marketers Association) to maintain business as usual. What does that mean for the average eater? No soda taxes, no ingredient disclosure, no GMO lableling and much much more.
    Bottom line: stay out of restaurants, eat at home whenever possible using ingredients that you know. This goes hand in hand with avoiding supermarkets and visiting farmer’s markets instead. Best bet: grow as much food as possible at home or in a community garden. The safest and healthiest food grows closest to home. Junk doesn’t grow in gardens!

  • Anonymous

     
    Science study in Europe showed the best way to keep weight off is with a diabetes diet for NON DIABETICS!  why? The blood sugar in people without diabetes still controls how much fat the body holds. A filmmaker’s diet has caused a reversal of body fat in  thousands in 10 countries  SEE HERE   http://spirithappy.org/wp/?p=1149

  • GiGi

    I absolutely HATE eating out. HATE IT. Why do social outtings ALWAYS have to entail going out to eat. Ugh. It’s a waste of money. The only time I like to go out is when it’s SUSHI. 

  • Becki www.foodiecure.com.au

    you – Absolutely encourage healthier foods in restaurants! Check out Rouge Tomate in NYC – Michelin starred, green restaurant certified AND a health through food charter! More please!

  • http://profiles.google.com/roberto.previtera Roberto Previtera

    Is this picture taken in Milan, Italy, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, right ?

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      correct :-)

  • Mariah

    Personally, I think the people who are trying to get fast food places to offer healthier foods are wasting their time. Fast food isn’t supposed to be healthy…and people aren’t supposed to eat fast food all the time. All lot of the so-called healthy items that some fast food restaurants market are are really terrible for you and are filled with tons of sugar, sodium and fat anyway. We should all eat more meals at home. I think the more people know and the more they are informed about how bad fast food is and how good and easy a home cooked meal can be, the easier it will be to get people to eat at home more and make better choices about what they eat. So many folks can’t connect how their once-a-day taco bell will affect them down the road. When people know better, they do better! :)