Eat Out a Lot? Cut Your Weight by Cutting Your Portions

Do you eat out often? If you need to lose weight, frequent meals in restaurants and fast food joints could be a big part of the reason why. Many chefs in upscale restaurants mention the generous amounts of butter used in cooking as one reason their food tastes so good and most choices in fast food establishments are ridiculously high calorie. Restaurants of all types lure customers in with oversized portions. Indeed, any restaurant that offered portions corresponding to their customers' actual caloric needs would run the risk of being known as "the small portion place," because diners would automatically compare them to all the other restaurants which practically beg customers to overeat.

Many people have to eat out on a regular basis for work or travel related reasons. Others would find their enjoyment of life diminished if they ate only at home. Whether you're eating out by choice or necessity, there's a simple way to reduce your calorie intake and keep your dining experience from turning into The Battle of the Bulge. Cut your portions in half!

Size Does Matter

Eating healthy foods helps keep weight off, but if you eat enough of anything, the calories add up. A normal sized meal that's excellent for weight control suddenly becomes your ticket to the weight gain train if you double the size. And for unhealthy food? You might think if you're going to devour a high calorie meal, you might as well go all out, but that's a terrible strategy for weight loss.

It's very, very easy to consume 1800 calories in a single meal when eating out--in fact, that's what a meal consisting of large fries, a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, and a supersize cola amount to if you eat at McDonalds. Make the cola diet and you're still eating more than 1350 calories in a single go. Cut this meal in half, though, and you've got a much more reasonable addition to your calorie intake. Or simply order smaller fries and a regular sized hamburger.

Don't make the mistake of believing your favorite full service dining establishment is a low calorie paradise either. In fact, unless a menu item specifically lists a low caloric value, you can assume you'll be pouring down the calories. The same principle applies when eating pizza or grabbing desert. Don't splurge, control the quantity of your food intake, and you can reduce your calorie consumption per meal by hundreds and your daily intake by over 1,000 calories with very little effort. That can easily add up to two fewer pounds gained or two more pounds lost per week.

You Don't Have to Eat It All

Numerous studies have been conducted where some participants receive a large plate of food and others a much smaller but still reasonably sized portion. In all of these studies, the participants eating the smaller size plates rated their satisfaction with the meal and portion size as highly as those who ate the larger version.

Unfortunately, people are not good at realizing when they've eaten enough if they have an oversize portion in front of them. Researchers call this phenomenon "completion compulsion," and believe it stems from a combination of visual cues and the way children are taught to "clean their plate" when growing up. Whatever the source, it causes people to feel less full when there's food still in front of them, even if they've already eaten plenty. For this reason, many well-intentioned people who plan to eat only half of their meal at a restaurant wind up eating it all.

The Simple Solution: Smaller Portions

There are two ways to ensure you don't fall victim to completion compulsion. The first, if the establishment allows, is to order smaller portions. Ask for half the regular portion, or lunch portions if you're eating dinner. If these options don't exist, you can try a children's portion. In some circumstances, you might want to split a meal with your dining partner.

The other method is to order the full meal, but ask the waiter in advance to prepare only half for your plate, with the other half boxed to take home. This has the advantage of letting you enjoy a second restaurant quality meal on a later occasion. And a pre-boxed meal has an additional advantage over traditional doggie bags--you're not eating leftovers where the various parts of your meal have been picked at, shuffled around, and mixed together. Instead, you're getting an almost-good-as-new gastronomic treat.

No matter which method of portion reduction you choose, it's good to know you can cut calories while still eating foods you enjoy. If you're looking to lose weight, don't make yourself miserable on a crash diet. Get results by eating reasonable portions of the foods you love.