When I feel like my jeans are getting a little tight, I have a no-fail, no calorie-counting, no-angst solution: Cut back on dining out. It's no surprise that it works. Researchers at Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab have found through a host of studies that restaurants are full of environmental cues, from plate size to bread condiments, that encourage us to eat more.
And the food itself is plentiful and often caloric; while New York City is requiring chain restaurants to put calorie counts on menu boards, those may not be accurate everywhere, as an investigation by a group of TV stations showed last week. Their findings: Of 23 "diet" menu items at popular chain restaurants like Chili's and Applebee's, 78 percent contained more fat than they were supposed to, and almost 69 percent had more calories than was indicated on the menu. The Wall Street Journal conducted a similar survey earlier this year and found that while the nutritional information was generally accurate, free add-ons like cheese and bread boosted the meal's calories considerably.
It's a lot easier to control ingredients and portions at home. And as Paul Roberts, author of The End of Food, wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed last week, doing more home cooking is also a way to decrease our reliance on the "industrial food system" and avoid some of the food price inflation we've seen lately. (In addition to dropping a few pounds, I can also count on saving more money when I avoid restaurants.) My U.S. News colleague Kimberly Palmer recently offered up 6 ways to eat better for less. If you want to make sure you're cooking somewhat healthfully, check out the recipes from the blog 101 Cookbooks and the websites for Eating Well, Cooking Light, and Vegetarian Times magazines.
Finally, if you have no choice but to eat out a lot because of work obligations, take a look at the restaurant dining tips from The Wall Street Diet that I wrote about earlier this year.