Inns providing food along with a place to curl up for the night have undoubtedly existed for as long as people have been traveling in large enough numbers to justify the effort. Establishments where people go for better or fancier food than they eat at home, however, or even just for gastronomic variety, are a more recent phenomenon. Some historians trace the rise of the modern restaurant to the French Revolution, when cooks from households of the nobility suddenly found themselves out of a job. The now-normative two-career family has undoubtedly given restaurants a further boost by adding the elements of time and convenience to the equation.
Whether it’s a family outing, date night for the parents, part of a courtship ritual, a chance to get together with friends, or just a quick bite on the go, three quarters of Americans now eat out at least once a week. Thus, restaurants are part of our regular nutritional landscape, not just an occasional splurge.
For quitters trying to control postcessation weight gain in the context of an increase in appetite, restaurants present a special challenge. Although you don’t have to eat in a restaurant to encounter large portion sizes, it definitely helps. According to one study, the average size of a hamburger is nearly 25% larger than in was 1977, and soft drinks 50% larger. Studies have repeatedly shown that people eat more when confronted with larger portions. And to make matters worse, your meal may be even more calorie-dense than it looks: For example, a portion of Spaghetti & Meatballs at Macaroni Grill contains a whopping 2,270 calories, 56 grams of saturated fat, and 5,330 mg of sodium.
Eating more than you want, need, or intend to eat is not value for money. Here are a few little tricks that can help you keep your favorite restaurant from supersizing you:
And finally, support legislation mandating nutrition information on the menu. Knowing what you’re facing can help you make wise choices and leave the restaurant feeling as good about your meal as when you entered.
Cynthia S. Pomerleau, Ph.D., is currently research professor emerita in the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry. From 1985 to 2009 she served as director of the Nicotine Research Laboratory, where much of her research focused on the impact of smoking on women. She is the author of more than a hundred articles and book chapters on smoking and a contributor to the 2001 Surgeon General’s Report on Women and Smoking.