Eating out is proven to make you eat more, and eat poorly. The factors stacked against you are as high as that piping hot pile of French fries on your plate—a group dinner, family style platters, large plates and even the lighting can subconsciously prompt you to overeat.
The good news: Being aware of the many ways the environment sways how often you pick up your fork can help you create healthier eating habits. Here’s what to look for.
Eating in Groups
The more people you eat with, the more you’ll chow down. A 1992 study at Georgia State University showed that meals eaten with one other dining companion were 28 percent larger than those eaten alone. Consumption increased for each additional person at the table, and meals with six other people were associated with a whopping 71 percent increase in food intake.
This is typically the case when the atmosphere is relaxed and enjoyable, which may cause you to lose track of how much you’re eating. Tense eating environments, such as an anxiety-inducing first date, tend to have the reverse effect.
Dining with others influences how much you munch. Eating companions may serve as benchmarks, a way to gauge how much you’re consuming without having to count calories, or we may naturally mirror others’ behaviors as a form of social bonding. Studies on students have shown that they vary the number of cookies they eat and water they drink depending on how much fellow students are consuming.
Even the sequence of who orders first can affect your meal choice. If your friend goes ahead of you and orders the fried chicken with mashed potatoes, you’re more likely to say “what the hell” and cave into your mac and cheese craving, according to Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D., M.S., Wellness Manager for Cleveland Clinic's Lifestyle 180 program, and YouBeauty Nutrition Advisor. “Order first to prevent being influenced by your friends,” she says.
Don’t see anything on the menu that looks healthy and diet-friendly? Think of the menu as a snapshot of all of the food they have in the kitchen—and create your own meal. “See the entrees as a suggestion,” says Kirkpatrick. “If they have brown rice in one entrée and black beans in another, ask if they can put them together for a healthy meal.”
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