You’re presented with a menu of multiple choices, most of them are wrong, and if you don’t figure it all out, a bad score is certain to mess up your future. The monitor (er, waiter) can’t help you, and you can’t even cheat because the questions change all the time.
But what you can do is get these six questions right every single time. They may seem like simple queries, but in most cases, there’s a hidden agenda—and a secret opportunity to put the kibosh on extra calories and accelerate your rapid weight loss. Consider this your restaurant CliffsNotes.
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Slice and Dice Your Food
Give overeating the axe by cutting your entrée up into pieces. Science says it’ll keep you slim. College kids who were given a bagel cut into four pieces ate 25 percent less than those given a whole bagel, according to a study conducted at Arizona State University. If you’re worried that dicing your entire serving at once may send your waiter cuckoo vibes, try slicing off a piece of the portion you’re served and subtly pushing it to the side of your plate, suggests Bonnie Taub-Dix, nutrition expert and author of Read It Before You Eat It. Then only allow yourself to finish the piece closest to you. “You’re tricking the mind into thinking the other portion isn’t even meant for you,” she says.
Choose a Tall Glass
If your night out consists of hitting the newest artisanal cocktail bar, you might want to pay attention to something a little unusual: not the drink, but the kind of glass you’re being served. The one to watch out for? Short and wide glasses; they may be a sneaky source of calories. Bartenders pour an additional 20 to 30 percent more into the shorties as opposed to their taller counterparts, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal. Plus, experts suggest you may actually drink less when drinking from a tall, skinny glass simply because you think you’re drinking more. Keep that in mind the next time you’re tempted to lap up the delicious cocktail resting in a not-so-tall tumbler. For more easy-to-use slimming advice, read on for these 20 Weight Loss Tricks You Haven't Tried.
Turn One Meal into Two
This takes the whole “leave stuff on your plate” concept to the next level. “When you’re consciously trying to stretch a meal, you’re more likely to listen to your hunger cues so you can ration enough to have those leftovers,” says Cassie Bjork, RD, LD Healthy Simple Life. The course of action: order your dinner, and plan on having enough food left over to make a meal the following day and stick to leaving that amount on your plate. Don’t think you have that kind of willpower? Ask for a to-go box immediately and stow away half of your meal before you dive in.
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You could save yourself hundreds of calories just by making a few requests as you order, says Taub-Dix. First of all, she suggests asking your server to go light on oil and salt—restaurants use these two ingredients liberally since they add tons of flavor at a low cost. As for the breaded and fried stuff on the menu (here’s looking at you, chicken parm), ask to have it grilled instead. And don’t fret, fromage lovers: you can totally still eat cheese—just tell your server you prefer a touch of it rather than giant, generous chunks. Just remember to say “please.” Speaking of saving a ton of calories, don't miss these essential 50 Ways to Lose 10 Pounds—Fast.
Set the Mood
Ambiance plays a major part in how dinner plays out, but it may also affect your eating patterns. As it turns out, dimmer lighting and softer music both lead you to eat less and enjoy the food more, according to a study published in Psychological Reports. So feel free to choose the spot with the smooth jazz and mood lighting. That’s what we call a win-win.
Choose Your Seat Strategically
While you may be tempted to request the best seat in the house, that may not be your best bet when it comes to watching your weight. As it turns out, people with tables deep in the restaurant are 73 percent more likely to order that triple-fudge chocolate cake—or any dessert for that matter. Apart from that, if the restaurant in question happens to have high-top tables, park yourself at one of those. Brian Wansink, director of Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab, finds that people at these tall tables are inclined to eat a bit more healthily by ordering more salads and fewer sweets.
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Learn to Share
If Lady & the Tramp is any indication, it’s pretty darn romantic to share a dish. While it may be in your best interest not to slurp up the same strand of spaghetti as your date, you’ve got the green light to go halfsies on your apps, entrées and desserts. If you’re ordering a heavy dish, like pasta, make sure the other dish is on the lighter side—fish or veggies are both good options, says Taub-Dix. This can help you cut calories and cut back on portion sizes, she says. You could also try making a meal out of veggie-heavy sides. The one caveat? Because veggies can lead to a sugar spike, you’re going to want to make sure you also incorporate protein and healthy fat—a little meat or fish cooked in butter—into your dinner, says Bjork.
Don’t Let Descriptions Dupe You
If you’ve ever felt your mouth water just reading a menu, you may have the dish names to blame. Researchers at the University of Illinois discovered that descriptive names, like Satin Chocolate Pudding and Succulent Italian Seafood Filet, may make the meal seem more attractive, leading you to never lose belly fat. The bottom line: be wary of these added adjectives and pay more attention to what the dish actually is.
Roll with Shrimp
Consider this: The number-one source of calories in the American diet isn’t burgers, cookies, or even beer. It’s bread. It’s all around us—wrapping our sandwiches, sitting alongside our eggs, resting in a little basket at our dinner table. And for the most part, bread is a nutrition- free source of straight-up sugar calories. A slice of Italian bread has 80 to 100 calories; a plain dinner roll will average 87 calories.
Why do restaurants want us to eat the bread? Because bread gives us a sugar rush, followed by a sugar crash, so we’re primed for dessert at the end of our meal. The simple solution is to pass on the breadbasket altogether, but damn, you’re hungry. If you can, order a shrimp cocktail. Five juicy shrimp dipped in sauce clock in at only 100 calories and more than 12 grams of belly-filling protein, and can be at your table in minutes.
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Play it Cool
A study in the International Food Research Journal found that people are less likely to make healthy restaurant choices when they feel that they’re dining out for a special occasion. That makes sense, except…we also tend to view dining out anywhere, at any time, as a “special occasion.” Yet nowadays, between takeout, delivery and dining out, the average American eats restaurant food for one out of every three meals.
Before you head out for your meal, take stock of how many times you’ve eaten out this week. If a trip to a restaurant truly is a once-a-week splurge, then don’t worry about it so much. But if you’re like most of us, eating out is probably more like a once-a-day splurge. Eat smart today because you’ll have to do it again tomorrow.
Even if the restaurant only lists gooey, chocolaty, decadent desserts on its menu, chances are there are some blueberries and strawberries—two of the best fruits for fat loss—floating around in the kitchen. Ask for a bowl topped with a generous scoop of whipped cream for a decadent off-the-menu dessert. One cup of mixed berries topped with 3 tablespoons of whipped cream has only about 117 calories, compared with 492 in a piece of tiramisu and 411 in a slice of apple pie. Or keep it simple and just order a bowl of ice cream. Four ounces of vanilla ice cream has about 145 calories, while chocolate clocks in at 130. In an ideal world, of course, you won’t order dessert. But ideal worlds are boring.
‘On the Side’
It sounds like a weenie move, ordering the dressing on the side, as though you’re trying to micromanage the kitchen from your booth. But the stats don’t lie. A house salad at Applebee’s is 230 calories. If they dump the blue cheese dressing on it, it’s suddenly 470 calories, or about what you’d get by ordering their 12 oz New York strip. (And the salad has 40 grams of fat, versus just 25 for the steak.) But a light dose of oil and vinegar keeps this meal under 300 calories. A swap like this daily will save you close to 18 pounds a year!
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Remember It’s ‘pre-supersized’
Order your whole meal off the appetizer menu. Or hell, order your entrée off the kids’ menu— who cares that you’re over age 9? You’re allowed to order as much, or as little, as you want, so take advantage of that fact, says New York dietitian Keri Gans, R.D. “That’s the whole reason for portion control,” she says. “It’s not that the pasta’s so terrible for you, it’s just the size of the plate.” In fact, you should consider every restaurant meal “pre-super sized.” Over the last two decades, restaurants have grown our portions all out of proportion. Just take a look at the chart below.
Love Your Old Flame
Ha! A trick answer for a trick question. In most restaurants, “grilled” foods are cooked on a grill plate—it’s little more than a giant, flat sauté pan, where grease gathers to dance around and have a party. “Grills” at restaurants lock fat in, instead of cooking it off. Flame-grilling means putting the meat or vegetables over an open flame. At this point, your waiter may scratch his head and shuffle off in a sort of “Hope I get the part in the soap opera and can quit this gig” kind of way, only to return and say there’s no actual grill in the kitchen. In that case, ask for it to be broiled, using the broiler that’s located, yep, under the griddle. Either way, “flame-cooked” makes an enormous difference; a study in Meat Science (yeah, we’re subscribers) found that grilling a pork chop could actually decrease its fat content by a third.
And Bonus: at the Movies
Beware of the Buckets
By now you know that movie theater popcorn isn’t the healthiest option—just one small, buttery bag contains over 300 calories, almost 30 grams of fat and over 200 milligrams of sodium. That said, sometimes it’s hard to resist the delicious little kernels. When you decide to indulge à deux, opt for the smallest bag available. Research presented at the American Psychological Association in 2011 suggests the larger the container, the more popcorn you’ll eat—and that’s true for both fresh and stale popcorn.
The type of flick you’re seeing may play a part in how much you snack. Fast-paced movies may be to blame for overindulging in the goodies you pick up at the concession stand, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine suggests. In the study, people who watched the action movie ate a whopping 98 percent more than those watching a talk show, while those who watched the action movie without sound ate 36 percent more than the talk-show viewers. Something to consider when you’re seeing Force Awakens for the third time.