As we began researching our book, Eat This, Not That! Restaurant Survival Guide, we discovered plenty of egregious examples of super-fattening foods in both America’s supermarkets and our chain restaurants. And we learned that knowing what to order and what to avoid is one of the easiest weight loss tricks out there. For example, does On the Border really need to stuff more than a day’s worth of calories—2,550—into its Dos XX Fish Tacos? (Remember when fish was healthy?) And shouldn’t Chili’s warn parents when a selection on its kids’ menu comes with 82 grams of fat, like its Pepper Pals Little Chicken Crispers does?
But here’s the hard truth: The obesity problem isn’t just the food itself. The restaurant industry has spent decades studying human behavior and figured out all sorts of subliminal ways to make us want to order and eat more. And a lot of those psychological tricks have become ingrained in our behavior. In a study in the journal Obesity, researchers looked at the habits of people dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Those with the highest body mass index (BMI)—a measure of obesity—seemed to demonstrate a series of “fat habits.”
They Use Larger Plates
When offered two plate sizes, 98.6 percent of those with the highest BMI took the larger of the two plates to the buffet. A bigger plate tricks your eye into thinking you’re not eating as much when you stuff more food onto the surface—and into your mouth. Use a smaller plate, get a smaller belly.
Bonus tip: The same principle holds true for drinks. The larger the cup, the bigger your gut. And one of the biggest sources of hundreds of extra calories in your diet? Booze.
They Eat While Looking at Food
Of those with high BMIs, 41.7 percent took seats that overlooked the buffet, instead of sitting in a booth or facing in a different direction. The sight of food tends to make our minds think we have more work to do, eating-wise. Keep your food stored in the fridge or stashed in the pantry, not out on the countertops.
They Eat with Maximum Efficiency
While Chinese buffets offer chopsticks, 91.3 percent of obese patrons opt for forks. That just makes it easier to shovel in the food!
They Clean Their Plates
Of those patrons who were the heaviest, 94 percent cleaned their plates so there was nothing left. Ignore Mom’s advice—let a little linger. (Feel the need to finish all of it? Try our 7 Ways to Eat More and Lose Weight to feel satisfied while you slim down.)
They Chew Less
Researchers actually monitored the chewing habits of the buffet-goers and discovered that the heaviest one-third among them chewed their food an average of 11.9 times before swallowing. The middle one-third chewed an average of 14 times, and the leanest one-third chewed 14.8 times.
They Dive In
The leanest people in the study typically took a lap around the buffet first, to plot out what they wanted to eat. But the more overweight group charged right in; doing so means you may fill up on some less appealing items, then have to go back to snag that one nosh you have to have but missed the first time.
They Skip Breakfast
A simple habit, but it raises your risk of obesity by a whopping 450 percent! If you're always running out the door in the morning, try these 10 Instant Breakfasts for Weight Loss instead of skipping the vital meal altogether.