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10 Tips on how to eat out and lose weight, too

Eating out has become a fact of life. Four (or more) out of 10 of us visited a restaurant on a typical day in 1999, according to the National Restaurant Association. Almost half of every dollar an American spends on food, including fast food, ends up in a restaurant cash register. That adds up to more than a whopping $1 billion a day!

This appears to be a rather recent phenomena because restaurants accounted for only 25% of the food dollar just 45 years ago. Something happened between when I was a child, and people only went to McDonald's when it was somebody's birthday, and today, when families frequent fast food on an almost daily basis.

Got the Urge to Splurge?

According to a new study (not yet published) led by Linda H. Clemens, EdD, RD, of the consumer science and education department at the University of Memphis, women tend to splurge when they eat out, then eat normal amounts, not smaller ones, in their other meals that day. Oops, well there goes that day's calorie count!

That might not be so bad, but in today's modern world most of us eat out on a daily basis. What has happened to women nutritionally because of this trend? In an earlier study (JADA 1999, 99:442-444) in which Clemens and other researchers studied the diets of premenopausal women, they found, quite simply, that the more often women ate out, the higher their total calories, grams of fat and milligrams of sodium.

Clemens says she believes we should no longer think of eating out as a treat that gives us carte blanche to overindulge. "Most of us grew up thinking of eating out as an event that didn't happen too often," explains Clemens.

But that was then and this is now. Today we know there are three things contributing to this overabundance of calories and fat when eating out:

  • We tend to splurge by choosing higher-fat and higher-calorie menu selections.
  • Restaurants are serving us large portions.
  • And we are eating it -- all of it.

According to a recent survey conducted by the American Institute for Cancer Research, 67% of Americans said they finish their entrees most of the time or always. Sometimes it isn't what you are eating as much as how much of it you're eating that gets you into nutritional trouble.

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