Many of us struggle to keep ourselves in check when eating out. We become tempted by the sheer number of choices and get lost in the minefield of hidden fat, calories and salt in menu items. But there are some simple tricks to help us make healthier choices at restaurants, says behavioral economist and food psychologist Brian Wansink, Ph.D.
While conducting research for his book, Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life, Wansink found that thin people practice several eating habits when eating out that may seem insignificant, but make all the difference to their waistlines.
To show us what tricks they have up their sleeves, Wansink designed a quiz to help us make healthier choices when dining out.
1. How should you read a menu to find the healthiest options?
A. From top to bottom
B. In a "Z" pattern
C. Ask the waitress
Answer: C, Ask the waitress.
Wansink says we typically skim menus in a "Z" pattern, which is an easy way to miss something healthy. "Instead, the best thing to do is simply to ask the waiter or waitress, 'What are a few of your lighter options that people really like?'"
Don't just ask for the healthy options, Wansink warns, or all you'll get is a nod towards the salads. "If you ask for the lighter foods, you'll find the nice surprises -- the baked pork chop that has apple sauce, or something like that," he says.
2. If you're watching your weight, where should you sit in a restaurant?
A. At a tall table near the window
B. In a booth
C. Near the TV and bar
Answer: A, At a tall table near the window.
"One of the things we find is that people who order the healthiest in restaurants tend to be those who either sit at the high tables -- because you have to have a little more posture, a little more [awareness] of what you're doing -- or the people who sit at the windows," he says.
He has the statistics to back it up. "If you sit in that booth way in the back, you're going to be about 80 percent more likely to order a dessert, and about 80 percent less likely to order a salad," he says.
3. What should you have with your bread basket?
A. Olive oil
Answer: B, Butter.
Surprised? Though Wansink says olive oil is the healthier option, you end up consuming 29 percent fewer calories when you choose butter. "Because what happens is, we don't put much butter on compared to olive oil," he explains. "We put the bread in the olive oil and just watch it soak it up."
Better still, he says -– ask the waiter to skip the bread basket entirely.
4. What's the best approach to the buffet?
A. Choose a smaller plate
B. Survey the entire buffet first
C. Sit facing away from the food
D. All of the above
Answer: D, All of the above.
While writing Slim By Design, Wansink says he completed a study on 300 people at Chinese food buffets across the country . "We found that skinny people do things very different than heavy people. One thing is, they're a lot more likely to survey the food before they pick up their plate," he says. "Skinny people are also seven times more likely to use a smaller plate if they have them. They sit, on average, about 16 feet father away from the buffet, and they're three times more likely to face away from the food."