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4 Things Healthy Eaters Do Differently At Restaurants

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
B. Butter

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."

So next time you're dining out, follow Wansink's advice. Also, make sure you know the three codewords to look for an any menu.

More from #OWNSHOW.

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BEFORE YOU GO

  • You're Making A Reservation On The Phone
    Even great restaurants have empty tables sometimes, and while you might be able to snag one by calling at 5:00 on the evening
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    Even great restaurants have empty tables sometimes, and while you might be able to snag one by calling at 5:00 on the evening you want to eat, online services like Savored and OpenTable do a fine job of searching for availability -- plus, they reward you with a discount. If you use Groupon-owned Savored, for instance, which currently lists restaurants in 10 cities and is adding more soon, you could pay 30 percent less for food (and drinks, too) if you want to dine that night at 8 p.m., and up to 40 percent if you're willing to eat at 6 p.m. (bonus: no coupons necessary).
  • You're Walking In Hungry
    You've heard it's not wise to go grocery shopping when you're famished -- and it turns out that advice applies to dining out,
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    You've heard it's not wise to go grocery shopping when you're famished -- and it turns out that advice applies to dining out, too. Aaron Allen, a restaurant consultant who has advised clients including The Cheesecake Factory and TGI Fridays, says over-ordering is a common mistake among the ravenous. Two ways to avoid this pitfall: have a small snack before you leave home, or split an appetizer, which will leave you plenty of room for your entrée (and save you some money, too -- especially since appetizers are some of the most high-margin items on the menu).
  • You're Hoodwinked By A Smiley Face
    Allen sees tip inflation growing at an even higher rate than food inflation: It used to be that a gratuity of 10 percent was
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    Allen sees tip inflation growing at an even higher rate than food inflation: It used to be that a gratuity of 10 percent was acceptable and the norm; then it went to 12 percent, because customers wanted to show that they weren't just satisfied -- they were impressed. This cycle continued, and now the typical amount is 20 percent, with some restaurants even suggesting 22 percent and higher at the bottom of the bill. Obviously, there are times when a very generous tip is appropriate (and it's still true that most servers make below minimum wage, so they really do depend on the extra cash). But base your tip on the service itself, says Allen -- not on what a restaurant "suggests." And beware tactics like the smiley face (one study found that people tip 18 percent more when a waitress draws one on the check).
  • You're Drinking The House Wine
    Although it sounds like a bargain, "house wine" is usually the worst value on a restaurant's list (unless, that is, you're di
    Thinkstock
    Although it sounds like a bargain, "house wine" is usually the worst value on a restaurant's list (unless, that is, you're dining in a quaint Italian village). Allen says the markup on these bottles -- which can be domestic or imported -- is often very high, since restaurants know they're an easy sell. Instead, consider the imported wine section of the menu -- these bottles used to cost much more than American ones but have become much more reasonable. Chilean varieties, in particular, are a great deal; Allen finds many restaurants are responding to customers' increased interest in reasonably priced Malbecs. (And, as always, consider ordering a bottle if your group is going to drink more than four glasses.)
  • You're Ordering The Wrong Vodka
    Allen has noticed that if he orders a vodka tonic, a waiter will often ask, "'Would you like Grey Goose or Belvedere?' -- as
    Thinkstock
    Allen has noticed that if he orders a vodka tonic, a waiter will often ask, "'Would you like Grey Goose or Belvedere?' -- as if those are the only two choices." The truth is, if you're having a mixed drink, you don't necessarily need a premium spirit, and having your drink made with whatever is in the well -- bartender-speak for 'non-fancy liquor' -- is an easy way to lower your drinks bill. The well (also called the house pour) might be Absolut or Smirnoff, which are both perfectly fine mixed with tonic or juice but cost about two-thirds less.
    Next: 7 things to stop spending money on right now
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