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Overeating Out

Submitted By Amy Sercel

Edited By Marcia Bristow MS RDN CSSD CD

Everyone loves eating at restaurants!  Going out can be a fun way to relax at the end of a long week, catch up with friends, or celebrate a special event, and as a bonus you get to enjoy a delicious meal without having to wash any dishes afterwards.  It’s a win-win situation, right?  Unfortunately, regularly eating away from home has been shown to lead to weight gain in the long term.  Appealing menu descriptions, larger serving sizes, free drink refills, and the breadbasket that most restaurants provide as an appetizer all contribute to overindulging.  Add in the busy atmosphere that distracts you from noticing when you are full and you have the perfect environment for eating more than you planned.1

A recent study by the United States Department of Agriculture found that each meal eaten away from home adds an extra 134 calories to your daily energy intake.  This means that eating out every weekday could add up to 670 calories per week!  Lunch contributes the most additional calories of any meal,2 possibly because Americans tend to prepare themselves lighter lunches at home and consume a larger dinner.  Even snacks, however, can add up to 100 calories per day when eaten at restaurants instead of home. If the extra calorie content isn’t discouraging enough, foods eaten away from home tend to be higher in saturated fat and sodium and contain fewer vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and milk products, giving them a lower overall nutritional quality than the food you would make yourself.2

When eating out, follow these simple strategies to make nutritious meal choices and keep yourself from overeating!

  • Choose foods described as baked, grilled, or steamed – they’re likely to contain less fat and calories than foods that are fried.
  • Request substitutions: ask for a side salad instead of French fries, or order brown rice instead of white rice.
  • Skip the soda or alcohol and stick with water instead to save up to 300 calories!
  • Tell your server you don’t want any bread or chips brought to the table.
  • Finally, don’t hesitate to ask for a half-sized plate instead of the full entrée, or to box up half of your entrée before it’s brought to the table.

If you stay mindful of nutritious menu options and keep aware of the added calories that restaurant meals provide, it will be easier to keep yourself from overeating when you go out!


  1. How Restaurant Eating Leads to Weight Gain. http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/restaurant-eating-leads-weight-gain-2903.html. Accessed March 18, 2016.
  2. Todd JE, Mancino L, Lin B-H. The Impact of Food Away From Home on Adult Diet Quality. United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service; 2010.

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