Eating healthy when eating out is a hard task for the average diner, but even harder for bariatric patients. It’s not just the type of foods offered at restaurants, but the portion sizes that make eating out difficult. A new study out of Tufts University showed that over 90% of 123 different restaurants across three major cities served meals that exceeded calorie recommendations for a single meal. What’s more is that some favorite meals often contained three or four times more than needed. Some meals even exceeded total calories needed for a single day!
Researchers noted that large food chains are often criticized for both high calorie and oversized meals, but that is often simply because they disclose their nutritional information. That doesn’t mean smaller restaurants serve smaller or less calorically dense meals, they just don’t often publish the nutritional content of their meals. This study showed that in addition to large chain restaurants, smaller, local restaurants are also guilty of serving meals that are oversized and contain too many calories. Out of the different types of cuisines analyzed, including American, Italian, Chinese, Greek, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Mexican, and Vietnamese, the meals with the highest amount of calories were American, Italian, and Chinese fare.
In theory, we don’t have to eat the whole portion served. We could eat just enough to feel full, and take the rest home with us. But many of us lack the willpower to stop eating when we’ve had enough. This is attributed to the Pavlovian response we have to food, where the sight, smell, thought and taste of food stimulates appetite, making it hard for us to resist appetizing food in front of us. It can be even harder for women since the nutritional needs of females are typically lower, therefore they need to eat less, meaning they need to be even more cognizant of what and how much they eat when dining out.
Eating only the amount to feel satisfied may still be a task that is difficult for many lap band, gastric sleeve, and gastric bypass patients. One simple way to prevent overeating is to limit how often you eat out. This may be the simplest strategy, but it isn’t always realistic. If eating out can not be avoided, it’s best to choose your meals wisely. Opting for naturally lower calorie foods (baked or grilled instead of fried, more protein and vegetable based foods, and those without added sauces) is a good starting point. Another option is to ask if offer a smaller portion, more like an appetizer or child size portion. If the restaurant doesn’t offer smaller portions, you can ask for a ‘to go’ container and put away at least half of the meal before you even start eating. If you wait until the end, you may have already eaten more than you planned to, so put the food in the ‘to go’ container first. You could also try splitting a meal with your fellow diner, but that only works if you want the same meal.
Tufts researchers also suggest the option of smaller portion sizes. As portions offered are usually for the hungriest patrons, restaurants could offer at least two different portion sizes which would allow diners to choose the larger or small portion to match their hunger. While this may be something some restaurants offer in the future, for now, you will still have to find a way to limit the calories you get from eating out, or reduce the number of times you eat out at restaurants altogether.
The above is offered by Dr. Shillingford, M.D., P.A., a board certified surgeon specializing in laparoscopic and obesity surgery. Dr. Shillingford’s gastric sleeve, gastric bypass, and adjustable lap band patients often ask about how to incorporate eating out into their post bariatric surgery diet. It may be difficult for bariatric patients to balance eating out and maintaining their low calorie, high protein diet, so plan your order wisely and limit how often you eat out. Dr. Shillingford’s bariatric weight loss patients come from all over South Florida, including Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and as far away as Orlando, Tampa, and Jacksonville.