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How to Save Calories When Ordering at a Restaurant

Dining Out? 2 Ways to Slash 175 Calories

We are pumped to share one of our favorite stories from Self here on FitSugar!

Think you'll end up eating more if you sit back and relax in a restaurant? Think again! According to a new study, a pleasant environment will actually lead you to cut calories — especially if it has two key features.

Keep reading for more.

"When we did a makeover of a fast-food restaurant, we found that softer music and lighting led diners to eat 175 fewer calories and enjoy it more," Brian Wansink, Ph.D., lead author of the study and director of Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab, said in a press release. 

To conduct the study, published in August in the journal Psychological Reports, Wansink and his co-author, Koert van Ittersum of the Georgia Institute of Technology, directed people to one of two areas after they placed their food orders: the regular dining room of the fast-food restaurant, and a formal dining room they had set up, complete with candles and relaxing music.

"Even though they ordered in the same environment, and spent the same amount of money, people in the nicer dining room ended up eating 18 to 20 percent less," van Ittersum tells HealthySELF. "They left more of their food behind — and they said they enjoyed it more!"

But if they enjoyed their food, why didn't they eat more of it? If you are relaxed and enjoying your environment, you're more likely to slow down when you eat, van Ittersum explains. And, "If you eat slower, your satiation levels will kick in sooner," he says.

That, says van Ittersum, is the real takeaway from this study -- if you want to eat less, eat slower! And know that your environment can affect how quickly (or slowly) you eat. If you do have a yen for something from a fast-food type of place, consider taking it to go, so you can enjoy it in a more peaceful setting. "Don't feel rushed!" says van Ittersum. "Take your time and enjoy your food."

Sarah-Jane Bedwell, registered dietitian and SELF's "Eat Like Me" blogger, says this study is great news. "I am a big believer that it is not just what you eat, but it is also how you eat that can help you lose or maintain weight," she says. "This is further evidence that this is true — even when you are eating out!"

Below, Bedwell shares some of her other other great tips for eating out healthfully:

  • Get half of your meal packed up before it is brought out to you. One of the biggest problems with restaurant food is the portion size. Even the healthiest entree may pack a lot of calories if it is three times more than the correct serving size. You may have good intentions to only eat half of your meal and then get a to-go box, but studies show that once food is on your plate, you are more likely to eat it. So the strategy I recommend to my clients is when you order, ask the waiter to pack up half of the meal before he brings it to you. In my experience, waiters are always more than happy to do this, because it saves them time later.

  • Ask, ask, ask! Never be shy about asking the waiter how the food is prepared. Even as a registered dietitian, I am often surprised that a food that seemed healthy on the menu may be prepared in a less healthy way. The only way I would know this is by asking. Once you know how the food is prepared, you can make a more informed decision, or ask for less oil or butter to be used in preparing your dish.
  • Be wary of sides. Recent studies have shown that side items at restaurants often have more calories than the entrees! So be smart when you order sides and stick to fresh fruit or vegetables that are as simply prepared as possible. Even if you don't see an option like this listed on the menu, if you ask, they are usually more than happy to steam or grill up a side of vegetables for you.

And no matter where you are, remember — play some relaxing music and turn the lights down low. Enjoy!

Related Links:
The Truth About Carbs
The Pasta Lover's Diet
10 Simple Ways to Cut 100 Calories

For daily health tips follow SELF on Facebook and Twitter.

Source: Thinkstock
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