Avoid Restaurant Sabotage

by Charles Platkin, PhD

Going out to eat is a double-edged sword, especially if you’re hoping to leave without being uncomfortably full. Often times, before you even have the chance to say no, you spot the server walking towards your table with extra bread and olive oil, or chips and salsa, or refills of your soft drink – and apparently, the itself may be more at fault than the customer.

While out to dinner with friends last weekend, I had a strange feeling that I was being seduced into — which was partially true. Our surroundings have a lot to do with the amount we eat and how much we enjoy it, but I never thought lighting, music, color, menus or the server’s charm played such an important role. In fact, “Your environment affects how much you enjoy even more than taste,” says Herbert Meiselman, Ph.D., sensory and consumer research expert and retired senior research scientist and expert for the United States Army.

Problem: The Longer You Sit at the Table the More You Eat
Traditional restaurant settings relax you and increase your enjoyment of meals. As a result, you stay longer and end up eating more.

Solution: Being aware of your surroundings, both at home and in a restaurant, just might save you a few calories.

Problem: Menus Are Designed To Tempt
Menus are designed to tempt us, taunt us and get us to buy more. And, according to Brian Wansink, Ph.D., of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, reading the menu doubles the likelihood that you’ll order dessert.

Solution: When your server asks, “Would you like to see the dessert menu, your answer should be “no.” However, if you do feel like having dessert, give yourself a few minutes for the main course to settle: You might end up skipping it or at the very least ordering something lower in calories. Also, be wary of extras, like fatty appetizers and fancy, high-calorie drinks.

Problem: Waiters and Waitress are Salespeople
Servers are trained to use colorful, enticing language to describe dishes. Their tips are based on a percentage of food sales, plus they often get bonuses if they sell the most non-entree items such as appetizers, drinks (or, as I like to call them, “liquid calories”) and desserts. So, instead of just saying, “Hey, would you like something to drink?” the server might ask, “We have a superb chardonnay that goes beautifully with your halibut — may I get you a glass?”

Solution: The tendency for us to get “sold” on consuming more than we normally would is especially high when it comes to dessert. Perhaps the conversation is lively and you want to continue to enjoy the “good company,” or maybe you don’t want to make your dessert-ordering guest uncomfortable, or you get sucked in by a friend or family pushing you to “share.” Just say no.

Wansink suggests putting in a “stop order” with the server — tell him or her you don’t want dessert and he or she shouldn’t even bother bringing you the menu or dessert cart. Recent physiological evidence suggests that seeing a tempting food can enhance hunger by increasing the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, he adds.

Take control of your meal instead of letting it control you. One way to do this: Eat more slowly. You’ll wind up consuming less and having more time to enjoy the company.

Problem: Music Can Increase Your Calorie Consumption
“When you listen to slow music, you decrease your chewing intensity, and you enjoy your food more. Your nervous system slows down. You’re more relaxed and simply eat slower. However, you can end up eating more because you sit at the table longer,” says Nanette Stroebele-Benschop, Ph.D., a researcher at Hohenheim University in Germany. If you listen to fast music, you eat faster. Either one can work to your advantage. “Eating slower also gives your brain a chance to recognize that your body has actually consumed food; otherwise you might keep eating even though you’re not hungry,” adds Stroebele.

Solution: Pay attention to the music at restaurants, and remember you might be sitting for longer than you normally would. Or, if you’re in your own home, you can simply eat without distractions.

Problem: Good Food Aromas Can Increase Eating
Ah, the aroma of good food! Smell enhances our tasting experience. In fact, studies in nursing homes haave found that adding great-smelling foods to a menu increased consumption. “Simply seeing or smelling a favorable food can increase reported hunger and stimulate salivation, which can be correlated with greater consumption,” says Wansink. Aromatic food can jump-start your taste buds. In “real-world” situations, this might translate to your eating too much regardless of how hungry you are.

Solution: Try to review the menu online before you go and have a few healthy food choices in mind before you arrive.

Problem: Lighting Can Increase Your Eating
The more romantic, the dimmer the light, the more we tend to eat. Low light decreases our inhibition for eating as well as reducing our ability to pay attention to what we’re eating, advises Stroebele-Benschop. How many times have you gone to the movies and felt more comfortable munching popcorn because no one was looking?

Solution: Make sure to maintain focus and awareness of what you’re eating when the lights go dim, reminds Stroebele-Benschop.

On the other hand, research shows that bright light can also cause you to eat more because it creates a state of arousal, encouraging you to eat more rapidly.

Problem: Cold Temperature Can Increase Your Eating

“People consume more during prolonged cold temperatures than during hot temperatures because of the body’s need to regulate its core temperature. In prolonged cold temperatures, more energy is needed to warm and maintain the body’s core temperature — therefore, more food is eaten. In prolonged hot temperatures, the body’s core temperature must be cooled and maintained — therefore, more liquids must be consumed,” says Wansink. Try raising the temperature of the room to help you eat less. You’ll probably want to drink more fluids, but be careful — don’t drink more “liquid calories,” warns Wansink. Stick to calorie-free or very low-calorie beverages such as sodas, water and unsweetened iced tea.

Problem: You Eat More because it’s “Included”
We tend to eat more when food is “packaged” together or included. For instance, some specials include extras such as a glass of wine, dessert, and/or side dishes.

Solution: Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you have to take it. You can order the special; just give some of your food to someone else at your table.
Created: Last Reviewed:

Rate this post

You may also like

Subscribe To The Weekly Food & Nutrition News and Research Digest
Our weekly email news and research digest is everything you need to know about food, nutrition, fitness and health.
No Thanks
Thanks for signing up. You must confirm your email address before we can send you. Please check your email and follow the instructions.
We respect your privacy. Your information is safe and will NEVER be shared.
Don't miss out. Subscribe today.