Portion DistortionYou’ve had a long day. It’s dinnertime and you’re hungry. Do you really want to go home and prepare a meal from scratch, and then clean up? Wouldn’t it be easier to just go out to eat? Restaurant ambience helps you unwind, and you know just the place to get your favorite comfort food. You’ve worked hard. You deserve this!

You call your partner and agree to meet for dinner at that new place down the street. The food is plentiful and scrumptious, and that glass of Pinot Noir calms your nerves. And when you get home: no dishes, no mess. You’re ready for a good night’s sleep…on a full stomach.

Cooking dinner after a full day at work can be a hassle – even for physicians. But it’s important to remember that those great-tasting restaurant meals come at a price. They are high in calories, packed with empty carbohydrates, and saturated with salt. And after a heavy meal, you’re not likely to want to hit the gym – also not so good for your health or your figure.

So here are a few food facts to keep in mind the next time you decide to go out to eat:

  • Portions are oversized. Where’s the value in a sparsely filled plate? Successful restaurant owners know what customers want: food to the edges of the plate. That’s what will keep customers returning. But ordering an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert at your favorite chain like Chili’s or Outback Steakhouse can quickly pack 3,500-plus calories into your day. Even an elite endurance athlete is going to have trouble finding the willpower to exercise after that double dose of daily calories.
  • Fat and salt: the secret weapons. Restaurants create mouthwatering flavors with fat and salt. Slipping half a stick of butter or tablespoons of refined sugar (or both) into a sauce is guaranteed to make a dish tasty, and it is standard practice in many restaurants.
  • Beware of the salad. Think ordering the salad will ensure you’re not overdoing it? Think again. Many chain restaurant side salads contain over 1,000 calories, and entrée salads can pack in far more with rich dressings, fried toppings and bacon.
  • Nothing is free. That complimentary basket of bread or chips repeatedly refilled by your helpful server could add hundreds or even thousands of calories to your meal.
  • Don’t drink your calories and carbs. Beverages can add extra calories – empty ones, most often – that you just don’t need. Soft drinks and cocktails are carbohydrate-rich indulgences that will pack 100 to 400 extra calories into your meal.

Now, you don’t need to forego eating out in order to eat healthy. In my next blog post, I’ll offer a few tips to keep in mind when you order your next restaurant meal.

Photo credit: CareProHs