Obesity experts have studied the link between eating at restaurants and obesity.  What have they found?  Eating out makes us fat.  This is no big surprise, as most of us concede that fast food and restaurant meals are loaded with extra calories.  But how much “eating out” does it take to tip the scales?  Unfortunately, not very much. 

Too Many Calories

According to a food economist for the USDA, for the average consumer, eating just one meal away from home each week translates to roughly two extra pounds a year.  Considering that more than half of adults eat out at restaurants, including fast-food, three or more times a week, the pounds are really adding up.

Eating lunch out, instead of brown-bagging it, adds an average of 158 calories to the average person’s daily caloric intake.  Eat dinner out and we are likely to eat an extra 144 calories.  So let’s say a person picks up some lunch twice a week, and goes out to dinner once a week.  That’s an extra 460 calories a week.  Over the course of a year it results in weight creep – an extra 5-10 lbs a year.

The Wrong Kind of Calories

Not only does eating out add extra calories to our plates, they are usually the wrong kind of calories.    Restaurant meals are most often full of obesity-promoting sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, saturated fat, and processed grains.  These foods cause problems with blood sugar, leading to cells storing food rather than burning it.

Gigantic Portions

Because restaurants know we want to get the most value (food) for our dollar, they pile our plates high with enough food for two or three people.  Sure, we may take some home in a box for lunch the next day, but most likely we will consume more food than we should.   Those of us who were raised to “clean our plates” because “children in Africa are starving,” well, we feel guilty if we leave anything behind.

Many restaurants are responding to the public’s request for smaller, healthier meals.   Thankfully, if we do decide to eat out we have some options that won’t leave our calorie budget in the red zone.   But more often than not we will end up consuming too many empty and nutrient-poor calories.

Preparing meals at home is the best way to take control of our health and nutrition.  And the help we need is everywhere.  The magazine stands are filled with easy to prepare, healthy recipes.  Websites, like this one, offer dinner menus and recipes that make it easy to get in and out of the grocery store fast.  The book store has shelf after shelf of really good cookbooks that show how to prepare healthy meals, step by step.  It’s worth the effort to reduce eating out, and keep off (or lose) those extra pounds.

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