Many of us resolve at the start of the year to do something about our diets–either by losing weight or by just learning to make better food choices. Part of drawing nearer to either of these goals typically involves paying attention to getting high-quality calories into one’s diet while at the same time not consuming too many total. For a typical, reasonably active adult, 2,000 calories a day will maintain weight–although some people need less and others will need more.
On December 22nd, as 2014 was drawing to a close, the New York Times ran what was to me an interesting photographic essay about what 2,000 calories look like when eaten at fast-food restaurants, casual dining spots (such as Olive Garden), and at home. This visual proof is illuminating, and a little startling. Who would imagine that you could get your entire daily allotment of calories from one meal (breakfast at IHOP) or just dessert (cake and cappuccino at Maggiano’s Little Italy)? How about from a single beverage? It’s true! Several of the shakes and malts at Sonic weigh in (pun intended) at over 2,000 calories. Now that’s a thick shake!
You can do a little better at a place like Subway. In fact, careful choices can buy you three meals from the popular chain at only 2,010 calories. Of course, care in ordering is essential at any restaurant if calories are a concern, and it helps that more and more establishments either post nutritional information or will make it available to any customer who asks. Still, restaurant dining will rarely be a calorie bargain–at least compared to the option most popular with nutritionists, doctors and our nation’s First Lady. No surprise–it is cooking and eating at home. The NYT article shows photographs of two different days of meals prepared at home. Both boast a surprising amount and variety of food and include dessert and beer or wine with dinner. I don’t know about you, but it looks like a tasty way to keep calories in check.
Of course, restaurant dining is a daily reality for many people and an occasional, highly desired pleasure for many more. It is entirely possible to dine out and still keep a handle on calories consumed, and DCPL has resources to help.
First consider the virtues of David Zinczenko’s ground-breaking title Eat This, Not That: Thousands of Simple Food Swaps that Can Save You 10, 20, 30 Pounds or More! Zinczenko has tirelessly researched many types of restaurants and prepared foods available in grocery stores to bring readers the best nutritional choices. Calorie counts are given as well as sodium content, total fat and other vital information. Eye-popping color photographs put the food front and center. Armed with the information you need when a fast-food lunch is on the agenda, you will know that a Big Mac is a better choice than a Whopper with cheese. You still might choose to go to Burger King but at least you will know that the McDonald’s sandwich will save you 220 calories. Zinczenko has gone on to compile Eat This, Not That For Kids! meant to help kids and, their parents make the best choices, and Cook This, Not That! Easy & Awesome 350-Calorie Meals: The No-Diet Weight Loss Solution which features healthier home-prepared versions of restaurant favorites.
In a similar vein, check out Howard Shapiro’s Dr. Shapiro’s Picture Perfect Weight Loss: The Visual Program for Permanent Weight Loss. Lavish color photographs illustrate calorie counts for various foods and show that it can often be a better choice to have a reasonable portion of the food you really want instead of more of the “virtuous” choice. Though a bit dated and a little too heavily slanted (in my opinion) toward soy protein, it is still a useful volume for anyone who likes visuals (and I count myself as one). Finally, give a thought to Restaurant Confidential: The Shocking Truth About What You’re Really Eating When You’re Eating Out by Michael Jacobson. Also a bit dated (it came out in 2002), it contains useful information nonetheless. Jacobson provides nutrition profiles of many brand name restaurants as well as those of the types of restaurants many Americans eat at, such as Chinese and Tex-Mex. Also included are helpful tips on getting more nutrition and less junk into one’s diet and, yes, one of those tips is eating more at home and brown-bagging more often.
Of course, if going out for lunch or dinner is an occasional treat (very much so in my case) then it may be worth it to just have whatever strikes your fancy. My general rule is to order something new to me or that I’m not likely to cook myself. Your rules and life will, naturally, be different. How often do you eat out? How do you make your decisions about what to order?