The true cost of eating out on your diet

Written by shaelee chatterton
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Restaurants can drain your time, money and health

The true cost of eating out on your diet
The burger and chips have become a staple, even though they may clog your arteries and contribute to pounds of uncomfortable excess weight. (WITTY from

People come here to let go for the night and maybe stray away from their strict diets.

— Ruben Carrillo, manager

Going out to eat is a social norm. We do it when we date, when we want to get together with friends and family, and when we want a break during the workday. Restaurants create a comfortable atmosphere where we can spend quality time satisfying a basic human need: eating. Ruben Carrillo, restaurant manager, recognises that his restaurant caters to families. "People come here to let go for the night and maybe stray away from their strict diets," Carrillo said. But if you're among the many Brits who eat out more than once a week, you may be quietly letting go of a tidy sum from your bank account while subtracting years from your life.

Recipe for a heart attack

You might be drawn into a restaurant simply by an intriguing exterior. Or maybe it’s the advertising image that pulls you inside –- the happy family enjoying what looks like a mouthwatering meal. The restaurant industry pays a lot of money to lure customers, but you may wonder how high your health is on a restaurant’s priority list.

One of the most popular menu items at the Cheesecake Factory is "Chicken Madeira," says restaurant manager Jason Corral. The dish is "coated in flower, egg batter, a lot of cheese and other goodies, then sauteed," he said. While chicken may be healthy, the way it's prepared is not. The menu doesn't offer healthier options because, Corral said, customers come to his restaurant as a "naughty indulgence for special occasions like celebrations." Our culture has come to accept paying for, and consuming, unhealthy foods as a way of celebrating and having fun.

Restaurants often use partially hydrogenated oils in food preparation because they are inexpensive and generally last longer than healthier, unsaturated oils. This means you’re probably consuming trans fat every time you go out to your favourite restaurant -- and trans fat can wreak havoc on your health. It can raise your cholesterol and increase your risk for heart disease.

Trim your waist and fatten your wallet

Think again before you reach for the white bread or rolls on your table while waiting for your meal to arrive. Simple carbohydrates like those in white bread, paired with high fat of any kind, are detrimental to your waistline, particularly when carbohydrates are consumed first. They send your blood sugar soaring, causing your pancreas to release insulin, which allows food not being used for energy to be stored as fat. So, if you’re a habitual winer and diner and have packed on a few extra kilos over the years, eating out may have had something to do with it. Restaurant food is generally unhealthy, Carrillo said, and "it's easy to fall off the wagon," referring to his own diet while working in the industry.

If adding to your waistline isn’t enough to deter you from remaining a restaurant regular, consider what you’re losing in time and money. If you go out to eat twice a week and spend £20 each time, plus two hours in the restaurant, you’re spending £2,080 and 208 hours annually, not including transportation. If you put the money in a savings account each year for 20 years, you would have an extra £41,600, not including accrued interest. You'd also have an extra 4,160 hours on your hands over the course of 20 years. We often glamorise and romanticise the restaurant experience, but the extra calories, lost hours and dwindling pennies and pounds can really add up.

Healthy alternatives

Medical News Today points out that 100 fewer calories per day can make a significant difference in your weight over the course of a year. When you eat out, the calorie content is a guesstimate. Corral says his restaurant's most popular cheesecake is the red velvet, which has a whopping 1,400 calories per slice. Try preparing more meals at home. You’ll know exactly what's going into your food and can alter the ingredients to enjoy low-fat, low-calorie versions of your restaurant favorites.

And just because you decide to cut back on restaurant meals doesn't mean you have to cut back on your social life too. Invite friends and family over for dinner and ask everyone to bring a healthy dish. Have theme-cuisine nights so friends can share their favourite healthy Mexican or Asian-inspired dishes, for example. You can also take your date to an organic supermarket and buy food for a cosy picnic instead of having a heavy-on-the-fat restaurant meal. And if you bring a healthy lunch to work every day, at the end of the month you’ll have saved enough money to treat yourself to something special.

Tips and warnings

  • Cut back on how often you go to restaurants. If you normally go once or twice a week, save eating out for special holiday or birthday celebrations. Not only will you end up eating less unhealthy food, but also you'll appreciate more the times when you do eat out. When you go out for special occasions, choose health-conscious restaurants and select some of the healthier menu options. Also, try sharing a dessert. Lead by example for your children so they learn healthy eating habits.

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