What You Don’t Know About Eating Out

When it comes to healthy eating out, of course some restaurants are worse than others. On average, sodium-glutted fast food places will always do you more harm than, say, a salad bar. But you may be surprised to learn that in almost every instance, eating out is worse for you than cooking at home — and I’m not just talking about the impact restaurants have on your wallet.

Eating Big Portions, Means Big Problems

A 2015 study from the University of Illinois found that there is actually relatively little difference health-wise between a meal at an artery-clogging fast-food place and one at your typical sit down restaurant. The reason has to do with two devilish P words: portion and perception. Those who eat at full-service dining restaurants often don’t think about the amount of food they are being served.


Even if the restaurant deals in ridiculous portions (looking your way, Cheesecake Factory), customers believe they are being served a normal amount of food. After all, why would a restaurant, particularly a non fast-food establishment, serve us anything other than a meal-sized portion? (Sadly, most restaurants aren’t even thinking about it.) As UI professor Ruopeng An succinctly put it, “You may be at higher risk of overeating in a full-service restaurant than when eating fast-food.”

What Exactly is On My Plate?

So if you’re eating out, you’re probably eating too much. But this talk of what appears on your plate raises an even more fundamental question: what are you even consuming? You probably aren’t 100 percent sure. After all, almost nobody catalogues the ingredients of the food he or she ingests; eating out is supposed to be a pleasurable, relaxing experience.


This lack of information is a big problem, though. When eating out, people are more likely to unknowingly put undesired levels of sodium, fat, and cholesterol into their bodies. According to the UI study, “Fast-food and restaurant diners consumed about 10 grams more total fat, and 3.49 grams and 2.46 grams, respectively, more saturated fat than those who dined at home.”

How to Beat Back the Calories

The easiest solution to the problems posed by eating out is simple: don’t eat out as much. You have total control over your diet at home, and you’re more likely to dole out reasonable portions to yourself. But short of that, you can always keep in mind that you don’t have to eat the entire portion served to you.


The next time you eat out, set aside half of your plate, and see how you feel after eating the other 50 percent. Try to frequent places with calorie counts next to menu items. Do your best to be cautious about what you order, saving creamy, fatty, or salty dishes for special occasions. Eating out is wonderful, and there’s no reason it can’t be a little more healthy, too.

Last updated: 09.29.2018

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and it is not meant to be relied on as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult your physician before starting any exercise or dietary program or taking any other action respecting your health. In case of a medical emergency, call 911.

Get 4 free 8-minute workouts

We monitor comments. See guidelines