Sticking to your diet when you're at a restaurant is tough. Sheer willpower isn't always enough--especially when the restaurant is purposefully working against you. Many establishments use subtle tricks--like the 17 listed here--to get you to eat more so you spend more money. Dodge them the next time you dine out to turn a diet disaster into a decent meal.
You originally wanted a seafood dish. But after perusing the menu, you suddenly find yourself craving everything in the burger section. Here's why: Dishes set apart with design elements may make you more likely to consider them, according to a new review from Cornell University. Be aware of fancy fonts, colors, boxes, and icons that draw your eyes toward specific items. (Abs are made and lost in the kitchen. Eat these 7 Fat Loss Foods and your life will be drastically better.)
Labels like "House Specialty" or "Chef's Recommendation" can lead you to think those particular items are noteworthy, making you more inclined to order them--no matter how unhealthy they are, according to the Cornell University review.
Restaurants put their prime appetizers and meals closer to the top of the menu. You're more likely to order items from the top because that's what you see first, according to the Cornell University review. Even if you don't choose the first thing you see, it can set the tone for your order. When diners see a nutritious appetizer, like fruit, first, they were more likely to choose a healthy entrée, found a study from Cornell University. (Melt fat faster and easier than ever by following 10 New Rules of Lean Eating.)
When meals are marked "low-calorie" or "fat-free" on the menu, it can deter you from trying them, many studies have found. Our mind equates these dishes with bland and flavorless food. Skip the labels and pay attention to the components of the dish instead. If the ingredients sound delicious, then the dish probably is.
When your waiter brings a bread basket to your table, it's a double whammy: You're more likely to eat the rolls that you wouldn't have otherwise, and you're more likely to eat more of your entrée. People who raided the bread basket ate 16 percent more calories in their main course than did diners who had an appetizer that was protein-rich, according to a study published in Physiology & Behavior. Ask the waiter to hold the bread. If you really want to eat something before your meal arrives, grab a protein-packed snack prior to leaving the house to tide you over, or order a healthy starter off the menu. (You're right not to trust so-called "healthy" options. Order smart with these 7 Rules of Healthy Fast Food.)
It's easy to resist influence when you can skip over Pizza Hut ads thanks to your DVR, but what about the billboards on your drive to work? A 2013 UCLA study found that areas with more outdoor advertisements dedicated to fast food and soft drinks are more likely to have more overweight residents. It's hard to escape them since almost every chain does it, too. Second to television time, most fast food companies spend more on billboards, bus ads, and other outside spaces than any on other media outlet, according to the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.
Restaurants know a smell can induce cravings, and they take advantage of this, said Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing at Cornell University and the author of the new review. In fact, there are entire companies to assist them in the process. ScentAir, among others, has managed to duplicate the smell of waffle cones, popcorn, cinnamon buns, coffee, and even grilled hamburgers. Restaurants will even use artificial odors to replace a food's natural aroma or to enhance the real thing. ScentAir provides McDonald's with an apple pie scent so you don't forget to order dessert. (Eat more, stay full longer, and still lose serious weight with these 7 Ways to Outsmart Hunger.)
We're suckers for pure visual variety in what we eat. In a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, college students were given either a bowl of M&M's containing seven colors or a bowl filled with 10 colors. The students that received 10 colors ate 77 percent more compared to the ones who at 7 colors. Restaurant chefs know this, so many will dress up dishes with as many colors as possible.
Low Calorie Counts
If you're watching calories, you can't trust a restaurant's published nutrition facts. About one-fifth of the food chain menu items tested by researchers had 100 calories more than they claimed to, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This one is likely due to human error, explain the researchers. If a cook is a bit heavy-handed with the oil or salad dressing, it could make a big difference in overall calories. (America has a “broken diet” problem and essential nutrients have been stripped from our diet. Here are 4 Quick Food Fixes that will trim flab from our bodies, and improve our emotional well-being.)
Colorful Dish Descriptions
Finger-Lickin' Good. Hot n' Juicy. Succulent. Mouth-watering. Restaurants describe their dishes to make you crave them, Wansink said. Whether you realize it or not, you probably fall for it: People were 27 percent more likely to order an item if it was described with delicious-sounding adjectives.
Early Drink Orders
Booze helps drive up the cost of your meal, so your waiter or waitress has an advantage to selling you on a cocktail early on. However, your body sees alcohol as a toxin, so it burns those calories first. The result: The calories in the food you eat during your meal are more likely to be stored as fat. Liquor makes you eat faster, too. Netherland researchers gave people booze, food, water, or nothing before their meals. Those who had booze ate an average of 192 extra calories.
Wendy's, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, In-N-Out Burger, Carl's Jr., Burger King all have the same color scheme. Why? Because red and yellow make you want to eat more. Red causes you to eat faster and more forcefully, according to a University of Rochester study. And several studies have found that the color yellow stimulates appetite by causing your brain to secrete serotonin, the happiness hormone.
Music and Lighting
Have to put on your sunglasses and earmuffs when you go inside? Beware. People who eat in restaurants that have dim lights and mellow music consume 18 percent fewer calories than those eating in the bright glare typical of many franchises, according to a study in Psychological Reports.
There may be more lurking in your meals than you think. Chicken McNuggets, for example, include autolyzed yeast extract, a chemical similar to MSG whose main purpose is to artificially enhance the taste of food. Wendy's Frosty contains guar gum, cellulose gum, and carrageenan--all used to manufacture a thicker texture, which studies have shown people find more satisfying. And refined carbohydrates--like your cheeseburger bun--can trigger hankerings similar to the cravings drug addicts experience, according to a 2013 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
A Smorgasbord of Choices
Food variety triggers our appetite. One Penn State University study found that people who were offered three flavors of yogurt ate 20 percent more than those who were offered one flavor. When faced with a buffet, limit yourself to two items on your plate at a time, Wansink said. This will make it easier to control yourself.
Upselling--a marketing strategy that promotes upgrades or add-ons--encourages customers to spend a small amount to upgrade to a larger portion of food. Sure, you're getting a deal, but you're also getting more calories that you don't need. In a 2010 study in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, diners opted for larger portions when buying a combo meal than when buying a la carte.
If the television is on at the restaurant, sit with your back to it or ask for a table that isn't within your field of vision. Your belly will thank you. Chowing down in front of the television can increase your intake of high-calorie fare by as much as 71 percent, according to a study from UMass Amherst.