13 April 2011,

One of the biggest issues with maintaining a healthy weight is controlling caloric intake, particularly calories in restaurant food.

At the time I wrote this initial blog post, I was analyzing sources of calories ingested by Americans. Knee-deep in the nutrition section of every restuarant from McDonald’s to the Olive Garden, marvelling at the mass injection of sugar, corn, and fat being placed on American’s plates. Slightly stunned by the excess of it all, as I was back in Spain, where dinner consists of salty tapas and a ‘canya’, which is a little glass of beer.

Let’s be realistic about the probability of eating out: it is a staple to survival during times where email communication is considered an intimate affair. Do we have the time or attentional resources to cook?


Again, I am writing at the busiest time of the year, the holidays. So, we rely on restuarants almost entirely during these blessed two weeks.

First, the bad news. The bad news, is that by eating out at restaurants you are rendered with very little control over caloric intake and the calories in restaurant food. It’s not just the food, but the situational cues that will seduce you into eating so very much more than you had planned. Walking into Starbucks, you promise yourself to avoid the whip cream, the muffin, etc., yet in the split second between when the barista turns her head to make your order and the pause between payment, you choose a quick snack. That action is an ‘impulsive choice’, and it will take serious cognitive control and conditioning to stop the ‘ooh, please do just slip another cookie into the bag’ type behaviour.


Now, the good news. If you trade Starbucks for another coffee joint (let’s say McDonald’s even) those same situational cues won’t function in the same way. I promise! Now, McDonald’s is obviously not the best substitute, because the smell of french fries is enough to break even a Victoria Secret model’s dietary restraint, but you get my point. Find a new chain, and the same symbolic representations of food will not effect your brain, memory, and desire for treats in the same way.


Back in Spain, we have relatively fewer Starbucks, food is served in miniscule proportions (comparitively speaking), and socializing is the national sport. I do have to say, these factors contribute to a society with very little obesity. It is not simply an issue of ‘eating less’, but finding ways to do so. Changing your environments is a great way to avoid the same kinds of temptations that will keep the scale from moving.


Increasing the probability of your success for maintaining or initiating weight loss is my speciality, and finding novel ways to get you over the hump of wanting one more cookie is how I hope to be of help.


Please see the introduction of the book I have co authored with James Fell, LA Time Fitness Columnist at: www.bodyforwife.com


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