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Calorie Counts on Menus

Earlier this year, Philadelphia joined New York in requiring that chain restaurants print calorie counts on their menus. Even I was astounded, when I ate out a few days ago. I was fascinated by how high the calorie counts were for almost every item.

The calorie counts didn’t change what I had planned to order. They just reinforced my choices. Even before I got to the restaurant (my first time at this chain), I knew I’d most likely skip the appetizers, caloric drinks, and dessert, and have some kind of protein (with minimal sauce), a vegetable, a starch, and a piece of bread. I knew I’d have to ask for my food without added butter or oil. And I also knew that I would probably eat about 2/3 of the protein, all the vegetable, and part of the starch. That’s what I did.

I knew I could have ordered anything on the menu but I would have had to eat much smaller portions and possibly tolerate hunger and cravings later on. I WISH I could have chosen different food and eaten larger portions, but I know that this is what I have to do to maintain my weight. And it’s worth it.

If I ate out at restaurants more often, I would have to eat even smaller portions. Restaurant food is simply significantly more caloric than the food I eat at home.

Or, if I ate at restaurants more often, or consumed more when I dined out, I’d have to accept the fact that my weight would be higher. I think the latter option is fine for dieters and maintainers to choose (as long as they can maintain a healthy weight).

What is not fine is for dieters to stick their heads in the sand and pretend that restaurant meals are lower calorie than they really are. I’m continually amazed by dieters who consume a couple of very caloric dinners per week and are then surprised when they don’t lose weight. I hope that more restaurants will include calorie counts so dieters can make informed (and better) decisions.

Don’t Fool Yourself: Brenda

Another Beck Diet Solution Dieter is Brenda, a 49 year-old self-described lover of carbs.  Throughout the past two decades, Brenda has tried dieting at least 20 times. But whenever she lost weight, she always gained it back in less time than it had taken her to lose it.  Brenda started out our group on a carb-counting diet. After she had lost 18 pounds in five months, her weight loss stagnated –  she was fooling herself by allowing too many carbs to creep back into her diet. (“It won’t really matter if I don’t count [this carb-heavy food].”)

Brenda had two choices: cut her carbs again or switch diets (a skill learned in Day 2 of The Beck Diet Solution). She decided to switch to a program in which she counts points (analogous to counting calories) so she could have more of what she loves: carbs.

Two weeks ago Brenda made the switch and has now already gone down another 1 ½ pounds.  At this week’s meeting, we discussed a breakfast she planned to eat at her favorite restaurant in a few days. This was a typical breakfast she used to have when she wasn’t dieting. Again we discovered that Brenda was “fooling herself” (Day 19) – this time, by not taking into account all ingredients (especially the butter and half and half) that would go into the breakfast. She was shocked to see how many points it would use up. (In the description below, we’ve converted points to calories.).

2 Eggs: 180 Calories
2 Pieces of Rye Toast: 160 Calories
4 Pieces of Bacon: 200 Calories
Butter/Oil (for cooking and for toast): 200 Calories
½ and ½ (for coffee): 40 Calories

=780 Calories

What Brenda thought would be a reasonable breakfast turned out to contain more than 2/3rds of her points allotment for the entire day.  Our diet group members suggested reasonable alternatives:

3 Egg Whites: 51 Calories
1 Piece of Wheat Toast: 65 Calories
2 Pieces Turkey Bacon: 70 Calories
Butter: 36 Calories
Nonfat Milk: 15 Calories

=237 Calories

Brenda realized that it just wasn’t worth it to eat the original meal she had planned when she could be satisfied with something similar. This was an important learning experience for Brenda and the group—how easy it is too fool yourself about how much you’re eating.