When I tell people about my food-related endeavors, their first reaction is usually this: “But you don’t look like you eat that much!” People seem to have the general impression that people who love eating must be overweight.
I am fortunate to say that even though my eating habits have changed a lot in the past few years as I became more preoccupied with food, my body has not seen a commensurate change. Here are some tips I follow to make sure that I can sample a wide variety of good food on a daily basis without putting on weight.
1. Heighten your bar for what you eat. Don’t eat food that you don’t enjoy.
I’m always trying to maximize the gustatory pleasure that I derive from each calorie. That means not eating things that taste plain or bad, which I consider to be empty calorie. Two prime examples are rice and bread. When I go to a restaurant and am served with a piece of bread or a bun first thing, I rarely eat it. I did not come to restaurant for the bread, and therefore I’d rather save my “stomach space” for the real food that I will be ordering later on.
2. Don’t feel compelled to order entrées.
Having grown up in Asia, I can say with confidence that the entrées in pretty much all American restaurants I’ve visited are grossly oversized. When I order an entrée for myself, I almost always become full while half of the dish is still on the plate. We can’t change the dish sizes, but we can change how we order. Instead of an entrée, order an appetizer. A rule of thumb I sometimes use is this: At a regularly priced American sit-down restaurant, I can usually eat about $15 worth of food before I become stuffed. If the price of the dish is over $15, that means I won’t be able to finish it.
3. Share dishes.
If you have to order an entrée, share it with a friend. Sharing can increase the variety of food that you are able to taste. You and your friend can talk about the food and enhance bonding.
4. Talk more while eating.
When you go out to eat with friends, try being more talkative during the meal. Because you can’t eat and talk at the same time, this will slow down your eating considerably and allow you to consume less food in total without even realizing it. Slow eating is especially helpful in social settings: Many people end up eating more than they should because they eat faster than their friends, and while waiting for their friends to finish they have nothing to do so they eat more.
5. Don’t be tricked by the names of food items.
A “kiddie cup” at an ice cream shop in the US holds about twice as much ice cream as a regular cup in Japan. Don’t feel that only kids should order the “kiddie cup” or the “mini-burrito.” The food names should not be an indicator of who should order what. Know thyself.
6. Eat some, take some home.
When I go to a bakery and get a sandwich, I always ask for it to be cut in half. I would eat half, and keep the other half for a later meal. When we become full while eating at a restaurant, how many of us have kept eating just because there is still food left on the plate? We must overcome the “food is either eaten now or wasted” mentality. Saving food for later will leave you off better both physically and financially.
7. Give food away.
If you know that you can’t finish a food item and no smaller sizes are available, ask for it to be cut or divided when you order it. Eat your portion and give the rest to the homeless or others in need. Food is much better off in their stomach than in yours.
8. Overcome the “eat my money’s worth” mentality.
Everyone has had this moment: You continue eating even though you are stuffed, just because you paid for it. You feel like you must get every cent’s worth of your food by consuming every last grain. Here’s the reality: money spent on food is a sunk cost. The rational individual will determine whether to continue eating or not by thinking about the marginal utility that can be derived from each additional bite. When you are stuffing yourself with additional food after you become full, you are deriving negative utility: It makes you feel bad afterwards, and you will need to go to the gym to run it off.
The next time that you feel enslaved to the “eat my money’s worth” mentality, think about how much money and time it costs to get a gym membership or personal trainer to shed all those calories. Think about the medical bills that you will incur as a result of obesity-related diseases like heart disease.
9. Ask for a smaller portion.
If you are ordering something that perishes fast and cannot be saved for later (such as ice cream, froyo, or milkshake), try asking for a smaller portion. This will save the restaurant money and ensure that no food is wasted. Even though you are paying the same price, remember that excessive eating results in negative utility, so you are making yourself better off by eating just the right amount.
10. Try going out for lunch, instead of dinner.
The less food you have in your stomach when you go to bed, the better. If there’s a new fancy restaurant around the block that you want to try out, why not go for lunch instead of dinner? Lunch menus usually taste as good and are much cheaper. Eating out for lunch will give you time to digest and adjust your dinner plans accordingly. If you had a heavy lunch, you may want to have a salad or some fruits for dinner. On the other hand, if you have a heavy dinner, you hardly have time to digest before bed. Remember these five words: nighttime eating predicts weight gain.
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