Eating out is not only a fact of life, it’s fun! And there’s no reason you shouldn’t eat out on The Center for Medical Weight Loss maintenance plan. Staying on track at a restaurant requires planning, though: We all know that. In previous articles, we’ve discussed how to choose wisely when dining out no matter what type of cuisine you choose. In this article, we discuss strategies to manage portion control when you eat out. We are all social beings, and dining together is one of the great pleasures of life. Socializing with family and friends over a great meal is a time-honored tradition in every culture around the globe. Unfortunately, this bonding time can also be a weight loss danger zone. No matter how healthy the choice is, if you eat too much of it, you’ll gain weight. Research indicates that, on average, we consume more calories when dining away from home than at home. Research also shows that average portion sizes of fast-food and restaurant meals increased markedly from 1977 through 1996. That said, there are a couple of strategies you can use to manage portions when you’re out. One that’s often used is putting half your meal into a take-home container as soon as the waiter brings it. However, another trick you can try is the 50/80 rule, and you may find that it helps you better understand hunger and fullness, even in a situation where it’s easy to eat mindlessly.  This 50/80 approach is a great way to reduce both the initial and subsequent serving sizes at your meal. It works great at restaurants. Here’s how to do it:

  1. First, ask the waiter to bring you two plates with your meal.
  2. When the waiter brings your meal, remove enough of the serving so that 50 percent of your plate becomes visible. In other words, the food should cover only 50 percent of your plate, leaving the other 50 percent exposed. Put the remainder on the extra plate.
  3. Eat the food attentively. The key is to make this first serving last as long as possible, which will help it to satisfy your hunger.
  4. When you’re done with this first serving, if you’re still hungry, you can go back for seconds (from the extra plate you filled). For this serving, put only enough food on your plate so that 80 percent of your plate is still visible (only 20 percent of the plate is covered by food). Eat this food attentively as well, paying close attention to your hunger. Are you really still hungry?
  5. You may have thirds, fourths, etc., but be sure to follow the “80 Rule” for these servings and eat them slowly and attentively.

The great thing about the 50/80 rule is that you can have as many ‘servings’ as you want, from the extra plate. You can also offer up a serving from the extra plate to anyone else eating with you. You’ll probably find that you enjoy sharing your meal and that you don’t need nearly as much food as restaurants typically provide. This activity also works great for buffets, so try it in this setting as well.
Here are some questions to ask yourself after you’ve eaten:

  1. If you know that you can have as many servings of food as you like, does that change how you approach eating each serving? How?
  2. How does sharing your meal with others make you feel? How does this affect your enjoyment of your food?
  3. Did this exercise change what you perceive as ‘enough’ food for you when eating out?

Try the 50/80 Rule the next time you head out to eat. You may find it’s an effective way to both control portions and share delicious food with your loved ones.