Hidden calories are what I call those calories we regularly consume without really knowing how many of them we're eating. When you go to a restaurant, you generally have no idea how the food was prepared.
Was it sauteed in butter? How much? It's hard to get a handle.
With fast food restaurants and chain restaurants, you can often get the information if you're willing to ask or look online. (But most people don't!) With a Mom and Pop restaurant, chances are Mom and Pop don't even know how many calories the spaghetti with meatballs packs.
Getting a handle
If you're a fast food consumer, you'll want to check out my fast food nutrition pages. You can also visit each restaurant's website to get nutrition information for all their dishes and usually even their condiments.
Chain sit-down restaurants sometimes have the information online, sometimes don't. You may want to check Calorie King to see if they have any info on a particular dish at a particular restaurant.
The point is, when you eat out you give away a good deal of control over what you're putting into your body! Restaurant and fast food calories can really sneak up on you.
(And even when you eat in, it's easy to lose track. And if weight loss or weight maintenance is a goal, keeping track is essential. Have you tried keeping a diet journal?)
Tips for keeping your restaurant and fast food calories down
Okay, here's my #1 tip:
Don't eat out as often!
But when you do, here are some more tips and tricks:
Salads aren't necessarily healthy or low cal. Creamy dressings will kill a diet!
Skip the appetizers and desserts. Just because appetizers and desserts are on the menu doesn't mean you have to eat them! And the same thing goes for any "free bread" they lay on your table. There's no such thing as a free calorie!
Drink water. Lots of it. Yes, the restaurant and your server want you to consume as much food and drink as possible, but that doesn't mean you have to. Outsmart them by drinking water. It'll fill you up, and you won't be drinking calorie-laden soft drinks or alcohol!
Order from the left side of the menu. In these days of portion distortion, sometimes the only reasonably sized food is among the Appetizers, Side Dishes, or Kids' Menu! Instead of skipping the appetizer, skip the entree!
Plan on getting a doggie bag. Restaurant portions usually provide enough for at least two meals. Plan on eating only half of what you're served. Or - better yet - ask for them to put half the meal in a doggie bag for you before they even serve it! Out of sight, out of mind.
Try NOT opening the menu. Instead of ordering from all the fatty, sweet, oversized offerings, order something you know the size and calorie content of. "I'll have a small filet of broiled salmon with a side of grilled vegetables."
Is there a restaurant you can walk to? You pay a money price for the convenience of eating out. Why not assess yourself an exercise price for the added calories???
Skip the soda. Don't you love how fast food restaurants let you pour your own drink now? Fast food calories really add up when you make repeated trips to the soda fountain. Try this: ask for a cup for water and make repeated trips to the water fountain.
Oh, and here's something you probably never thought of:
Separate checks can save calories!
Have you ever had this experience? You go out with a bunch of people and everybody orders like crazy! It's human nature. If you order three drinks, the added cost is split among all the people there. One person orders appetizers, so everyone orders appetizers. (And you try everything.)
There's actually a financial incentive to order and eat more than you would otherwise!
Unfortunately, unlike the check, the added calories you eat aren't split with the people you're partying with. You pay for all of those restaurant calories with added inches on your waistline.
Separate checks will save you from paying - with money and pounds - for everyone else's excess.
More on hidden calories.
More on fast food calories and nutrition.
Seek professional help (from me!) about your weight issues.
My weight loss pages.