A 1,200 Calorie Meal No One Needs

High calorie restaurant meal

I read an article by my friend Liz Neporent on the ABC news website a few months ago that I haven’t been able to completely get out of my mind.

She wrote that a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the average sit down restaurant meal has an average of over 1,200 calories, which is more than that found in many fast food meals. Breakfast calories averaged 1,226 calories, lunches at sit-down restaurants averaged 1,000 calories, and dinner calories averaged 1,128 calories.

Wow. For a lot of women, that is how many calories they eat when dieting.

I remember reading that thinking to myself, “No wonder I gained weight so quickly during the first years of our marriage.” Not only did I eat badly at home, but John and I went out to eat at sit-down restaurants very regularly. And when I say regularly, I mean at least four times a week for dinner and at least three times a week for lunch.

We weren’t all that picky. We would eat at buffet style restaurants, Applebee’s, Bennigan’s, local Italian restaurants, and any other restaurant that struck our fancy at the time.

I chose meals based on quantity rather than quality, meaning I probably ate more than the average listed in Liz’s article. It wasn’t unusual for me to have an appetizer, a large meal, and dessert. In fact, it was pretty typical.

As I read that article it made me think about you all. And it brought to mind a question.

[poll id=”3″]

I will find it interesting to see the responses because, for me, I eat out much less often than I did before I lost weight. While I was losing weight I still ate out, but the frequency decreased month after month along the way until I rarely ate out anymore.

The calories weren’t worth it, the food often wasn’t great, and I liked being in control of what ingredients went into my meal.

Were you surprised that the average meal at a sit-down restaurant had so many calories? How do you handle eating out? Diane

21 thoughts on “A 1,200 Calorie Meal No One Needs

  1. Leah says:

    Wow, 1200 calories for breakfast meal, that’s pretty crazy. Like you, I’ve been through periods of going out to eat regularly but I’ve cut that down now. Maybe there’s a correlation between obesity and the how often people eat out…hmm……

  2. Jeremy Logsdon says:

    Yikes; that is definitely a lot of calories!

    We still eat out more than I wish we did, and frequently, we eat out for convenience and not as a treat. I always regret it; my body never feels as good after a meal out as it does after a meal I cooked myself.

  3. Melissa K says:

    Not only do we eat out a lot less, I find we are much more selective about where we eat out as well. We tend to choose the restaurants that have healthy options and fresh food compared to the big chains that reheat most of their food.

  4. Ba says:

    Here’s where being unable to eat wheat is beneficial I guess. I almost always order salad when I go out because I like it and it’s often the only thing that doesn’t contain wheat. I am far too cheap to order a steak dinner when I’m out – I’d rather just make it at home if that’s what I feel like eating. We eat 95% of our meals at the same place – so I often decide on the way there what I’m having (which salad usually, they have a nice assortment). The place we go is a pub, they make all their own food, have 70 interesting beers on tap and don’t have a deep fryer in the place. We chat with the staff (who we know well after many years of regular visits), we each sample two beers (my husband is a brewer) and eat our salads. While I don’t count calories, I have in the past and would estimate that my salad (served on a salad-sized plate rather than a dinner plate) is well under 500 calories. The beer of course has calories, but for a once a week splurge it doesn’t seem to have caused me any problems in maintenance. I never eat breakfast or lunch out unless I’m traveling.

  5. Kyra says:

    We live in the country, so we rarely ever go out to eat (I even have gift certificates I haven’t used for over a year.) Honestly, I don’t eat out unless I’m going to have something decadent. To spend the amount of money on a healthy dish that I know I can make 10 of at home for the same price is really hard for me. So, when I do go out, I enjoy it (and make sure it’s worth it.) Otherwise, I avoid it.

    I am amazed at the calorie counts on dishes, however. I think you must have to really try hard to add calories like that. Yeesh!

  6. Stacy says:

    We rarely go out to eat for dinner, and I try to bring salads or leftover for lunch to work with me. When we do go out to eat one or two times a month…I do splurge. I like to try to different foods and maybe make them at home (if they aren’t too unhealthy). I like to cook, so for me eating out is just a rare treat.

  7. Dr. J says:

    I feel that many great meals can be eaten if we are willing to retrain ourselves. Take the photo of the meal at the top of this column. Lobster is not a very high calorie food. Just do not dip it in butter but rather find a low calorie cocktail sauce to use if you must. Same with the other shell fish. Corn on the cob. Nothing wrong there either, it’s the salt and butter that is the problem. Use mustard of nothing on it. Baked potato. It’s the toppings. That photo meal would probably be less than 500 calories eaten that way, maybe less if you worked really hard to get the meat out of the lobster shell 🙂

  8. Meghan Rich says:

    I eat out about 3-4 times a week but have still maintained my 35 lb weight loss. I also know the calorie count of manyany sit down restaurants . I also am the pickiest one ordering to modify meals to my needs. It can be done and one can be thin but it takes vigilance and self control. Also, I never go out to breakfast or lunch just dinner. I guess people should do what works for them but I have been able to eat out and remain thin.

  9. Janis says:

    It makes sense to me because I tend to eat a meal at a nice sit-down restaurant and then be pretty much done for the day. Not deliberately, but I always felt too damn full after one to eat much of anything else until about lunch the next day. When I used to live someplace with lots of good restaurants in easy walking distance, I’d wake up on Saturday, bum around and have coffee, get things done until around 3pm, then go get a nice meal, and then that was it for eating for the rest of the day. It makes sense if that was a whole day’s calories.

  10. Linda says:

    I also used to eat out a lot more and looked so forward to how much I could pack it in! Now, I am like you Diane and many others in that eating out is not a reward anymore. It’s a lot easier and cheaper to eat from home. We do eat out very occasionally. It was a shock to see how many calories can be in one restaurant meal though!!

  11. Jenea Mason says:

    I had absolutely no idea that it was that many calories! It makes sense though because I’ve noticed, almost always, that the main course is usually the biggest part of the plate with a huge side of some kind of potatoes like fries or mashed potatoes and the veggie is the usually the smallest part of the plate-if there are any. A lot of the dishes are cooked in some kind of cream sauce too. It’s bad news and it really makes me not want to eat out anymore. I still eat out on occasion but it is significantly less than before I started becoming healthy.

  12. Marc says:

    Hi Diane, my wife and I usually eat at the same Diner 90 percent of the time. I can order my Salmon with two sides of broccoli there. That picture reminds me of the one and only time I went to Red Lobster. I ordered some shrimp and crab legs. It was delivered to our table literally swimming in melted butter sauce. It came with a corn on the cob, and a baked potato that was sitting in the pool of melted butter sauce. It was a sticky greasy mess. I went away thinking to myself…I paid XX of dollars for this experience? I couldn’t understand why everyone I know says the words RED LOBSTER like it’s a dying man’s last request.

  13. Lisa says:

    It definitely depends on if you make good choices. For example, I got french toast at a restaurant in Seattle last weekend but I asked to have the order off the kid’s menu instead of the normal one. It was still large, but it was definitely a better choice! (And they were amazing.) The next day for breakfast I got 2 eggs with a piece of ham and there was some gruyere on it. That was definitely delicious and not a calorie bomb!

    As a general rule, I avoid things like waffles, pancakes and full orders of french toast. French toast is enough, I never need sausage and bacon and eggs too! Some restaurants are insane!

  14. Jody - Fit at 55 says:

    I am not at all surprised by the calories in the meals. In CA, larger chains have to post this & I read it all the time but I looked it up before they had to post it. 🙂 I just don’t find it worth eating out to me. I have a couple places I can find stuff to go but otherwise I just sit & have steamed veggies – dry – when others eat. I just prefer to eat my own stuff unless I plan for it & really want it.. RARE! 🙂

  15. Karen J says:

    We live in a large suburban area with plenty of great restaurants, but we usually eat out only twice a week. We rarely go out for breakfast or lunch (my husband makes GREAT gluten free pancakes!), but we usually do dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings. When eating out, I am conscious of making good choices, i.e., no sauces, breading, fried, etc., but whatever I do order, I eat half of and save half for a dinner during the week. Sometimes there is a smaller version of a dinner entrée served as an appetizer and I’ll order that with a side veggie. Because I limit my eating out and because my appetite is very small, I usually don’t worry about my weight. Eating out is a nice break from meal planning during the week!

  16. Emma says:

    For me, it’s about moderation. Yes, we eat out but I’m considered about what it is exactly that I eat. I love eating out with my family because for us, it’s not just about the food actually it isn’t. It’s about being together and having a fun time.

    I can never finish a full plate of restaurant food, the portion sizes are too large but I know when I’m full and I stop at exactly that point so find no problem in eating out.

    I think danger sets in when you stop yourself from eating certain things or going out to eat. You can lose weight and eat out you just need to make sensible choices.

  17. pamela says:

    I’m still on my journey. Right now focusing on counting calories. Similarly to how you describe your early habits not including cooking every meal, I rely on eating out a lot. I currently have a couple of meals that I can rotate from fast foods restaurants if I’m in I’m a bind. I have a go to at Wendy’s and a go to at Subway. Even though eating fast food is not my ideal healthy lifestyle, I would rather have a safety than finding myself tired and unprepared then in a Taco Bell drive through ordering two of everything. At sit down restaurants, I’ve tried to change my new normal to ordering an appetizer and a house salad. I often find that the appetizers sound more interesting than most entrees. I also often order a side or two with a salad. With that being said, I still try to choose smart and get a shrimp cocktail or similar.

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