Eating out: Making us fat—and poor

There’s no denying the U.S. is an overweight nation. And the problem doesn’t solely lie in our cookie jars at home.

Every day of the week in our supersize nation, people pile into their giant, gas-guzzling SUVs and drive to whatever nearby restaurant sounds best that day. Where the vast majority of the menu items are carb- and sugar-laden. And—despite commercials touting special deals—not even so cheap. A family of four can easily rack up a $100 tab at any chain restaurant.

In fact, a new study I read shows that people are routinely blowing this type of money on eating out. And it’s taking just as much of a toll on their bank accounts as it is on their waistlines.

The study of more than 12,500 people, published by Public Health Nutrition, showed that dining out is the No. 1 thing Americans spent money on in 2014. It ranked above entertainment, travel, and clothing.

The researchers also concluded that when people eat out, they consume around 200 calories more than people who cook and eat at home.

I’ve said this before, but now I’m going to say it as financial advice in addition to health advice: Stop eating out. (Or—at the very least—limit it to special occasions. And choose restaurants that serve quality food rather than unlimited French fries and desserts the size of football helmets.)

Make it a point to cook at home.

Don’t get me wrong. I know it’s not cheap to get top-quality salmon, macadamia nut oil or the purest dark chocolate. After all, I wrote just last month about the widening gap between healthy and non-healthy food prices . I think it’s a tragedy, and it makes me mad.

But I think this new study proves sticking with the Standard American Diet (SAD)—and the frequent dining out that accompanies it—doesn’t really save you anything. And in the long run, will cost you far more than extra money spent on tips.

So here’s my challenge to you: Don’t eat out for a whole month. Put the money you would spend each week at restaurants toward grocery shopping. Buy the foods I recommend in my New Hamptons Health Miracle: fresh fish, veggies, nuts, lean proteins.

I know it will still make a dent in your budget. But think long-term, and weigh the benefits of eating well now against higher long-term medical bills. Insurance and medical costs aren’t going down. Consider it a financial strategy to eat well: invest now, dividends later, plenty of savings overall.

Of course, I know not everyone can afford wild-caught fish, organic grass-fed meats, and the best organic fruits and veggies. If that’s the case, please don’t throw up your hands and head for the hills (or the Ho-Hos).

Just do the best you can by buying the best you can afford. And keep away from the sugar, carbs, and essentially anything in a box or can.

Stay in the perimeter of your supermarket. Don’t even go down the middle aisles, which are stacked with cake mixes, deceptive processed “whole grain” breads, and chips and cookies aplenty.

And if organic simply isn’t in your budget, go ahead and buy “regular” (non-organic) versions of the fruit, veggies, seafood and lean meats. They’re still far better for you than anything you would order at Olive Garden or TGI Friday’s.


“The impact of restaurant consumption among US adults: effects on energy and nutrient intakes,” Public Health Nutrition 2014; 17(11): 2,445-2,452