Sucking the fun out of eating at restaurants

by Khushboo on April 29, 2013

Hey guys!  I’ve been coming across various articles on researchers suggesting a new way to encourage people to make healthier food choices at restaurants: Replace calories counts on menus with the number of brisk walking a person would need to completely burn off what they just eat.  For example: a quarter-pound double cheeseburger requires 2 hours of brisk walking for a woman to burn the calories. While I am all for increasing activity levels and leading healthier lifestyles, I think this strategy is a terrible idea.

Indigo Deli - Mumbai

Indigo Deli – Mumbai

To an extent we all know that eating at restaurants will probably be less healthy than a meal at home, both in terms of ingredients and portion size.  However for many people (including myself), eating at restaurants encapsulates far more than the notion that “food is fuel”.  It involves the ritual of eating a delicious meal; the social value that comes with eating with others; the novelty of not having to cook/clean.  I don’t know about you but constantly being reminded that I should compensate for my meal with an excessively long brisk walk later would definitely put a damper on the whole dining experience.   While I know most desserts would take over an hour of brisk walking to burn off, sometimes ignorance really is bliss.

212 - Mumbai

212 – Mumbai

Along with sucking the fun out of eating out, it’s a bit absurd to try and standardize the amount of activity required.  Based on our age, weight, lifestyles, gender, etc we all produce a different calorie burn.  However let’s pretend that the activity duration prescribed is accurate for a second.  It hardly tackles the attempt to promote a healthier society and empower customers to make better food choices.  Healthy lifestyles go beyond calories.  If anything, these revamped menus will promote the illusion of some unified measure of healthiness that low calories always equals good and high calories indicate bad.  Take the classic examples of salmon and avocado: both are ridiculously healthy yet also do come with their fair share of calories.  Does the fact that they might require slightly longer to burn off mean customers should avoid them?

The Pantry - Mumbai

The Pantry – Mumbai

As much as I applaud researchers for seeking ways to encourage a healthier society, equating meals in terms of how to “burn it off” is more likely to foster an eating disorder.  This kind of information only makes the obsessed more obsessed, while having little or no impact on those who aren’t interested in eating healthier.  At this stage, I personally think restaurants could adapt other strategies that would be far more effective:

  • Offer such information on websites/separate leaflets: those who are truly interested can seek it out
  • Provide nutritional information beyond calories i.e. display the dish’s carbs, fat and protein content alongside calories
  • Increase the number of options of healthy, portion-controlled dishes on the menu…and that means offering more than just a pathetic wilted salad.  Make people WANT to choose these dishes
  • Insert symbols on menus to indicate the more nutritious dishes

I would love to hear your thoughts…

Would you want to see how long you’d have to walk to burn off your meal?  

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{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

Katy April 29, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Totally agree with you. When I go to a restaurant, I’m there to indulge and not feel guilty about what I eat because I rarely eat out anyway. Definitely don’t need to be reminded that I’m techinically “cheating” and have to feel bad for myself!

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Khushboo April 29, 2013 at 6:15 pm

These menu additions only do more harm than good by creating feelings of guilt.

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Sam @ Better With Sprinkles April 29, 2013 at 5:44 pm

I am 100% with you on this one. I saw that suggestion and thought it was ridiculous – it’s insane to try and standardize something like that! I mean, if I compared how long it would take me to ‘burn off’ a meal compared to someone who was twice my age and 60 pounds heavier, there would be quite a difference there.

I like it when restaurants make the nutritional content available without shoving it in your face. So I can look if I want to, or avoid it if I’d rather not know. And of course, making the healthier options actually look enticing would help a lot too!

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Khushboo April 29, 2013 at 6:16 pm

Totally agree- it’s nice to have the option of knowing your meal’s nutrition but it shouldn’t be shoved in our face!

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Picky Nicky April 29, 2013 at 5:45 pm

I hate the idea too because it implies that we need to burn off every calorie we eat, when in reality about half the calories we eat are used just to keep our brains and organs functioning!!!

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Khushboo April 29, 2013 at 6:16 pm

Perfectly said….our bodies burn calories even when we aren’t moving, let alone brisk walking!

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Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin April 29, 2013 at 5:46 pm

I agree that I don’t really like this idea. It almost creates the idea that we have to burn off every last thing that we eat, which obviously isn’t true!

However, I think some form of calorie counts or nutrition information would be a good idea for certain restaurants. Not for sit down or fine dining restaurants where people are likely dining there for the experience and the social aspect and probably don’t eat there very often. But I think they would be a good idea for fast food restaurants, where people are usually just eating for convenience and may eat there quite frequently.

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Khushboo April 29, 2013 at 6:18 pm

That’s a good point about the kinds of places where such info would be more relevant, especially when eating at certain joints become a regular occurrence.

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Amanda @ .running with spoons. April 29, 2013 at 5:55 pm

There’s definitely more to healthy living than calories, and while I think that it’s a good idea for restaurants to have the nutritional value of their dishes available, I don’t think it’s a good idea to put it right on the menu. Like you said, that’s just asking for obsession, and dining out is all about the experience, where ignorance really can be bliss. I’m also not a big fan of the idea that we need to burn off everything we eat, nor do I like the generalized one-size-fits-all approach. Why can’t we just enjoy our food without obsessing over numbers? If restaurants are really concerned about their customers’ health, they should start offering more nutritious meals made with quality ingredients. But will they? Probably not… it’s not as profitable for them.

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Khushboo April 29, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Sadly improving their bottom line definitely seems to trump restaurant’s desire to contribute to a healthier society.

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Michael April 29, 2013 at 6:33 pm

I’m torn between whether this is good or bad. I don’t go out to restaurants often, but when I do go out, I want to enjoy myself. With that being said, there are enormous restaurant dishes I wouldn’t dare order, regardless of their calorie content or how many miles I need to walk.

I think there is an opportunity for restaurants to provide healthy and delicious meals. And if you want something different, just don’t read the extra info!

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Khushboo April 29, 2013 at 8:38 pm

If this ever goes through, I just hope that the extra info is in small print to enable customers like us to skim past it!

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Rachel @ Eat, Learn, Discover! April 29, 2013 at 7:19 pm

Just no. Living in NYC, there are calorie counts at nearly every fast food restaurant, and it’s started to drive me crazy. There were days when I would have loved this, but when I think about it it’s just too much. When I’m at a restaurant, I don’t want to feel any shred of guilt about what I’m eating – I want to enjoy the meal! Yes, it would be great if the restaurant would offer healthier options, but hey – if a person wants to order something not-so-healthy, let them enjoy it. It’s not up to a restaurant to tell people they can’t enjoy their food without having to burn it off right away.

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Khushboo April 29, 2013 at 8:39 pm

I’m with you about a change in views- at one point, I would have been thrilled to know exactly how many cals my meal contained.

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Parita @ myinnershakti April 29, 2013 at 7:42 pm

I was unsure about this as well. I think the better approach is what you said – outline key nutrients and create a legand so that customers are well informed about healthy choices. Fear based tactics don’t do any good. I think an educational approach would work better.

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Khushboo April 29, 2013 at 8:40 pm

An educational approach is also much more encouraging to those who do want to eat healthier but have no idea how to go about doing so.

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Alexis @ Hummusapien April 29, 2013 at 8:17 pm

I most definitely do not want or need to know how many hours of tennis or brisk walking it would take to burn off my meal. Such a fun sucker! Just like you said, healthy eating is SO much more than calories and eating out is SO much more than ordering healthy food. I think it would be great to have optional nutritional information available for people who want it.

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Khushboo April 29, 2013 at 8:42 pm

At best, menus could contain a byline with something along the lines of “Nutritional information available upon request”

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P April 29, 2013 at 8:56 pm

I agree with you in that it would not be accurate to list the “equivalent” exercise needed to burn off the meal that was just consumed, since everyone has a different metabolism, body composition, etc. That’s what really bothered me when this idea was even suggested!

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Khushboo April 29, 2013 at 9:14 pm

There’s no way a generic calorie burn could apply to even a fraction of the population- absolutely nuts!

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dixya@food, pleasure, and health April 29, 2013 at 9:23 pm

I absolutely hate the idea of having all the information right there in front of me – common we all know – french fries are obviously higher in calories compared to salad..I want to enjoy those fries and not feel bad about it..I would rather enjoy the fries in moderation rather than stressing about my post-fries workout.. Few restaurants are doing great job providing nutrition info in details, have green sign indicating healthier options, and offering healthier choices for people who are interested and I like that.. But at the same time – its really hard for me to trust restaurant calories after watching this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hE2lna5Wxuo

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Khushboo April 29, 2013 at 11:13 pm

Thank you so much for sharing that video- I’m very shocked…especially of that sandwich claiming to contain only 50% of its actual calorie content!

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Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table April 29, 2013 at 9:24 pm

I agree with everything you said! There’s isn’t a one size fits all. While I think restaurants should be held more accountable for how they prepare food, it’s the individual’s choice. Give me all the facts so I can make my own, well-informed, decision!

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Khushboo April 29, 2013 at 11:15 pm

Restaurants definitely do need to be held in how they prepare certain foods….that should be much more of a priority than filling menus with generic information.

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z @ kickingkilos April 29, 2013 at 9:41 pm

I know what you mean.
It would be good if they would provide the same on a seprate piece of paper like you mentioned.
Btw those cookies look delish. I wish I coudl have one of those soon 😉

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Khushboo April 29, 2013 at 11:15 pm

Those cookies are my weakness!

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Hannah @ CleanEatingVeggieGirl April 29, 2013 at 10:25 pm

I definitely do not like this concept, especially since the amount of calories that I burn walking is going to be far different than the amount of calories that someone who weighs 100 pounds more than me is going to burn. They would definitely be lacking some serious accuracy in this respect.

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Khushboo April 29, 2013 at 11:16 pm

The number listed would probably apply to a very marginal percentage of customers!

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Alex @ therunwithin April 30, 2013 at 12:08 am

I am still on that boat of hating having calories on menus right in front of you. I really don’t think it is necessary, sure put them online so people can look them up if they really need to but i would rather just eat and not think about that. Plus, i bet most of the time they are off. I mean how can each restaurant in that chain with different people cooking be the same

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Khushboo April 30, 2013 at 9:17 am

Exactly…there’s no way that employees use the exact same amount of a certain ingredient every time they create a dish!

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Tara @ Sweat like a Pig April 30, 2013 at 12:25 am

Oh man, that is a terrible idea! I can’t imagine living in the US where calorie counts are on everything. On the rare occasion I eat at a restaurant that displays the calorie counts, I freak out! Ignorance is bliss in my case – I want to enjoy my meal, knowing that it’s probably not as healthy as what I would make at home, but not caring! I would probably never order dessert again if the menu told me I’d have to spend 5 hours burning it off. Not to mention that calories in/calories out idea is antiquated anyway!

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Khushboo April 30, 2013 at 9:32 am

Hopefully restaurants will realise that providing this extra info is likely to scare away customers and do more harm than good to their profit levels!

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Shakira April 30, 2013 at 3:17 am

I agree that it is fundamentally impossible to standardise the amount of exercise required.

I’m going to be slightly contrarian here and admit that I like to see calories on menus. Although I agree that the quality of calorie matters (an avocado at 300 kcal is obviously a far better choice than a side of chips), we should not overlook the quantity. The obvious issue is that it is very difficult to standardise the amount of calories in a dish in a restaurant – different chefs use different amounts of each ingredients and even 1 tablespoon more of olive oil in a whole main course can add an extra 120 kcal. That’s probably what explains the calorie discrepancies in the video above – e.g. for the burrito, it’s very easy to add in a bit more avocado, a bit more mayo and use a slightly larger tortilla. It all adds up!

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Khushboo April 30, 2013 at 10:10 am

Especially for people on calorie-controlled diet, that extra squirt of mayo or slices of avocado can make all the difference….as could being told they have to walk 30 minutes to burn off the meal when they’re more likely to need an 60+ minutes.

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Sophia April 30, 2013 at 3:44 am

“you just suck the fun out of everything” (freaky Friday!) I totally agree, food is SO much more then calories- surely eating out should promote a healthy joy with food and perhaps if they focused on promoting cruelty free meat, local ingredients it would be a better step then promoting a relationship with food as just something that must be burnt off! Love and peace Sophia

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Khushboo April 30, 2013 at 10:11 am

Hahah thanks for the Freaky Friday throwback- love that movie! 🙂

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Miss Polkadot April 30, 2013 at 4:47 am

Say what?! I honestly hoped you were joking only because that idea seems so ridiculous.
As you said dining out is a special experience that shouldn’t be ruined by feeling like you had to “aquire” the allowance to enjoy a certain dish. It’s one of those moments where you want to pick what you feel like not based on numbers. I agree with you that – if at all – restaurants should offer nutritional information separately or on their website. I actually don’t know of any non-chain restaurant offering nutritional information in Germany. As long as it’s not a daily occurence eating out should be a time to turn off worries about calories and macros.

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Khushboo April 30, 2013 at 10:12 am

I guess that’s one pro about India not being so up to mark with healthy eating (at least not to the extent of the US): it’s gonna be a looong while until we see calorie count/exercise burn info on menus!

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Meghan @ After the Ivy League April 30, 2013 at 5:07 am

Such a great post and issue to discuss! I would absolutely not want to see that information either. It can also promote some unhealthy activities, like women thinking that they need to burn off everything they eat through activity. Some people don’t realize that your body is burning calories just sitting there on the couch surviving..that needs to get factored in too when you’re paying close attention to what you’re eating. Either way, I think it’s a risky strategy.

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Khushboo April 30, 2013 at 10:13 am

It’s like that dumb belief that we shouldn’t eat before bed- our bodies still burn calories while we sleep!

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Sara @ Nourish and Flourish April 30, 2013 at 5:38 am

Fabulous post! There was a time when I’d only eat at restaurants that posted full nutrition information on their sites; I needed to to be able to count every calorie that was passing my lips, otherwise it was a no-go. This meant that on trips I’d choose fast food over fresh food–I’d favored chains that served meals packed with additives, sodium, preservatives (and who knows what else) over those that didn’t. All because of those damn numbers. I can’t imagine what I would have done had a menu told me I needed to walk three hours after eating X dish. Oh wait, actually I can. I would have walked or run for three hours! 😉

I’m obviously very opposed to the proposal of offering information like this on menus. I think large restaurants should make calorie, fat, protein, carb and sodium counts available on their websites or, as you suggested, separate pamphlets. I also agree that the calories in vs. calories out equation is far more complex than a walking figure would suggest. So many factors play into a person’s metabolism; to generalize it is silly and irresponsible.

When I go out to eat, I want to enjoy my meal free of numbers. Restaurant dining is about the food and the experience—not a mathematical equation!

Hugs! <3 xoxo

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Khushboo April 30, 2013 at 10:15 am

Your comment definitely hit home with me! When I was losing weight, I’d choose restaurants based on whether I could find their calorie count or points value online. Even at supermarkets, it would be very rare for me to buy a product without a NV label!

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honeywhatscooking April 30, 2013 at 7:31 am

It’s a terrible idea, I think it just takes the fun out of eating out. Who wants to think about what they need to do do burn the meal off, I would feel guilty eating my food. Yes, to some extent eating out is already unhealthy compared to a home cooked meal, so there really isn’t any point in doing this.

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Khushboo April 30, 2013 at 10:18 am

Also I wouldn’t be surprised if restaurants abused the concept of healthy eating as a marketing gimmick. One that comes to mind is McDonald’s oatmeal which contains way too many preservatives and sugar to be remotely considered how it is marketed i.e. a healthy breakfast.

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Ameena April 30, 2013 at 9:00 am

You have an interesting viewpoint on this…I read this article and never thought of it like you and Nisha do.

I suppose that it’ll help some people but it’ll definitely put a damper on eating out for others.

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Khushboo April 30, 2013 at 10:18 am

I guess it’s a case of “Different strokes for different folks” 🙂

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Meenakshi May 1, 2013 at 1:13 am

Wow! You’ve made some really great points, Khushboo! I never thought of that- restaurants making an effort to list the nutritional information of an item on the menu. If we have labels for packaged food, why not here? And I think it’s wise to do so. Some of us go out to eat because we want to have fun and indulge a little, instead of counting calories while eating. I think creating healthoer options and smaller portions would help.

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Khushboo May 1, 2013 at 10:08 am

As useful as nutritional information can be, I definitely think there is a time and place…and personally, looking at it when I’ve come out to enjoy just isn’t my cup of tea 🙂

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Heather @ Kiss My Broccoli May 3, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Oh wow! I agree with you…TERRIBLE idea! I don’t focus on calories like I used to so I don’t even really think about things like that when I’m out to a restaurant. I just chose what sounds good and eat what I want of it…if I have leftovers, so be it. Sometimes I make healthy choices and sometimes I order something just for fun. I hate that restaurants feel the need to use scare tactics to get people to eat healthier. I think that encroaches on the pleasure aspect of the meal and forces people to obsess about their food choices. There should be no guilting someone into choosing something. I think if they want to post it online or have a list with the counts on hand at the restaurant should someone ask for it is fine, but don’t go plastering it up all over the place!

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Khushboo May 3, 2013 at 1:04 pm

There’s a line between being educational and TMI- I’m glad you agree that this strategy is leaning towards the latter!

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Meghan@CleanEatsFastFeets May 3, 2013 at 10:05 pm

I’m oddly kind of torn on this one and here’s why.

For the majority of Americans, displaying this kind of info might not be a bad idea because as a country we are really unhealthy and eating out is a huge reason why. The ignorance is bliss approach perpetuates that. I do absolutely love your idea for: “Increase the number of options of healthy, portion-controlled dishes on the menu…and that means offering more than just a pathetic wilted salad. Make people WANT to choose these dishes” and ultimately feel the solution lies more along these lines.

When it comes to the folks recovering from ED, I think this kind of info could be damaging or harmful for this group in the long run, and while people recovering from or working through ED’s seem to make up huge numbers in our HLB community, in the outside world, they are the minority, and I’ll be the first to say my country could use some restraint, caloric info and nutritional facts. I’m not sold on posting the actual amount of exercise required to burn off a meal, but I do think it’s a step in the right direction.

Sorry to be the lone voice of dissent, but I live in one of the “fattest” states in the US, where 66% of people are overweight or obese and I watch daily as my friends, family and coworkers eat themselves into an early grave so I’m open to some kind of change, although I agree this idea needs some work.

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Khushboo May 3, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Please don’t apologise for your comment- love long, opinionated ones and I can see exactly where you’re coming from! Whatever strategy restaurants end up going one, I only hope it does solve the ever-growing obesity epidemic! Just outta curiosity, what state do you live in?

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Meghan@CleanEatsFastFeets May 3, 2013 at 11:19 pm

Thanks for not making me feel like a schmuck. I’m in Ohio and that’s half the reason for my blog header (I’m Not On A Diet; I’m Eating Healthy) because the mjaority of people here look at me like I have three heads when I tell them I’m a vegetarian or that I like fruits and veggies. It’s weird because when I joined the HLB community I thought it would be a bunch of people like me who love fruits, veggies, local, organic food and to some extent that’s true, but there’s also another extreme where people undereat and stay away from healthy things like egg yolks and olive oil and that baffles me. To each their own right.

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Khushboo May 4, 2013 at 9:36 am

It’s a shame that healthy eating comes down to an “all or nothing” approach…each are as dangerous as the other!

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