Eating out

Restaurants pose their own special problems. On the one hand, portion sizes are generally reasonable (at least here in health-conscious California), and you aren't tempted to take extra helpings as at home. Fast food joints, despite their reputation, actually work fine with meal planning. Since the individual items of food are completely standardised and the calorie contents are published in any number of books, you can just choose what you order to total up to the allotment for the meal you're having. As long as you don't order more than that, you're home free.

You can't get calorie counts at tonier restaurants, but you can guess pretty closely based on the main ingredients of a dish. As long as you don't eat out all the time, and you eat about the same amount of the same kinds of things you've worked out for home meals, you probably won't have any problem. The real difficulties arise at those eateries which delimit the hacker's universe: the pizza place and the Chinese restaurant. There's nothing inherently wrong with either kind of food (well, at least not with Chinese food), it's the way you tend to eat it.

If, like most people, you order a variety of Chinese dishes and take some of each, and if the people at the table have widely differing appetites, there's almost no way you can know how much you've had. Chinese food, gobbled from a mound in the middle of the table, exhibits the "pizza/popcorn phenomenon," the culinary equivalent of the tragedy of the commons. The essential difference between this kind of dining and normal meals is:

The faster you eat, the more you get.

This truth is burned deeply into the brain of anybody whose impecunious college days were fueled, in large part, by midnight pizza feeding frenzies. In other restaurants, or at the dinner table with cultured companions, poaching food from adjacent plates is frowned upon and may result in fork wounds. But when there's just a huge pile of eats, you have to be especially on your guard. The best way to deal with the problem, in my experience, is to take a reasonable amount at the beginning, filling up your plate to the degree it would be at home, then eat that much and stop. If there's food left over, so be it; surely somebody has a dog or will enjoy it for breakfast tomorrow (congealed pizza... nothin' like it!). Far better even to let something go to waste, shameful as we've all been raised to think of it, than have it go to your waist and spend weeks dieting it off.

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