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Dinner for One … or Two? How to Avoid Hidden Calories

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Most of us feel like we could lose a pound or two (or ten), and most of us struggle with that resolution. But maybe the problem isn’t so much with our willpower as with all the unconscious calories we consume every day. Even when we choose so-called “light” options, we may actually be eating a lot more fat, calories, and sodium than we think, so we need to constantly be aware of what we’re putting in our bodies.


I Ate What?!
The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) published an article, reported by Fox News, that highlights eight chain-restaurant menu items that are extremely high in calories, saturated fat, and sodium.


  1. Ruby Tuesday Colossal Burger (two large patties, bun, and melted American and Monterey jack cheeses): 1,940 calories, 141 grams fat
  2. UNO Chicago Grill Pizza Skins (deep-dish pizza with mozzarella, mashed potatoes, crispy bacon, cheddar, and sour cream): 2,050 calories, 48 grams fat, 3,140 milligrams (mg) sodium
  3. On the Border Double-Stacked Club Quesadillas (two white-flour tortillas with fajita chicken, cheese, crumbled bacon, and avocado, served with sour cream and ranch dressing): 1,860 calories, 52 grams saturated fat, 3,140 mg sodium
  4. Ruby Tuesday Fresh Chicken and Broccoli Pasta (white-meat chicken, broccoli, and penne pasta in a parmesan cream sauce, topped with cheddar cheese and baked): 2,060 calories, 128 grams fat
  5. On the Border Ranchiladas (an 8-ounce steak served with two cheese enchiladas, chile con carne, rice, and either refried or black beans with cheese): 1,870 calories, 46 grams saturated fat, 3,810 mg sodium
  6. Cold Stone Creamery Gotta Have It Founder’s Favorite (a large waffle bowl with 14 ounces of ice cream, pecans, brownie pieces, fudge, and caramel): 1,740 calories, 48 grams saturated fat, 4 grams trans fat
  7. Romano’s Macaroni Grill Twice-Baked Lasagna with Meatballs (six layers of pasta stuffed with meatballs, three cheeses, and Bolognese sauce): 1,360 calories, 38 grams saturated fat, 3,900 mg sodium
  8. The Cheesecake Factory Chris’ Outrageous Chocolate Cake (layers of chocolate cake, brownie, coconut pecan filling, and creamy chocolate chip–coconut cheesecake): 1,380 calories, 32 teaspoons sugar, 33 grams saturated fat, 5 grams trans fat


According to CSPI, these nutritional breakdowns come from the companies themselves, although they are not necessarily listed on the restaurant menus. In a press release, CSPI nutrition policy director Margo Wootan said that these chain restaurants “may list a little nutrition information for lighter fare” but not “for all of their standardized items.”


But they should, she said, because “Americans eat out on average about four meals a week. With dishes like these, it’s easy to blow your diet not just for the day, but for the whole week.”


Write Before You Bite
With all those hidden calories out there, a woman’s got to have some tricks up her sleeve to maintain her girlish figure. Use the following tips to keep as accurate a daily calorie count as you can:


  1. Keep a daily food journal and record everything you eat and drink every day. Don’t forget to include the milk and sugar in your coffee, the dressing on your salad, and the mustard on your sandwich at lunch; it all adds up. The simple act of taking the time to write down what you eat makes you think about what you’re putting into your mouth and pushes you toward more conscious food choices.
  2. Use measuring cups, measuring spoons, and a food scale to make sure you’re eating the correct portion sizes. This practice is especially important when you’re noshing on cereal, chips, crackers, or any other munchable that comes in a box or a bag. Condiments and beverage are also difficult to eyeball and should be measured. Look at the nutrition label to see how many calories are in one serving and how large the serving size is.
  3. When you’re cooking from a recipe, write down all of the ingredients’ nutritional information and add them together. That way, you can figure out how many calories will be in each portion of the meal you are preparing. You can find the calorie counts of common ingredients online—for example, one cup of white flour is 455 calories—and divide that number by the amount of people the recipe is intended to serve.
  4. Eating out is tricky for calorie counters, but not impossible. Many restaurants, especially popular chain restaurants, now post their calorie counts online. If not, or if you don’t trust these numbers, you can rely on your common sense to get you through the meal. Avoid sauces; choose lean meats and vegetables that are simply grilled, and tuck them into portion sizes no larger than the palm of your hand.


By employing these strategies, you may not hit your exact daily calorie budget, but you won’t go too overboard.


Awareness Is What Counts
You don’t have to count every single calorie to lose weight, look good, and—most important—feel good. You just have to be aware of what you’re putting in your body. If you are a conscious eater and understand that you need to fuel yourself with the right foods, no one will be able to sneak any hidden calories past you.

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