Don’t Let the Restaurant Decide When You’re Full

By Mike Warkentin

I hate throwing food out.

It feels wasteful, and the spendthrift in me likes to get his money’s worth. Leaving food on the plate also feels like failure, as if I couldn’t finish the task in front of me. At restaurants, I actually have to hand the wasted food back to a server who can note and judge my failure, and I hate doing that.

I generally eat everything that’s served to me for these psychological reasons. My consumption has nothing to do with physical needs. I don’t need to eat all the food to survive. I do it because I’m cheap and don’t want a waiter or waitress to think I’m a profligate person.

No matter how hungry I am, and no matter how large the serving is, I eat it all. I do it if it’s vegetables or pasta or hamburger or steak. Down the hatch, and use the bread to wipe the plate. At restaurants, portion sizes are often monstrous to create the perception of value, and most restaurant fare is cheap, crappy food that’s loaded with sugars, fats and calories.

That means I overeat just about every time I go to a restaurant.

I’m well aware of this, so here’s my personal solution: I don’t go out to eat very often—maybe three or four times a month. That allows me to eat reasonable portions of healthy food about 90 percent of the time.

When I do go out, I try to limit the damage by ordering healthier food—steamed vegetables, salad with dressing on the side, lean cuts of meat and so on. I generally drink water so that I don’t make things worse with the cup.

I could also just stop eating when I’m full.

That seems like common sense, but it turns out humans are inclined to eat when food is available.

A fascinating article from offers some perspective based on research: “It seems that the only people who are immune to big portions are tiny children. Up until the age of three or four, children have an enviable ability to stop eating when they are full. After that age, this self-regulation of hunger is lost, and sometimes never relearned.”

But we don’t have to behave like cattle at the trough. What if we chose to eat slowly and consciously at restaurants and stop before we feel full?

I’m going to try this the next time I go out, and I’d encourage you to do the same. Eat what you like, but put the fork down before you’re overly full.

You still get to eat the food you enjoy, but you prevent the restaurant from making bad decisions for you.

Check out these videos! 

Below left: serving size vs. what people actually eat. Below right: the evolution of portion size.

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