Defensive eating

It's called "defensive eating." Think of it as protecting yourself from overeating when you're in a restaurant. Too many conversationally-luscious, full-plate moments are bound to show up on our mid-sections.

As we age, if we eat too well, too often, it's harder to recover (i.e., lose gained weight). Our health starts a slow, downhill slide. The link between eating high-fat, high-carb foods and type 2 diabetes, heart attack/stroke and premature death is indisputable.

So, this is a message about helping yourself — sort of like when you're at a friend's house and she has a big plate of just-baked chocolate chip cookies and says, "Help yourself."

"Help!" is right.

I'm thinking about this for two reasons. The first one is directly related to a "dinner out" with my husband last night. It was special and at our favorite restaurant. It involved an appetizer, a bottle of wine, a rich entrée, dessert, and tenderly good conversation.

The moment was oh-so worth it, but there are defensive strategies I could have used in order to feel slightly less guilty this morning.

The second reason for tackling this topic relates to something I read in this month's Consumer Reports on Health (actually, I read it this very morning, the morning after the night before — that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it).

The article talked about how many calories, as well as how much fat and sodium, we can get (got) from an eating-out meal.

For example, one fast-food meal can easily provide not just more calories than I need in an entire day — but twice as many calories as I need in a day. Consumer Reports ( ) calls it "fast fat food" or a "heart attack to go." Both fast food restaurants and the white tablecloth variety present challenges.

Help is on the way.

I think the best approach involves asking for what you want, such as "sauce on the side" or "extra vegetables, no potato." If you have an appetizer or a dessert, share it with your tablemate(s) — or in some restaurants, look for "dessert bites."

Some diners divide their food in half when it arrives at the table. They ask for part of their entrée to be wrapped and put in the restaurant refrigerator to be retrieved before departing. (It's easy to forget — you might want to write yourself a reminder on an available napkin).

That little dividing trick might just be the ultimate in portion control. It also guarantees a lovely next-day lunch — which should be eaten from a smaller-sized (no more than 9-inch) plate. Big plates make us bigger eaters. By the way, there's a vividly pictorial article/book that might also help us tackle the challenge, "Eat This. Not That." (

Portion control is the key. When I see a restaurant patron order a salad, and then lightly dip a forkful of greens in a small cup of dressing that's provided separately, I want to go over and hug him or her. What a good model. If I follow that lead I can definitely have one of my friend's warm cookies — one delicious bite at a time.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human services at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.

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