help me lose weight on a diet of restaurant food
July 9, 2011 2:24 PM   Subscribe

Weightloss filter: I want to lose weight. I eat 2 meals/day at the restaurant where I wait tables. I've gained 15 lbs in the year I've been there. But I can't...stop..eating..

I am 4'10" and 24 years old. When I started my job last year I was a very healthy and comfortable 95 lbs. In the last year I've gained 15 lbs. I even started running again, and am running maybe 3 days a week for 30 minutes. But the scale isn't going anywhere. I know that I'm still at a healthy BMI, but I'm not happy with how I look.

At the previous restaurant I worked at, "tasting" was strictly forbidden. We had to pay for all of our food and drinks. At the place where I work now, it's encouraged to eat all of the food that you want. I can order anything I want, whenever I want. This is okay because when I actually place an order I get something very healthy, like a piece of grilled chicken with a veg.

The problem is the snacking. EVERYBODY snacks. Open bags of chips, cucumbers, carrots, pickles, french fries, bacon, bacon, bacon. I try so hard not to, and sometimes I go for hours but I end up eating 5 strips of bacon over the course of a shift, plus 20 french fries and 5 chips, etc. It's a casual atmosphere and we aren't super busy so there is a lot of hangout time. Everyone I work with is my friend, so I spend a lot of downtime hanging out on the line, chatting and snacking.

So when I went in for a physical I wasn't suprised when my doctor told me I gained 15 lbs. I bought a scale and have managed to lose roughly 3 lbs by cutting out daily alcohol. I know the problem is the snacking and I am trying my darndest to stop but I just can't :( It is really getting to me and making me feel depressed.

I should note, every single one of my coworkers is overweight except for my sister, who refuses to eat anything during her shifts after gaining a bit of weight during her time at the restaurant (and losing it). But I just can't do it! My coworkers, a few of whom are morbidly obese, have been trying weightwatchers but I think I'm too small for it. I don't have much to lose, but its so hard to make it go away!

I work 5-6 days a week, either from 5am - 1pm but usually from 12pm - 9pm. When I'm not at work I eat fine. Even on my days off I notice that I just eat better. I don't want to quit because I love this restaurant. It's in my hometown, I grew up with literally all of my coworkers, my boss is so nice and it pays bank. I'm going back to school in the fall and it will fit right into my schedule. Unfortunately, it serves mostly unhealthy, fried food.

Please give me some tips. I've tried replacing snacking with drinking water, and no joke: I've had 100 oz of water/day for the past week. But I can't break the snack habit. I'm at my wits end. I also do a strength training dvd maybe once a week. But honestly, that combined with the running is about all I can take after being on my feet 50 hours a week.

I realize this is quite rambly. I just wanted to get it all out there.
posted by pintapicasso to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Unless you're an elite endurance athlete (bicycling 100 miles/day, etc), you can't out-exercise a bad diet. You'll have to eliminate the snacking.

Have you tried the rubber-band trick? Snap a rubber-band on your wrist every time you grab something?

What about drinking ice tea or something a bit more flavorful? Are there healthy items--pieces of veggies from the salad bar, etc--that you can snack on?

I sympathize, I never managed to truly conquer the snacking habit when I worked in a restaurant.
posted by Anonymous at 2:29 PM on July 9, 2011

Best answer: I work in a restaurant where snacking is readily available. I keep gum in my mouth at all times.
posted by AlliKat75 at 2:30 PM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I will try not to threadsit: I've been trying the rubber band thing for a few days. It usually works, when I remember to do it. And I eat so many cucumbers, celery, and tomato slices in an attempt to fill up and avoid the bad stuff but it doesn't work.

The gum idea is great but I think I'd get chewed out (ho ho ho) for chewing gum at work. Though I might try it anyway.
posted by pintapicasso at 2:34 PM on July 9, 2011

How do your coworkers feel about the situation? It wouldn't surprise me if they were having some problems with irresistible snacking urges too, so maybe you could delicately suss out the situation. If you had the support of your coworkers, maybe you could talk to management about stopping the unlimited free snacking policy, or restricting it to veggies only or something. It sounds like a genuinely nice place run by decent people (plus it would lower their overhead), so management might go along with the idea.

It's a lot easier to use your willpower once to remove the temptation than to rely on willpower constantly to resist it.
posted by Quietgal at 2:50 PM on July 9, 2011

How about going low carb? So you get to keep eating the bacon but not the chips, for example.
posted by hazyjane at 2:50 PM on July 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

A bunch of ideas:

When i want to eat but i don't want to eat too many calories, i look for food that i call "activities". Foods that take work to get at. Like artichokes. it takes ages to eat one. Or things that need to be individually peeled or cracked open, like edamame. And drink and drink and drink, instead of eating. And whenever you do snack, make it the veggies.

You might also want to try jogging every morning (ie before you've been standing all day), as 30 minutes three times a week probably doesn't burn enough calories to counteract the snacking. Plus, you'll probably be extra motivated to not "waste the effort of jogging" by counteracting it with junky food.

Also: the variable that might be easiest to control, from a 'habit' point of view, is probably the meals. I know you said you order healthy meals, but try and make them even lower cal. Only eat half the piece of chicken. No dressing on the salad. No carby sides. No bread. And hope that balances the snacking.

You might also want to try writing down all your snacks. Keep a teeny notebook in your pocket, with "fries", "bacon", "chips" written on the page, and put a check mark beside each one after you eat that item. Just keeping track might help curb it - i'm sure its easy to delude yourself during the day that the 21st french fry is actually the 7th french fry.

Try brushing your teeth at your break and after your lunch. A lot of foods taste gross when you have a minty taste in your mouth, so it might reduce the urge to snack.
posted by Kololo at 2:52 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There really isn't an easy fix. I asked a woman who works in a bakery how she kept from getting overweight, and her answer was pretty simple: "I don't start".

Sounds like there is plenty of not so bad for you foods. Stick to those. For me, I don't think I'd be able to eat those either - I'm an all or nothing person, so cucumbers would just be a gateway to French fries and cheese.

You might do yourself a favour by looking at how many calories you burn running a couple of miles versus the number of calories in French fries or potato chips. I think you'll quickly see what the main issue is with your current strategy.

My main advice would be to adopt a zero food policy at work. It sounds like the best strategy. Sometimes the simplest answer is the best one.
posted by backwards guitar at 2:52 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You mention trying and failing to "fill up" on veggies, which causes me to wonder. Are you eating enough at mealtimes?

Usually when I find myself mindlessly snacking during the work day, the issue isn't that I'm hungry per se, it's that I'm bored, or I need a break from the task at hand, or maybe that everyone else is snacking and I want to be a part of that. In that situation, it's pretty easy to shift my focus to healthy stuff (or at least small quantities of not-so-healthy stuff). Because I'm not eating to get full, I'm eating for secondary reasons.

So maybe eat bigger/better/more satiating meals? Or have them more regularly so that you're not ravenous leading up to your lunch break?
posted by Sara C. at 2:52 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am really bad at dieting when I have to deny myself food, because then I convince myself that I'm starving even if I'm not. The only that worked for me was cutting out all starches and sugars and eating all the low carb, high protein snacks. Ketogenic diets aren't for everyone, but this might be your ticket.

So can you stick to salad with meat on them, bacon snacks (don't go overboard, I've heard the bacon can be the sole meaty thing that stall people on low carb diets), egg salad/hard boiled eggs, etc? Chips, desserts, fries, and so forth are all things that often make people hungrier, and hungrier sooner, anyways. Eat and eat and eat, just don't touch the starches and sugars.

Secondly, running won't help you lose weight. It's not an awesome way to lose weight in the first place (at least not at 30 minutes, 3x a week intervals), and as schroedinger points out, diet is generally more useful to weight loss than cardio.
posted by zoomorphic at 2:52 PM on July 9, 2011

Do you have a smartphone? I use an app called MyFitnessPal (terrible name, yes) that has an absolutely vast food / exercise database. If you can work hard on entering everything you eat, you'll 1) have an immediate picture of the calories you're consuming 2) have a disincentive to snack, because ugh, you have to get out your damn phone and enter the damn food.
posted by KathrynT at 2:58 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also, look at your language, and then look at your attitude:

I know the problem is the snacking and I am trying my darndest to stop but I just can't

No, sorry, that's just a terrible mindset. Drop it. These are still your decisions. Unless someone has a gun to your head, you are choosing to eat all the time. The choice to not eat crap when it smells deeeelicious and is right under your nose is super hard and nothing to sneeze at, but you nevertheless have control over what goes into your body. Again, I understand the frustration with dieting-by-abstaining (aka calories in, calories out) and I hated it, so I chose a diet where I can eat whenever I'm hungry but I can't eat sweets and potatoes. I still have to make choices, choices that are sometimes hard at birthday parties and big nights out, but I know that I'd rather eat healthy than gain weight.

Again, you have decisions to make. Tomorrow you can wake up and decide to stick to a real dieting plan when you go to work, or you can keep snacking on bad foods at random intervals. Guess which mindset yields positive results?
posted by zoomorphic at 2:59 PM on July 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

I know this sounds awful, but... As I said above, I work in a restaurant where we can all snack. One of my fellow employees decided she wanted to "get svelte" (her words). She asked all of us to berate her every time she attempted to snack on something. So, when one of us would see her headed for some fries, that person would say, "Hey fatty. Whatcha eating?" I'm not saying it's pleasant, but it worked for her.
posted by AlliKat75 at 3:02 PM on July 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

You might try something similar to the slow carb diet, and focusing on protein, veggies, and legumes? Avoid fruits, sugars, etx.

Also, though I realize you're on your feet a lot, possibly try going for a walk in the morning and a walk around your lunch break each day to see if that helps?
posted by BZArcher at 3:14 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Yep, it's the fries and the chips that is undermining your efforts here. Basically, it's all about cutting out the carbs.

The potato, in particular, is screwing up your metabolism. It's not fair, because potatoes are the yummiest thing on earth! But honestly, if I can cut out potatoes, you can too. They have a high glycemic load, so they turn into sugar and then eventually fat pretty much instantly in your system. No more potatoes. Sorry.

Also, I try to view food at the restaurants I've worked at as " product" and not food. I try to see it as something for the customers, not me. If it's not meant for me, than I do not eat it.

For your own good, please do NOT discuss this weight issue with your co-workers. You will have more success if you do this quietly, and on your own. Don't make a big deal about cutting out the snacking, just keep your head down and do it:)

PS - Don't ever feel guilty about eating bacon. Try not to feel guilty about any food you eat, but especially bacon;)

PPS - I think you might love this book from Tim Ferriss about rapid weight loss. I recommend you listen to an awesome interview Tim had on The Nerdist podcast a few weeks ago. You can download that free through iTunes. Good luck!
posted by SockyMcSockyPants at 3:15 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

If it's a problem among all your coworkers, and you're buddies with all your coworkers, why not organize a biggest loser-type competition? You could all work together to limit snacking and make sure it's healthy snacks (more cucumbers and carrots, less bacon and french fries) and even organize sports activities (kickball? foursquare? hell yes!) in your off-hours. It'll be much easier to tackle this when you're all supporting each other.
posted by phunniemee at 3:16 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

My coworkers, a few of whom are morbidly obese, have been trying weightwatchers but I think I'm too small for it. I don't have much to lose, but its so hard to make it go away!

I don't think you should write off the idea of Weight Watchers just because you're not morbidly obese -- and maybe by going with your co-workers, you could all brainstorm together for some tactics to cut down on workplace snacking. (I mean, WW may not be the right choice for you, but to say it's not an option without having tried it seems like a bit of a self-sabotage. It can't hurt to give it a go, can it?)
posted by oh yeah! at 3:28 PM on July 9, 2011

Best answer: Open bags of chips, cucumbers, carrots, pickles, french fries, bacon,

Have your fill of cucumbers and pickles. Have a few carrots. Avoid the rest.

As others have said, you are not going to get out of this by running. Self-control and a good diet will do it.

Eat a breakfast before you get to work. Have lunch with a lot of protein, some fat, some complex carbs. Repeat for dinner. Snacking on veggies is alright.
posted by munchingzombie at 3:32 PM on July 9, 2011

I'd like to second the suggestion of MyFitnessPal (or any other similar app – this one has a barcode scanner! it's wonderful!). It amazed me when I started entering everything. I. ate. into it because oh my god there is no way I can be eating that many calories?! And I like to work out now because it gives me more calories to eat! I credit calorie tracking as the one thing that helped curb snacking.
posted by good day merlock at 3:40 PM on July 9, 2011

I wouldn't dismiss weight watchers out of hand if you think that it would help, particularly with giving you some useful strategies to control snacking. I was surprised to learn that a very trim friend of mine (who to my knowledge has never had a weight problem) joined briefly when she gained probably no more than 10-15 lbs after a spate of travel and the winter holidays. She just felt that she needed something to get her back on track. It worked for her and she didn't mention getting any flack for not being what the majority of people would consider the least bit overweight. I feel that I should also mention that she is a very grounded person who isn't vain nor does she appear to have any body image issues. She just wasn't happy with the direction that she was heading in and wanted to nip it in the bud. She probably could have done it on her own, but some people (and I'm one of them) do better in more structured programs.
posted by kaybdc at 3:46 PM on July 9, 2011

Yes, the number of pounds you'ld like to lose isn't all that many, but on a percentage basis you're seeking to lose nearly 14 percent of your body weight, which is a substantial challenge for anyone. Weight Watchers is therefore completely appropriate.
posted by carmicha at 4:07 PM on July 9, 2011

Never eat fries and only eat chips if it's a party. Avoid potatoes in general. No soda EVER, not even diet. Eat as many cucumber, carrot and celery sticks as you can. Also - gum of a super minty variety.
posted by smartypantz at 4:45 PM on July 9, 2011

Measure out the quantity you're going to eat at the beginning of your shift, based on a set number of calories for the meals you'll be eating. It can be full of bad foods, as long as you're sticking to the calories. It would be be best if you could actually put this all on one plate/tray, but if you can't then make a list but be precise, include exact, measurable quantities, cross something off of your list once you eat it or note if you eat part of a portion. Once you have your meals set up for the day, pace yourself. Mentally break your shift into quarters. If you see you'll be going over a quarter of your food (or a quarter of your tasty foods) for that part of your shift, then you know you need to back off. This way you won't over eat, but you also won't avoid'll still have yummy snacks all day. Don't cheat.
posted by anaelith at 5:24 PM on July 9, 2011

Best answer: Three things that helped me start losing (only 10 pounds so far but I feel comfortable on this diet):

- like others have mentioned I use MyFitnessPal app to keep track of number of calories I have remaining (it resets every morning to the number appropriate for my goal)
- try to eat consistently (basically same way every weekday or weekend day in my life, might be different for you) and have milestones (e.g., after lunch I should have 900 calories left, after dinner I should have 300 calories left, after 30 minutes on the elliptical I have 630 calories left, by bed time I may have a couple hundred left unless I cheated)
- I try to eat less and less as the day goes by (which means I have a modest dinner)...get away from the 3 full meals a day mentality.

I think the mental game I am playing is that if I got through yesterday OK, then I can get through today and tomorrow OK (even if not perfectly). I also avoid items that I cannot be sure of the portion and calories I am getting, since that would be the chink in the whole plan. I buy extra at the market or Costco of things that satisfy me, and I pack a lunch every day.

Yes, I realize in your job some of the above may not work and you may need to adapt. But the bottom line seems to be that the decisions that you (and I) make each hour of each day shapes what we will be. So find out what works and keep doing it in a routine fashion.
posted by forthright at 5:59 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do you and your coworkers snack during breaks, or do you nibble throughout the shift? Do you wash your hands every time you put something in your mouth? I ask partly to get a sense of your habits, and partly because, if I were at a restaurant and saw one of the servers standing around snacking on chips, I'd be a little put off.

Create a rule - this doesn't have to be a staff rule, just a personal one - that you eat only on breaks, everything you eat must be on a plate, and you must sit to eat. (And all of you should be washing your hands every time you put anything in your mouth, anyway.) No nibbling off the line. Get a coworker to remind you, if you can. If you find it difficult to resist at first, maybe your boss can let you take very quick sit-down-to-nibble breaks?

If you have a lot of downtime that you're trying to fill with the munching, try funneling that into cleaning, restocking supplies, or other sidework. Unless every surface in the area is sparkling and all the saltshakers are full, there's always something to do. It sounds weird, but the "must keep salad station clean" impulse isn't really far off from "bored, must snack."
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:14 PM on July 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I work in a school where often there is food available that I did not plan for. My rule is, I have scheduled specific times for eating. I am not allowed to eat outside those times. So, if there are treats and I want one, I have to wait until the designated snack time. Often. I have found that the good stuff is picked over by then and my temptation is reduced :) If there is still stuff I want and it is a designated snack time, then I can take a small, measured portion and have it instead of whatever snack I might otherwise have had.
posted by JoannaC at 7:19 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

After going crazy on freebies for a while, I told my coworkers at the start of each shift that if anyone saw me eating x/y foods, I would give them a dollar. I allowed myself diet soda and air-popped popcorn, because those were plentiful and I felt okay about them, but the ice cream (free ice cream and slushies! all day!) and other things were an issue for me.

Paying out that relatively small amount of money wasn't really what stopped me, it was the idea of how I'd feel having to pay out, the outward acknowledgement that I was not able to stick with my plan. In the free-for-all atmosphere, it was sometimes (always) hard for me to remember that I didn't have to snack with everyone else, and that I really often didn't even want to. That little "oh, wait" part was what I needed.

After a few shifts, I didn't need to do set myself up any longer. Sometimes it's just breaking the habit for a few days that makes all the difference.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 9:05 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are some good ideas here. Just wanted to second phunniemae's idea, this worked really well in my workplace. A group of nurses did a biggest loser competition and the additional piece was that everyone had to contribute $10 a week for 8 weeks. They had so many people in the game that the jackpot was nearly $1000, and it was a huge incentive. They typically bring in a ton of snacks to work and I noticed a major change in everyone's behavior, the only times that bad food was around was when some people were trying to 'sabotage' others, jokingly.

This is a problem in the hospital settings where I work as well, especially because there are very few breaks to eat real food. I find that doing things like drinking water and eating extremely healthy snacks like veggies do not help because they are not satisfying enough. What I do is bring something for myself that is not extremely healthy (like water or celery) but is more like real food and not junk (like a sandwich, or a protein bar, or a Stonyfield Farm smoothie). I make sure I bring something I really like that is a good alternative to the snacks, and that really helps me convince myself not to eat something that's going to make me feel guilty/bad later. Also, if I am snacking, I will skip the meal during my shift if I am eating junk (i.e. if working the evening shift, I skip dinner if I ate snacks). This might be easier for you because you have a hard time resisting the snacks, but might have an easier time just not ordering your free meal, which you might be less attached to.

One other unconventional thing I did is become vegetarian. It took me a good year to really switch to being vegetarian completely and not be sneaking meat, because I love processed meats like bacon and sausage, but once everyone around me knew that I was a vegetarian, that put social pressure on me not to eat the meat (because everyone would stare or say "aren't you a vegetarian?") I still do eat meat but only organic/grass or grain fed meat that we prepare at home, and that I can feel good about. This has helped me not only live out some of my closely held social values about eating meat that has been raised on a factory farm, but also improve my diet and cholesterol. Just putting it out there.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:38 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

munchingzombie: " Have your fill of cucumbers and pickles. Have a few carrots. Avoid the rest."

Just a note on pickles: An elderly friend of our family would often have spells of low blood pressure, and his doctor told him to eat a pickle to raise his bp, which worked. So I don't think pickles are harmless. Besides, I'd worry about the salt content as well. According to the first Google result on "how much salt in a pickle?" they could have 1700mg of sodium. The max you should have per day is 2300.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:26 PM on July 9, 2011

At a small restaurant I worked in ages ago, the waitresses had put up a cheap, 3/4 length mirror, on the wall beside the cash register, where they all went many times a day, as their customers paid their checks. The waitresses said it helped them remember to smile, which helped their tips, and to stay on their diets while serving food all day. It seemed to work like a charm for them on both counts.
posted by paulsc at 12:12 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Like others have mentioned, I'm going to say that WW is totally appropriate if you have a smallish amount to lose. When you're short (and I fall into that category too!), a little weight can make a big difference.
posted by trillian at 9:09 AM on July 10, 2011

Brush your teeth. Seriously. Make a deal with yourself that you're going to brush your teeth every time you eat - and do it. Even if it works one out of ten times, that's something.

Keep a notebook in your pocket and make yourself write down everything you eat - look up the info so you can estimate the fat and calorie content.
posted by lemniskate at 9:54 AM on July 10, 2011

The biggest loser idea is a good one, but remember that some people are really sensitive about their weight, even if they want to change it. If you think it might cause division between some of your colleagues then Weight Watchers might be a better fit - and you and workfriends could go together.
posted by mippy at 7:59 AM on July 11, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you for all of the wonderful suggestions. Just posting this question made me keep my snacking habits in the forefront of my mind. I'm working my way through a pack of altoids right now and it's really helping to get past the urge to grab a piece of bacon. I'm also eating the same meals every day, and because I know the calories in them I haven't strayed so far (besides a baby creemee one night). Thank you!
posted by pintapicasso at 5:50 AM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

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