Eating At Restaurants Is Why You’re Fat

Data from a popular calorie-logging app show that eating out is the best way to ruin your diet.

Eating At Restaurants Is Why You’re Fat
[Top photo: Flickr user Konrad Summers]

At common chain restaurants, the average meal contains 64% of a person’s recommended calories for the day. It’s just as easy to overdo it on salt. And since people tend to eat whatever huge portion is served to them, it’s no surprise that eating out causes restaurant patrons to eat more than they should.


MyFitnessPal, a calorie-tracking and fitness app with over 65 million users, tapped into its database to see just how bad the problem can get. The company compared nutritional data from users over the past year when they logged recipes, to days when they didn’t (many chain restaurants have nutritional data available within MyFitnessPal, so users can select a meal instead of creating a recipe for a home-made meal).

Flickr user Ellliot

The result: on days when users didn’t log recipes, they were over six times more likely to go over their calorie, carb and fat goals, and seven times more likely to exceed their sodium goals. It’s not that people don’t realize that home cooking is generally easier to micromanage for portion control. In a survey of 2,800 users by MyFitnessPal, 99% of respondents said that they believe home cooking is healthier. But only half of respondent cook four times a week or more.

In the past, MyFitnessPal hasn’t really helped the cooking cause. “The process to enter a recipe into system is really kloogy. You have to log each ingredient, and tell the portion size for each one,” says CEO Mike Lee. This week, that’s changing (hence the release of user recipe data).

The platform’s new recipe tool has an algorithm that will parse any recipe found online, pull out the ingredient and portioning list, and match that to ingredients in its database. “We’re seeing a massive number of recipes, and a massive number of users interacting with recipes. We’re using their feedback to tell us what they are interpreting as a handful of almonds, and which item [in the MyFitnessPal database] is the best match for an ingredient description,” says Lee.

To kick off the recipe tool launch, MyFitnessPal is releasing two free cookbooks featuring low-calorie recipes, available here.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.