However, there are strategies you can employ to help you avoid a calorie-catastrophe at food buffets. With a few simple tricks, you can overcome the stuff-your-face environment that is the buffet. Here are some tips:
1. Drink Water
Drink a big glass of water as soon as you get to the restaurant, or better yet, before you even step foot inside the establishment. This will help fill your stomach, leaving less room for food. Additionally, we often mistake thirst for hunger, making us think we're hungrier than we truly are.
2. Don't Go Hungry
If you skip breakfast, lunch, or both because you're trying to "save up" for a buffet meal later in the day, your plan will likely backfire. When you avoid eating all day, you automatically set yourself up for failure because you'll likely overcompensate by binge-eating uncontrollably once your eyes take in all the delicious options in front of you. Because you're hungry and possibly experiencing low blood sugar (which intensifies feelings of hunger), you're more likely to make poor choices and eat too much at the same time. High-calorie foods in huge portions equals excessive caloric intake. Eat light meals throughout the day to avoid feel ravenous later.
3. Fill Your Plate Smartly
Fill your plate with vegetables and fruits first, leaving little room for the higher-calorie fare. There is only so much room on a plate, and if you already have it half-covered with low-calorie, fiber-rich, filling produce, you'll have less room on your plate (and in your stomach) for those fattier foods.
4. Find Lean Protein Options
Look for grilled fish or other seafood, skinless chicken breast and lean cuts of beef (loin, round, leg). Also, consider filling up on non-animal sources of protein, such as beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, seeds and whole grains that are particularly high in protein, such as quinoa.
5. Foods to Avoid
Skip the dinner rolls if you're at an American-fare buffet restaurant, and avoid rice or noodles if you're dining at a Chinese buffet. Although neither of the foods are inherently detrimental to your diet, people often serve themselves extremely large portions of these foods. Plus, if the restaurant isn't serving whole-grain versions of these foods--which they generally aren't--you aren't getting much nutritional bang for your buck.
6. Avoid Empty-Calorie Beverages
A.k.a. sugary drinks. You can steer clear of unnecessary additional calories by ordering water, unsweetened tea, diet soda or coffee (without excess sugar or creamer added).
7. Select Fruit for Dessert
Often buffets put out a plethora of sweet treats. However, you can satisfy that sweet tooth for fewer calories by grabbing fresh fruit after the meal. Fruit is full of fiber and beneficial nutrients and will contain significantly fewer calories than anything on the dessert table. Just know that you may have to look for fruit on the salad bar as it's often not in the same area as the cakes, cookies, pies, ice cream, etc.
Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. Contact Kari at KariHartelRD@gmail.com.