This clever 'doggy bag' trick can help you eat fewer calories at restaurants

by Hoku Krueger ; Updated August 02, 2018

A new study found that knowing you’ll be able to take home your leftovers before you start eating helps to curb excessive intake.

A new study shows that people who ask for a doggy bag before their meal starts are less likely to overeat. Emphasis on the “before.” Interesting, right?

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University discovered people eat more if they believe their leftovers will be thrown away. But if they know they can take food home to finish later, they’re more likely to stop eating when they’re full.

For the study, recently published in the journal Appetite, scientists split 51 women into two groups. The “to-go” group was told that their food would be packaged up after they were done eating it, while the second group was not given this option.

The scientists then served each of the groups a series of meals that varied in portion size. They found that for every 100 grams of extra food given, the women in the no-leftovers-for-you group ate an additional 64 grams (or 90 calories) of food. On the other hand, the women in the to-go group only ate 17 grams (or 19 calories) more.

If this news is giving you pause because you dine out a little more often than you’d care to admit, you’re not alone: According to a survey by Gallup, 61 percent of Americans eat out at least once a week, while 16 percent go to a restaurant three times a week or more. What’s more, people tend to eat about 92 percent of the food they order.

Faris Zuraikat, Ph.D. candidate at the Penn State College of Human Health and Development and the study’s lead author, tells LIVESTRONG.COM that he and his colleagues wanted to understand the effects of large portions on our eating habits.

“Both men and women eat more when they’re served more,” he says. “We’re really interested in developing strategies to moderate calorie and food intake from large portions because we know that the current eating environment is characterized by large portions of calorie-dense foods, and those contribute to overeating.”

According to Ilana Muhlstein, M.S., RD, co-creator of the 2B Mindset, Americans might overeat when given large portions because many of us were raised to not waste any of our food. “Lots of us have been told, ‘finish your plate, people are starving,’” she says. “When we can eliminate our food insecurities and trust that we will eat again, we can learn to eat for our physical needs more so than our emotional needs.”

Zuraikat notes that an important aspect of these findings is that the women in the to-go group were told their food would be packaged up before they started eating, which served as a “behavioral nudge,” reminding them that they didn’t need to finish their food.

So if you want to try this out for yourself, make sure to ask your waiter for a to-go box before you dig in. Because, let’s face it, gourmet leftovers might just be the best part about eating out.

Read more: Noisy Restaurants Affect How You Order — and Not in a Good Way

What Do YOU Think?

Do you usually take home your leftovers, or do you have them thrown out? Do you tend to eat all of the food on your plate, or do you stop when you’re full? What are some other ways to practice portion control? Share in the comments section!

About the Author

Hoku Krueger is a freelance writer who specializes in mental health, wellness and pop culture.