People struggling to resist tasty tidbits have a harder time sticking to their diets when at a restaurant or even just when they have company, a new study found.
The data showed that “when people are at a restaurant or eating with others it’s pretty easy to succumb to temptation and have those French fries,” said study co-author Stephen Rathbun, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Georgia.
Rathbun and his colleagues followed 150 people, 90 percent of whom were women, for 12 months to learn what makes people more likely to succumb to dietary temptation.
The average body mass index (BMI) of the study volunteers was 34, which would translate into a 5-foot-4-inch woman, weighing 200 pounds or a 5-foot-9-inch man weighing 230 pounds.
Volunteers were given target calorie counts that were related to their weights. So, for example, women weighing less than 200 pounds were to aim for 1,200 calories a day, while women weighing more than 200 pounds were to try to keep their consumption to 1,500 calories a day.
The volunteers used a custom-developed application on smart phones to report when and where they felt tempted to break their diets. They also reported whether they gave into temptations, such as craving a large serving of calorie-dense food, a slice of cheesecake or several pieces of candy.
People were most likely surrender to temptation if they were with others, dining at a restaurant or at someone else's house. In fact, at restaurants there was a 60 percent chance the siren call of tempting food would win out over will power.
The odds of succumbing to the temptation of tasty treats was lower when people were at work or in their cars.
The researchers didn’t count deviations from the diet that were planned.
“If a couple was going out to celebrate their anniversary, then whatever they ate on that special occasion was not considered a lapse,” Rathbun said. “We were concerned more about the unplanned lapses, when, for example, people went out with friends and ordered cake because everybody else did.”
That doesn't mean we can't eat out if we want to hold firm with our diets.
Keri Glassman, a registered dietitian and TODAY contributor, made a few suggestions for powering past temptation while dining out. In her world, restaurants can be part of a healthy lifestyle if you make some adjustments. Here's her advice:
1. Spoil your appetite.
This one might seem counter intuitive: You're going out to dinner, so you should go hungry, right? Wrong.
"You don't want to get to the restaurant and dive head first into the bread basket," Glassman explained. To prevent this from happening, she suggested having a healthy snack (hard-boiled egg, 15 almonds or two slices of turkey) about an hour before you go.
RELATED: 6 smart grab-and-go snack options
2. Be a trendsetter.
If your friend orders French fries, you're more likely to do the same. But, the opposite approach works, too:
"If the first person orders something healthy, you'll be surprised at how many people follow suit," Glassman advised. So raise your hand, order first and choose the healthiest thing on the menu.
3. Skip the first drink.
Order a glass of club soda or sparkling water instead of having a drink.
"It's an easy way to cut down on the alcohol for the evening," said Glassman.
4. Order a veggie side dish instead of an appetizer.
"If there isn't a soup or salad that's fairly clean and simple, check out the vegetable side options," said Glassman. She recommended ordering something like broccoli rabe or green beans.
5. Split an entree with a friend or order a protein appetizer as your entree.
Portions are huge at restaurants! According to Glassman, the appetizer portion is usually the perfect choice.
"If you can't find any appetizers that you like, split an entree with a friend," Glassman said.