Staying away from the difficulties fast food restaurants provided was easy. I simply didn’t eat there. The bigger problem in maintaining Paleo compliance was at the sit down restaurants. Restaurant menus are designed to generate a profit. They are not designed to help you make healthy eating decisions. In her 2007 research article How Major Restaurant Chains Plan Their Menus: The Role of Profit, Demand, and Health Karen Glanz found that only 27% of chain restaurants offer healthier choices and most of those believe that the demand for healthier food is not widespread. With attitude like this, it’s no wonder that I had difficulty finding healthy dining options.
Because restaurant menus are designed for profit generation, they are also deceptive. If a customer eats more than one course, the size of the bill increases and the restaurant’s profit increases. In a series of studies, Dhar and Simonson (1999) found that consumers prefer to balance an unhealthy main course with a healthy dessert, or a healthy main course with an unhealthy dessert, rather than choosing two healthy or unhealthy main courses and desserts.[i] It’s for this reason, that many restaurant menu items have ratings or logos that an item is a healthy choice. Pierre Chandon’s and Brian Wansinks paper The Biasing Health Halos of Fast-Food Restaurant Health Claims: Lower Calorie Estimates and Higher Side-Dish Consumption Intentions discusses the placement of healthy choice logos next to relatively unhealthy menu options to facilitate sales.
After reading the menus of chain restaurants meal after meal, it became clear that I had to work to find Paleo compliant meals. The menus were great in selling me food, but they weren’t making it easy for me to make healthy decisions. I could have made it easy on myself and just had a salad for every meal but that gets real boring real fast. On the other hand, I always had the option of having steak, chicken, fish or ribs. Unfortunately, 95% of the cuts of meat available were not considered lean protein by Paleo Diet standards. I could have had a New York strip or rib eye every night, but they are fatty cuts which is why they are prevalent on restaurant menus. Often the chicken or fish were deep fried.