MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Trying to stick to your diet can be tough when dining out.  With so many tempting items on the menu, will power is important to sticking with your plan.

Cornell University Researchers said if you do fall off the diet wagon while dining out, you can blame slick marketing techniques and time tested sales gimmicks.

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Click here to watch Brian Andrews’ report. 

Cornell Professor of Marketing Brian Wansink said it all starts with the menu.

“Our choices are largely engineered by the layout of the menu and how things are described in the menu,” said Wansink.

Some restaurants use flashy graphics, large posters of dishes, even table side electronic tablets to show you what you could be ordering.

“Any vivid colors will draw your eye to it,” said Wansink. “The first thing your eye sees when you look at a menu, whether it’s in a box, or in red’s or yellow’s, bold or icons, tremendously raises the likelihood that you are going to select that item versus the one right next to it.”

Professor Wansink said delectable dish descriptions like crunchy, creamy, or zesty, are probably dishes dieters should avoid.

“If those descriptive words sound incredibly evocative and luscious, they’re probably code words for things that are fat,” said Wansink.

Researchers said visual variety causes us to eat more, so often, restaurants design their plate and food presentation with as many colors as possible.

Wansink said restaurant décor is also a factor.

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“What we find is that if it’s way to light and bright then you eat too fast and too much,” said Wansink. “If it’s sort of dark and quiet, you’ll also eat a whole lot, because you stick around longer, end up eating more.”

Researchers said some restaurants are even experimenting with scents in the dining room, spritzing and spraying bottles of fragrances that smell like a grill or certain sauces and spices.

“Floral scents can cause some people to eat a little more, but, largely, they cause a lot of people to say I’m really not hungry anymore,” said Professor Wansink.

So here’s his advice if you’re on a diet and eating out.  First, pick a table that’s not too dark and not too bright.

“So what you’ll do is eat a more reasonable amount, in a more reasonable time period,” said Wansink.

Also, select a table that isn’t near a television.  When you’re focused on a game or program, it’s easier to forget about your diet goals.

He suggests practicing the “rule of 2’s” when hitting a buffet, only selecting two items for your plate, instead of many.

“Restaurants kind of find things that work,” said Wansink. “They don’t know why, but they sort of just go with the flow.”


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