Calories, Sugar, and Fat, Oh My!

One of my family’s favorite restaurants is The Cheesecake Factory, or what I like to call “gluttony at its finest.” For those of you familiar with the restaurant, no further explanation is needed. For those who are not, imagine portion sizes that would make a dietitian weep.

Other restaurants harbor a slew of waistline assassins as well, but The Cheesecake Factory is my guilty pleasure. The sight of a burrito the size of a log or a salad bigger than my son’s head titillates in its gustatory possibilities.

That’s How Many Calories?

But according to the Calorie Lab, that log-sized Factory Burrito Grande has 1,839 calories and a heap-load of salt. That chicken Caesar salad the size of my son’s head weighs in at 1,510 calories. Or, if you prefer some old-fashioned chicken and biscuits, it will cost you 2,262 calories and 68 grams of fat. As for desert, how about a 1,549-calorie slice of carrot cake or a 929-calorie slice of white chocolate raspberry truffle cheesecake? Ooh, that one’s sheer heaven.

By the way, the recommended caloric intake for women is 1,800-2,200 calories per day, depending on activity level, and 2,000-2,400 calories per day for males.

Oopsey daisy.

In the restaurant’s defense, they do have a terrific SkinnyLicious menu, all entries under 590 calories. I love the black-bean veggie burger. Yummy yummy in my tummy.

My kind of naughty and nice. (Image credit: thecheesecakefactory.com)

What’s a Consumer to Do?

So does that mean if we eat at The Cheesecake Factory, or any number of other restaurants, we should only choose from the lite menu? Not necessarily, but we should use common sense. If you plan to dine out, balance the rest of your meals that day—and maybe even the next—accordingly. Sharing works, too. Then you can splurge on dessert, because…well…The Cheesecake Factory without dessert? Really?

I believe in moderation. Everything in moderation. Deprivation ultimately backfires. One deserves an occasional meal in an indulgent restaurant as long as it’s balanced with meals at home most days of the week and a conscious calorie acknowledgement.

But be careful. The formula of “calories in equals calories out” is not as simple as it seems. Individual choices do not contribute to health outcomes in a vacuum. The food industry, with its knowledge of just the right combination of fat, sugar, and salt to hook us in and keep us salivating for more, is also responsible. In fact, for an eye-opening discussion of how food manufacturers manipulate these key ingredients to stimulate our appetites and lead us to eat far more than we otherwise would, check out former FDA commissioner David Kessler’s book The End of Overeating. Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. The research impresses.

And disturbs.

For more information on dietary guidelines, see health.gov  from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Also, for another eye-opening read, see Eat This, Not That: Avoid America’s ‘Scariest’ Restaurant Meals.

All images from Microsoft Clip Art unless otherwise noted.

151 Responses to “Calories, Sugar, and Fat, Oh My!”

  1. Lynn Schneider

    This was a really good post. You could resurrect more of those from your other blog. There are a lot of comments on it. Feel free to not answer as I am a day late. I feel the same about Cheesecake Factory. We don’t go there any longer, the portion sizes are ridiculous to the point that it’s just plain irritating. I once ordered some chicken pasta thing, thinking it might be a little healtier. After all it’s chicken… and pasta, right? Come to find out it’s one of the most caloric things on the menu! Enough for a grown man’s entire daily intake. Plus, the size of their menu is stupid. Way too many choices.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      So Lynn, tell me what you really think.
      😉

      But seriously, I agree–it is ridiculous, as are so many restaurant options. Not only are portion sizes huge, but the contents are full of high-fat cream and butter. Which is why it’s only an occasional indulgence.

      Glad you enjoyed the post. I’ll have to see if there are any others from my old blog I can humor up. Hmmm, maybe the one on HPV vaccine for boys? Now that’s a laugh riot.
      🙂

      And remember, it’s never too late for another comment! Thanks for adding yours.

      Like

  2. Amritorupa Kanjilal

    Being a total foodaholic, I sometimes wish the word calories had never been invented. Great to know you are such a stickler for eating right though.
    BTW, I write a blog about health, food, & living. Since you wrote about healthy eating once too, maybe you’ll like it. Please do pay a visit! (linked to my name)

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      You write two blogs?! Don’t you have a book review site as well? Wow. Impressive.
      🙂

      Thanks for stopping by. I’ll have to check out your other blog when I get a chance.

      Like

  3. El Guapo

    When I need to do myself in, and I mean catatonia levels of consumption, grease and juice running down my arms and dripping off my elbows, not enough napkins in the dispenser, sheer “dear god, what was I thinking” eating, I’ll take a 40 minute drive to the only place that will do.

    http://allamericanhamburger.us/

    You’re welcome.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Ha ha–you would definitely get my husband and sons’ vote on that one. We don’t have one near us, but we have a Five Guys, and they think that’s sheer heaven. Sadly, their mean mother doesn’t let them eat there too much. At least at the Cheesecake Factory they can get sides of broccoli. At Five Guys, it’s just burgers and fries. Oh, and all of that grease you enjoy dripping down your arms.
      🙂

      Like

  4. twistingthreads

    I may have salivated a little, like one of Pavlov’s dogs. I might actually make dinner now. I won’t elaborate on the reasons for this, because that’s the subject of a later blog post, but it’s always good when people write about food. I need anything I can to tempt me nowadays.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Well, if temptation is what you need, then a trip to The Cheesecake Factory should be your next stop. Just be careful. You might walk out two sizes larger.
      🙂

      Like

  5. frederick anderson

    From the land of fish and chips and steamed puddings you might hear a faint but discernibly agonised bleating sound. Were there to be a British Cheesecake Factory I would not be able to walk past it – I wouldn’t even dare to enter the street it was on! I am one of those unhappy souls for whom just the mention of the word ‘calory’ will add another waistline inch. One glance at the chocolaty picture above was too much – I simply HAD to go out and buy this gateau, and now (on slice three) my keys are getting all sticky!

    My sympathies go to the guy in the picture at the top who is clearly about to shoot himself in the head. Exactly, guy! It’s the only way out!

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Ha ha–well, if even virtual calories go to your waistline, then you’d be in a heap of trouble at the Cheesecake Factory. And yes, its cheesecake is so rich, those keys would slip from your fingers, as there’s really no means of keeping all that cheese from escaping your pores. Not to mention the dallops of whipped cream.

      But I suspect England has its own fair share of waistline assassins. In fact, I spent a couple days in London a while back, so I know they do.
      🙂

      Like

  6. acflory

    Great post and it looks as if your time has come! Lots of people looking and commenting.

    The one small thing I’d like to add is that fat, sugar and salt are not the only things that can add favour to a meal. I cook French style and that means lots of garlic, herbs, onions, slow cooking [for the flavour], salads with vinaigrette, and of course cream and sour cream when applicable. I also make veal schnitzel from scratch… ONCE EVERY COUPLE OF MONTHS! And none of us are above the BMI, not even me at post menopausal 59. Being healthy and eating delicious food do not have to be poles apart.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Such good points. In fact, I mentioned to an earlier commenter, that restaurants need to realize that butter and creams aren’t the only things that enhance flavor. Some olive oil, garlic, and seasonings can work wonders. Even the heavy creams aren’t necessary. I’ve made Fettucine Alfredo using skim milk and plain yogurt, and it tastes great, not to mention it contains a fraction of the calories.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I appreciate it.
      🙂

      Like

      • acflory

        I haven’t tried substituting yoghurt for cream but I do like it so I’ll give it a try. I’m passionate about food and get so annoyed when manufacturers devalue it. Btw I really enjoyed your post. lol I forgot to say that.

        Like

  7. Ann Marquez

    OH yeah … Cheescake Factory in Vegas. 😀 Those were the days. 😉 Have you heard of the Heart Attack Grill? Where diners ‘dine at their own risk’?

    Good post, Carrie 😉

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I have heard of the Heart Attack Grill. I think that’s the place I read about where they have up to quadruple cheeseburgers. America at its finest, that is. Even “everything in moderation” has a limit. Good grief–can you imagine?
      🙂

      Like

  8. the curtain raiser

    Great post, Carrie. Feel free to give yourself persmission to use material from your defunct health blog anytime. We experienced our first Cheesecake Factory experience last year in Boston (we don’t have anything really like it here). OMFG! The portion sizes are just stupid, but as a well planned and compensated for rare indulgence, I can see the merits and will be back. Best cheesecake I ever had :).

    Actually, the US seems to have a different apporach to food and food portions than Australians. The portion sizes in the US are incredible, at least 1.5 – 2.0 times the size of ours. I’ve seen backyard pools smaller than the size of a large coke in the US! And you can’t seem to get plain anything. A ham sandwich – just a sandwich with ham and maybe a bit of green salad. Nope, everything seems to be filled with mayo. I know most US citizens feel let down by our food offerings here.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      It really is ridiculous, isn’t it? The amount of mayo they put on a Subway sub is horrifying. When ever I go there I ask for just a “streak” of honey mustard, and yet they still put too much on. And don’t even get me started on beverage sizes. Good god, whose bladders can even withstand that?

      I often wonder what foreigners think when they come to our country. I’m sure it’s very strange for them.
      🙂

      Like

  9. fitknitchick

    I have never eaten at the Cheesecake Factory. I wish I could say that it because I didn’t want to. Nope. They don’t exist around here.
    I always struggle with menu options when we eat out. Even the under 600 calorie light meals have more calories that I want to eat in a single meal.
    Thanks for the book references; I’m off to do some research (although I’m not sure I really want to know how the food industry is manipulating us to eat more crap…)

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      It’s an eye-opening read for sure. Lots of research and science facts, but I know you’ll have no trouble with that. And you’re right, sometimes even the light meals have too many calories. That being said, I am sad you have no access to a Cheesecake Factory, though I suspect British Columbia has its share of other delights.
      🙂

      Like

  10. Smaktakula

    Helpful and funny. In fact, when this was on your public health blog (you know, I can’t even say that without getting excited–it’s got all the whiz-bang thrill of hard science, coupled with the rollercoaster world of non-stop excitement that is public policy), it might have been the funniest thing ever written on public health, except perhaps for anti-AIDS/HIV advertisements from the 80s (to clarify–the disease wasn’t funny, the ads were).

    I’ve never eaten at the Cheesecake Factory either. I’m not sure we have one within 100 miles. I’ll live, though.

    Since I keep myself on a 12K calorie Michael Phelps diet, your advice really doesn’t apply to me. But for non Olympic-level athletes, I think this is good advice. If we’re not making our own food (and I don’t mean heating it up), then we should be aware of what’s in it. I’m not saying not to eat it–some people can get away with eating whatever they want, and others of us (myself definitely included) have to be a little more careful. But I’m glad the choice is there.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Yeah, my public health blog was a riot act, that’s for sure. I was very respectable and scientific on it, with numerous sources to back me up. In other words–boring. Just as you speculated a public health blog would be. There weren’t many posts I coud spice up and bring over here, but I thought this one was worth a shot. I did write one on HPV vaccine for boys. Do you think I can make that funny?

      Good to hear you have the body of an olympian, and can therefore consume 12,000 calories a day. I always figured such was the case, though hopefully you forego the Michael Phelps speedos. In fact, if you actually had a Cheesecake Factory in your little Californian paradise, you could order several things off the menu and still be okay.

      Like

        • Carrie Rubin

          I know you could make it funny. The question is, should I? Somehow, I don’t think I could get away with it as well as PT. Though I could show some fun warty images.

          Like

          • Smaktakula

            I meant YOU could make it funny.
            You ask: “Should I?”

            I sense a teaching moment here. I’m gonna answer your question with a question of my own, but first think for a few moments on some of the things I’ve published on PT in the time you’ve been reading it.

            Here’s my question: Do you really suppose that mine would be the most helpful opinion you could solicit regarding what does or does not cross that ever-so-delicate line of blogosphere propriety?

            But yeah, I totally think you could get away with it. You’ve been Freshly Pressed–you could show some soft-core warty dinguses and folks would still get the Very Special Message vibe.

            Like

  11. Stacie Chadwick

    I’d wager that 82 comments and counting is a sign of success. I LOVE stopping by McDonald’s for a large order of fries, fountain coke, and cheeseburger, but only when my birthday falls on a Sunday during a leap year. =)

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      We rarely eat at McDonalds unless it’s the only option on a turnpike or in an airport. Last week, my 12 year old begged me for a McDonalds. I finally relented. He had 10 nuggets, medium fries, and a vanilla shake. Six hours later in bed he threw up. He was fine after, so I knew he didn’t have a virus. The next day he decided he’d had his fill of McDonalds for awhile. My point is, your every 4 year visit seems like a wise move.
      🙂

      As for the number of comments–look closely; most of them are mine.
      😉

      Like

  12. Sword-chinned bitch

    I’m glad you said that deprivation backfires. I believe I should eat everything — in moderation — as I write I’m eating a big fat cookie! And I’m known for eating very well. I believe like you, that we need to take care of our bodies by eating right and exercising regularly. People are surprised when I buy crap stuff like pop tarts — love ’em — or when I go to mcdonalds. I go to mcdonalds a couple of times a year — I have to.

    Thanks for mentioning the lighter choices. For years I was severe with my eating habits, using cigarettes to help me along — I was a vain young person who believed that you could never be too skinny. In maturity I’m so relaxed, it’s great. I appreciated reading your take on it.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thanks, Sandee. Deprivation would just make me crazy. I get my fruits and veggies. I eat grilled meat. I get plenty of dairy. But you can bet I want my Snickers Blizzard on occasion or my chocolate. Life is just too short, otherwise. I love Michelle Obama’s take on nutrition and what she’s done with her family. Of course, I have an interest in pediatric obesity, so she stole my heart right away when she announced that was her platform. But even she admits to everything in moderation. And she’s got the biceps to prove it.
      🙂

      Like

  13. writerwendyreid

    I liked this post. I’m going to quickly share my own weight gain and loss story here. In April of 2010, I quit smoking, a nasty habit of 30 years. Although I really tried not to overeat (and I don’t believe that I did), I gained almost 20 pounds. In May 2011, I was diagnosed with blood clots in both of my lungs and was chair ridden for a month. Gained another 25 pounds or so. By last summer, I tipped the scales at 213 pounds. Wow. Ok, so I am almost 6 feet tall but this was an all time record for me. I not only hated the way I looked, but I had trouble doing anything physical. Bending to tie my shoes was work and I had to straighten up and take a break a few times. I outgrew all of my clothes. I wore nothing but yoga pants and had to keep buying bigger tops as well. I. Was. Miserable.

    I sent away for a diet/exercise program called the Pink Method at the beginning of Jan 2012. With a combination of eating right and exercising, I am down to 173 pounds, only 13 pounds away from my goal of 160. My basic diet consists of fruit, vegetable, green tea (black, no sugar) and water. I am now used to eating like this and enjoy it, for the most part. I DO however, cheat almost daily. As a former junk food addict, I knew that if I took away ALL of my favorite foods, my new way of eating would not last. My meals are all low in calorie and healthy, but I have a weakness for cookies, doritos (zesty cheese) and chocolate. I am able to eat these things (in moderation of course) on a daily basis and maintain the same weight.

    My problem now is, it’s been a few months since I’ve given up on the exercise because since I’ve started working full time again, I’m just too tired and don’t have all the extra time I had before. I’ve reached a plateau on the weight. I can’t do anything cardio because I become too short of breath (something we still haven’t figured out the reason for) so I’m at a place where I need to either start exercising again or be satisfied with my weight loss so far.

    What do I miss the most from my old way of eating? Poutines. French fries covered in rich gravy and curd cheese. Cake too. 🙂

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Wendy, thanks so much for sharing your story. I love hearing about how people have lost weight, because I’ve seen from others how much work it takes. It’s really a lifestyle change as you demonstrate. It’s not just about dieting for awhile and then you’re done. You seem to have gone about it very sensibly. I think if people give up all of life’s delights, it can be very difficult to stick with. That being said, some things are probably always best avoided like fried foods (Poutines, huh?) and really greasy items.

      I’m sure it’s frustrating to be limited with your exercise now that you’re working. Hopefully you can fit it some walking. And I heard about that Pink method on Dr. Phil (yes, I watch him).
      🙂

      Like

      • writerwendyreid

        That’s where I heard about it. I bought it as a christmas present for myself. It really does work and eventually you can tailor it to suit your needs and still end up with losing weight and getting healthier.

        Like

  14. Diane Henders

    I’m a firm believer in eating a daily balanced diet that contains foods from all four basic food groups: sugar, salt, fat, and booze. 🙂

    I love those giant-portion restaurants. The wonderful thing about getting a portion larger than my own body mass is that I *know* I can’t eat it all… so I don’t even try. I usually get three or four meals out of the take-home leftovers. Heck of a deal. My problem is with all the other restaurants that give you only about 50% too much. Then I end up eating it all. Plus dessert.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      You might want to challenge the food pyramid with your four basic staples. You’d probably have a lot of supporters.
      🙂

      If you can control yourself, then the big portions are indeed nice because you have dinner the next day. But unfortunately, control isn’t in big supply around some of these restaurants.
      🙂

      Like

      • Diane Henders

        Yes, it’s that whole “splendour of quantity” thing – it’s easy to get carried away. I actually eat a very healthy diet most of the time, but portion sizes do tend to sneak up on me. As a general rule, I eat from the “real” food pyramid six days a week, and Fridays are my no-holds-barred sugar/salt/fat/booze days. I work out a lot, so I can usually get away with a few indiscretions.

        If the pounds start to creep back on, I get a bit more exercise and cut the portion sizes… but I never give up my Friday foodfests. And I always allow myself one dessert per day. Deprivation won’t make me live longer; it’ll just feel that way. 🙂

        Like

        • Carrie Rubin

          I think you’ve got it just right. I, too, exercise every day. Not only does it burn calories while you’re doing it, but you burn more throughout the day afterwards. That way, I can eat more. And stay sane. Well, I guess that last part’s debatable.
          🙂

          Like

  15. Joanna Aislinn

    Did The Cheesecake Factory once with a group of girlfriends years ago. Portions kind of scared me too. Food quality: Yum. So many cheesecake choices, I was sad at opting only for one. Sigh.

    Favorite restaurant indulgence: Friendly’s Reese’s Pieces Sunday or their current Hunka Chunka PB Lava Cake 12-inch diameter-plate of awesomeness. On the rare occasion that I go, I make sure to take someone who shares the PB-n-ice-cream love.

    Fun post, Carrie. Experiment anytime you like!

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thanks!

      I had to laugh when you mentioned the Friendly’s desserts, because my Twitter pics still include that image you posted of that yummy peanut butter dessert (I had responded to your tweet, so I guess it stuck the image on my profile page). I keep meaning to go there, because I want to try that dessert. But somehow, the Cheesecake Factory keeps beckoning us back.
      🙂

      Like

      • Joanna Aislinn

        This comment-box thingy can make me a little nuts, lol. I don’t have tolerance for waiting to get into our area same-name venue. Those sobering calorie counts make it easier to stay away too.

        Good thing Friendly’s is a few towns over. Though I may be recruiting my son soon…

        Like

  16. whiteladyinthehood

    I’ve heard of the Cheesecake Factory but never been. I am one of the strange folks that will pass up sugar for salt…(I’m a salt fiend) most people want dessert, I’m like did you say chips n dip? I have to really watch the sodium intake. I cook most of the meals and eat out sparingly…I love vegetables. (my fav indulgence would be mexican food!)

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I love vegetables, too. And they don’t have to be smothered in cheese or cream to taste good. A little olive oil, some garlic and seasonings, and roasted veggies are delicious. It drives me crazy when I order sides of broccoli for my kids in a restaurant, and they come seeped in butter (the veggies, not the kids).

      I haven’t had chips and dip for so long. Ooh, now you got me craving…
      🙂

      Like

  17. jotsfromasmallapt

    Yes, yes, yes Carrie…we should all use common sense when it comes to choosing the food that slips between our lips.
    However….last time I looked…common sense had not been added to any of the Recommended and Approved Pyramid and/or Food Groups…not mine anyway.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Yes, if only they could serve a dallop of common sense along with that cheesecake smothered in whip cream! It’s funny how quickly that common sense can be overshadowed by our taste buds’ pleasure.
      🙂

      Like

  18. jmmcdowell

    It’s probably good that I’ve never been to the Cheesecake Factory. 🙂 My husband and I purposely don’t eat out very often simply because it is hard to eat healthy. And we will bring home half for the next day. And I definitely try to eat extra healthy meals around those outings.

    Keeping up the daily exercise is a must, too. I need to up the intensity of my morning workouts because I can see a few pounds have managed to come back on by missing my evening walks during our extreme heat.

    Both parents developed Type 2 diabetes, and I don’t want to follow suit. So I do try to be moderate in my fat and calorie intakes.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I believe strongly that daily exercise, no matter what one is able to do, helps the aging process tremendously. In fact, when centenarians are asked their secrets, most all of them respond similarly–“I walk every day.” If a hundred-year-old woman can do it, then surely the rest of us can.
      🙂

      It’s weird to become the old married couple that share their meals, but my husband and I sometimes do just that. Otherwise, it’s too easy to overindulge. And believe me, a half piece of The Cheesecake Factory’s cheesecake is enough for even the biggest appetite. Very rich. But very yummy.
      😉

      Like

  19. Daniel Nest

    Hehehee I actually have had the pleasure of eating at The Cheesecake Factory in Florida a year ago, during one of the many work visits to US. I was starving when we went in and ordered a chicken dish. Think it was Cashew Chicken, but don’t take my word for it…well, let’s just say I’m probably still digesting bits of it to this day. I had to stop half way through – they don’t mess around with portion sizes over there!

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      You had me laughing out loud with that comment. You’re not kidding–Americans love their big portions. And yes, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re still burping cashews. Then again, if that’s the case, I feel sorry for your girlfriend.

      Like

      • Daniel Nest

        Hehehee indeed, we’ll just have to hope she’s a huge fan of cashews! I’m happy my digestive pains are a source of great entertainment for you 😉

        Like

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