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Want to Cut Calories? Order Now, Eat Later

September 08, 2016

Everyone seems to be looking for a magical solution or a quick fix when it comes to dieting and weight loss.

As a registered dietitian I can tell you there’s no such thing, but a new study suggests that there may be a way to trick your body into consuming fewer calories: order your food now and eat it later.

Why Planning Your Meals is Important

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pennsylvania examined the lunch orders of nearly 700 employees in a corporate cafeteria, conducting two field studies. They did a third study with 195 students who ordered a catered lunch. The first study analyzed more than 1,000 orders placed after 7 a.m. and picked up between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. A second study randomly assigned participants to place their lunch orders before 10 a.m. or after 11 a.m., while the third study asked college students to order their lunch before and after class. The meals were delivered immediately after class.

The result?  People who ordered lunch right before they ate chose higher-calorie meals. If they waited an hour, they made healthier lunch choices. Student participants in the third study who placed lunch orders in advance chose the lowest-calorie meals.  In fact, they ate approximately 100 calories less than those who ordered at lunchtime. 

Making Healthier Choices

These conclusions aren’t surprising, when you’re hungry you’re more likely to make indulgent choices — and these foods may not be the healthiest. It’s why I always advise people to carry healthy snacks with them, including fruit, nuts, no-sugar added snack bars such as LARABAR, or homemade protein balls, among other options.

Ironically, researchers found that placing lunch orders in advance or immediately before eating didn’t affect meal satisfaction. Not eating breakfast didn’t have an impact, either. They say restaurants can help customers make healthier choices by allowing them to place advance orders. Consumers who are self-aware also can increase their self-control by planning their meals in advance or looking at the menu before they head to the restaurant or cafeteria. is a website that makes it easy to dine out and choose healthy meals. Healthy Dining’s personalized search, which is validated by registered dietitians, enables you to customize your search for restaurant menu items based on calories, sodium, fat, protein, carbs, saturated fat and fiber.

“The finding that people select higher-calorie meals when they order immediately before consuming points to a possible negative effect of the proliferation of fast-food restaurants and packaged meals, which remove the time delays inherent in advance shopping and time-consuming food preparation,” say the study’s authors. 

The bottom line is that an impulse buy — whether it’s a new pair of shoes or a weekday lunch — can lead to regret later. Save yourself the remorse and the calories by being more conscious about what you order.