Home Health News The AJC Asks: Do You Talk “Skinny,” But Eat “Fat?”

The AJC Asks: Do You Talk “Skinny,” But Eat “Fat?”

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Photo courtesy of mrbling.

Excerpted from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

while 47 percent of Americans say they’d like restaurants to offer healthier items like salads and baked potatoes, only 23 percent tend to order those foods, according to a survey last year by food research firm Technomic.

That explains the popularity of KFC’s Double Down, a sandwich of bacon and cheese slapped between two slabs of fried chicken. It’s the reason IHOP offers a Simple & Fit menu with yogurt and fruit bowls, but its top seller remains a 1,180-calorie breakfast sampler of eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, hash browns and pancakes. It’s also why only 11 percent of parents ordered apple slices as an alternative to fries in McDonald’s Happy Meals.


But revamping a menu can be difficult and expensive, requiring months or even years. For example, it took Dunkin’ Donuts four years to figure out how to make its doughnuts without trans fat — which doctors say is one of the unhealthiest types of fat — without altering the taste.


As a result, many chains have scaled back their efforts to roll out healthy foods. The number of health-related claims made on menus, like reduced fat or reduced carbs, fell 5 percent from 2008 to 2010, according to Technomic’s study of more than 1,200 restaurant chains.

Most restaurants won’t share specifics about how their salads and veggie omelets compete when they’re up against burgers and crepes. But the healthy stuff appears to be only a small proportion of revenue at most chains.

The IHOP pancake house, owned by DineEquity Inc., says that Simple & Fit sales have roughly doubled in the year since the menu was introduced. But it still makes up only a single-digit percentage of revenue.

The Cheesecake Factory, which introduced a “Skinnylicious” menu in August featuring entrees with 590 calories or less, says those foods have also performed well. But sales of its decadent cheesecakes are up too. “We recognize that ‘cheesecake’ is in our name,” said Alethea Rowe, senior director of restaurant marketing.

There’s a host of reasons for the disparity between word and deed. Sometimes people who eat healthy at home want to treat themselves when they go out. Others doubt that the so-called healthier items on fast-food menus are really healthy. Even peer pressure can play a role. (?????)

Jason Sierra, who was eating a Whopper hamburger and fries at a Burger King in New York recently, said he’s cut back on unhealthy foods because his cholesterol and blood pressure were getting too high. But when his office buddies order lunch, he opts for “man food” like pizza to fit in.

“One day I did try to order a salad,” said Sierra, 40, who works in tech support. “And I caught hell for that.” (?!?!?!?!?!)

Healthier foods also are usually among the most expensive menu items, which can be tough for recession-weary customers to stomach. Efrain Vasquez and his wife, Evelyn, were recently eating fried chicken and gravy-drenched mashed potatoes at a KFC in New York. They say there’s a big difference between a $2 burger and a $6 salad when you’re on a tight budget.

“We’ve got bills to pay,” said Efrain Vasquez, 51, a maintenance worker who’s raising four kids with Evelyn, a 37-year-old receptionist. “We try to economize.”

Like so many American dieters, fast-food restaurants have tried and failed to go healthy. The Wendy’s Co. burger chain led the way in the mid-1980s with a short-lived effort to sell tomato halves filled with cottage cheese and pineapple chunks on lettuce leaves.

“Consumers weren’t ready for it,” said Denny Lynch, a spokesman for Wendy’s, where burgers and chicken are the biggest sellers. “Or at least they certainly didn’t buy it.”

In 2003, during the low-carb Atkins diet craze, Domino’s Pizza Inc. couldn’t get people to bite on a low-carb pizza it tested in Indianapolis. “While many people at the time made their voice heard that they wanted it, few people actually ordered it,” said Chris Brandon, Domino’s spokesman.

McDonald’s, the world’s largest burger chain, says the fruit smoothies and oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins it rolled out last year are selling well, although it declined to disclose their revenue. “We would not have them on the menu if we were not selling them at a rate that we could sustain them at,” said Molly Starmann, director of McDonald’s family business category.

But the chain didn’t always have such luck. It spent three years developing the McLean Deluxe, a 91-percent fat-free hamburger it introduced in 1991 only to suffer disappointing sales.

More recently, McDonald’s got a lukewarm response when in 2004 it began offering parents the option of choosing apple slices instead of fries for Happy Meals. So, in July, McDonald’s said it would stop offering a choice and instead serve a half portion of both. It had considered taking fries out Happy Meals completely, but nixed the idea when parents in tests said “No.”

For now, restaurants continue to straddle the line.

Burger King Corp. this summer pledged to promote healthier foods for kids, but announced last week that it would sell ice cream desserts nationwide, including an Oreo brownie sundae with 530 calories and 17 grams of fat. KFC introduced grilled chicken in 2009, then launched the Double Down sandwich the following year. The 540-calorie, 32-grams-of-fat breadless sandwich started as a limited-time offering, but proved so popular that the chain ended up keeping it.

Andy Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants Inc., which runs Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., said even though his restaurants offer salads and turkey burgers, he figures his best seller at Hardee’s is probably the Thickburger. The most decadent version of it comes with two types of cheese, fried onions, mayonnaise and nearly half a pound of beef and weighs in at 1,170 calories and 83 grams of fat. (The government recommends that most people consume 2,000 calories and no more than about 70 grams of fat each day.)

“We have wonderful, healthy foods if people want to buy them,” Puzder said. “But they don’t sell particularly well.”

I have so many thoughts on this… I’m going to wait. But I wanna know: How often do you dine out? What are you eating when you go? What are your thoughts on all this?

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alicia October 14, 2011 - 1:50 PM

i feel like i “talk skinny but eat fat”. not in terms of restaurant eating (because i choose not to eat in fast food restaurants and most chain restaurants anyway), but just in terms of being all about “healthy eating”. my friends all notice how healthy my food choices are and praise me for it, but i still struggle with overeating at times, and if there’s a cookie or a slice of cake in front of me, it’s HARD to say no. like, REALLY REALLY hard. in this way i feel like a hypocrite sometimes.

Lakisha October 14, 2011 - 4:59 PM

Yea honey I know exactly how you feel. All of my co-workers, friends and family know that I am a health nut so If i do want to treat myself to chips or candy I get all of these “OOOOO the healthy girl is eating junk food comments” and I do sometimes give in to my cravings. But guess what, we are human…… I think that the effort alone for you to want to be healthy is an awsome start girl. Don’t beat yourself up about it. I have been vegan for 4 weeks now. And its like people wait for me to mess up on my new lifestyle by trying to tempt me with non vegan food. I just do me and I keep it moving. I love being vegan and I will NEVER go back to the other side. But anyway, Keep ya head up.

alicia October 15, 2011 - 1:11 PM

thanks lakisha!! it’s rough out there lol! good luck to you on your journey 🙂

T.R. October 15, 2011 - 1:28 PM

Hmmm, I think this article shows the complexity in the being/eating healthy conversation. Should we really expect food chains and restaurants to try and give us our “healthy” foods. It seems we don’t actually go out to eat to be “healthy”. I know that I’ve done that gone out and not ordered from the “healthy” menu options. My rationale has been I do healthy at home and this is a “treat”. Okay my most common rationale was I’ll do better later right now can’t I just have this “delicious” morsel of sin. :O)

This being healthy is complex there is no easy straight forward one size fits all answer and this blog is an indication of that. We have a long way to go in the public discourse of healthy eating and restaurants. Maybe we can’t expect restaurants to truly change until WE truly change.

janice October 15, 2011 - 6:36 PM

i agree with this! i think what’s needed it not necessarily a change in the “healthiness” of the food that’s served at restaurants, but HOW it’s served, and our relationship to it. usually the “healthy” option at a restaurant will be something like grilled chicken or fish with a side of vegetables….tell me why i’d go out and pay extra to eat something i could easily make at home? it’s either that, or gorge yourself on a huge plate of pasta in cream sauce. why is that? my favorite restaurant has a spanish/southern-european style menu, with small plates and large plates that everyone at the table shares. everyone gets a small portion of each plate, then has a little break while waiting for the next plate. after eating there i am always COMPLETELY satisfied, but never overly stuffed. it’s an indulgence, yes, but the food is unique, made from quality ingredients, and prepared with care. it’s not “health food”, but it’s not going to make you fat.

CoCo October 15, 2011 - 2:19 PM

Reading this made me think of my coworker who is always reminding people that we vote with our dollars.

I’m not surprised that healthier options in restaurants aren’t popular, but the reasons people give are a bit silly, I think. The couple who mentioned that burgers are cheaper than salads apparently don’t know that fast food restaurants sell side salads on the dollar menu. Also, everyone knows that when you’re broke it’s cheaper to eat some flavorful beans and rice (or some bangin’ crockpot soup) at home than it is to eat out. But apparently they don’t know that either.

Rachel October 19, 2011 - 11:46 AM

I was waiting on someone to point this out (so thank you Coco). I am not buying the excuses that people give for eating unhealthy foods. I bought a whole chicken that could feed a family of four (I live alone, so I roasted it, cut it up and froze most) cost me $4.83. The herbs I used on it cost pennies per serving, and I do not baste the chicken with butter or excess fat. Instead I cook it on a low temperature, covered with foil, and let the skin provide all the fat needed in the cooking process.

I don’t buy the argument restaurants are giving either. First of all MANY of the salad options offered in fast food restaurants are NOT healthy…they are merely marketed that way. With the addition of croutons, dressings and ‘extras’, often times they become calorie, fat, salt and sugar-laden ‘healthy’ meals. The audacity of them to market it as one thing, sell it as another, and charge me extra.
Healthy meals at restaurants (primarily fast food chains) are unimaginative, expensive and nutritionally deficient AT BEST.
Sit-in restaurants are, often times, no better. They offer platters instead of plates, garnish their food with condiments instead of spices/seasoning, and promote ‘specials’ that have more caloriesin that ONE meal than many of us should consume in one day.

My last beef (pun intended) is with Mr Sierra who is being chastised by coworkers for ordering salad instead of ‘man food’ (not going to attend to the gendered issues here). HOW ABSURD!! How about you ‘man’ up since your masculinity is apparently on the line, and remove the toxic food as well as the toxic people from your life entirely. OR…educate those around you by showing them that even pizza can be healthy, delicious, without being covered in grease (or is it man-grease?). If you are going to let your coworkers dictate your eating habits, why not your wardrobe or sex life or your INCOME?? Give me a break…I’m just not buying it!

/end rant

Erika Nicole Kendall October 19, 2011 - 11:53 AM

I believe that is what we call… a smackdown. *puts back on hat that was blown away in the melee*

Lee October 16, 2011 - 1:08 PM

I wish they listed some of the salads and different things from those restaurants instead of just the bad sounding things like burgers and sundaes. Some of those salads are full of calories and fat from meat and eggs they have in them… And as for this:

“including an Oreo brownie sundae with 530 calories and 17 grams of fat.”

I’d probably stay away cause the sugar in that thing has to be crazy (although sugar isn’t usually made a deal out of in all the discussions of restaurant nutrition) but 17 grams of fat isn’t very high either percentage-wise or by the government’s recommendations. You could eat 4 of those sundaes and stay within the government recommend 70 grams of fat. 17 grams of fat means that sundae only has around 20% of it’s calories from fat.

I’ve honestly never gotten the craze for policing what restaurants serve. It’s nice if they offer something “healthier” for concerned people, but I don’t see how anything you can get at a chain restaurant will be safer or healthier than what you prepare at home. Why feed my kid old frozen prepackaged apple slices from McDonalds when they could just be eating a real apple?

And I do understand the mistrust of the “healthy food” served at places like McDonalds and Burger King. I mean, a Fillet O’ Fish has 380 calories and even more fat than an oreo sundae at 18g! Is it any better to go with a grilled chicken sandwich at McDonald’s over a burger? The grilled chicken is practically dunked in butter ): You can’t just rely common sense when you go into a chain restaurant, it doesn’t apply.

I think the saddest part of the article is people being laughed at for eating a salad if a salad is what they want.

Valarie October 17, 2011 - 11:17 AM

My favorite places to eat out are real restuarants, not fast food. At sit down places, you can ask them to hold the butter, the oil, the cheese, etc. I particularly love places that serve high quality fish or sushi. I know I can’t be going too wrong if I order baked salmon, which is a treat when you’re out in the Midwest. Since I started my journey towards healthy eating, I have not eaten at McDonald’s, not once in almost ten years. Nowadays if I were to try even going into most fast food places the smell of all the fat and grease actually makes me nauseous.

Kelekona October 17, 2011 - 2:11 PM

I’m a little jealous. I was from the Midwest, and not only is fish still expensive on the coast, but it takes buying family packs of the cheap cuts that are about to expire to even approach beef prices that are reasonable.

Dina D October 17, 2011 - 1:29 PM

I eat out once or twice between Friday and Sunday usually either brunch or dinner Almost never fast food. I think it’s important for people to know what they’re eating, but I also don’t think restaurants have to be responsible for giving us healthy options. They’re businesses and the reality is they’re going to sell what people buy. If people don’t buy salads, they’re not going to sell them and I dont’ expect them to do so. At some point you have to know how to police yourself. I adjust my calorie intake for the day based on what my plans are for the day. I also know how to make requests to improve the nutrition profile of my food at restaurants if I need to do it (light oil, no butter, dressing on the side, no cheese, etc etc etc). Developing that skill has helped me more than anything else I do in the name of health and fitness. I know that I will never be the girl who orders a salad every single time I go out, but I can be the girl who orders a bunless burger with crunchy green beans or edamame in place of fries. I’m also famous at this point in my group of friends for menu-stalking online and figuring out my order before I get where I’m going. That way my choice is made and I’m looking forward to it. Of course it would still be easier if restaurants had more healthy choices to offer, but I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Kelekona October 17, 2011 - 1:58 PM

Yeah, I’m a “talk skinny but eat fat” person. However, all restaurant eating is a 12 times per year treat for me, so I’m going to order something I don’t usually eat, like a fatburger with fries.

I’m probably a big hypocrite for even giving voice to “fast food should offer healthy” after I went to a lifestyle the excludes fast food mainly for the cost. (My last idea of “quick and cheap” was to go to a grocery store, split a roast chicken with the guy who treated 2-liter bottles of pop like 8-oz cans, and not eat again for 6 hours.)

K. October 17, 2011 - 4:29 PM

This article is really interesting. Just shows that what we often say we want is totally different from what we actually gravitate toward. I’m guilty of it as well. I dine out once or twice a week and view it as a treat…and sometimes I just don’t want the salad! I usually opt for grilled/broiled/baked seafood @ restaurants or grilled chicken sandwiches/salads @ fast food places. But when I want the fries I’ll have the fries, lol.

I think that restaurants should offer healthy options for sure. But complete menu overhauls when the whole premise of your restaurant is Kentucky FRIED Chicken is just foolish. I think the healthy eaters are just not going to Dominoes on the regular so trying to cater to them may be fruitless.

Rasheeda November 27, 2011 - 6:25 PM

I thought McDonald’s comments were interesting. I almost always get apple slices instead of fries for my 7 year old. However, most times (if we go, it’s the drive thru) they give us fries instead of Apple slices. Often we are almost home before I realize it. That happens 50-60% of the time, and at different McDonald’s. Kind of hard to get them if the restaurant refuses to honor your request. And that isn’t just fast food. Sit down restaurants have done that to us as well, whether for the kids or for me. Almost as if they thought I made a mistake when I placed the order.

Toni February 21, 2012 - 6:39 PM

I’m not going to lie, I do this a lot. I eat a lot of fast food throughout the week. Breakfast and lunch almost Monday-Friday…. I try my best to stick to the healthiest choices but too often I do find myself eating things that I know are very fattening and extremely unhealthy. This really all boils down to self control.

Jane March 4, 2012 - 12:44 PM

I was at IHOP today. I chose not to order from their fit menu because I wanted pancakes and eggs not egg substitutes. I like the fit menu portion size but I don’t like how they alter everything instead of just making it smaller. I’d rather eat say 500 calories from the senior menu (2 pancakes, 2 eggs) than 450 calories from the fit menu (2 pancakes egg substitute.)

DianaLyn March 5, 2012 - 7:35 PM

! day a week I eat fast food (but only for a couple more weeks) as I drive between work and sport club. But I’ve learned to take an apple with me and will order just a burger or wrap. No fries no pop. I find I’m usually full after just eating the burger and i dont need the calories and salt that comes with the fries and drink or waste the $.

Eating out, I let my friends order the fries. I’ll order the side salad (dressing on the side) or steamed veggies and steal 1 or 2 fries from them if I’n stull hungry after I’ve eaten. My friends are slowly coming around to my change in eating/food choices. Now if only I could convince them that our monthly get togethers dont always have to be a meal…

Just Ally January 20, 2013 - 7:20 AM

I am that girl ordering oatmeal from McDonald’s and grilled chicken apple salad from Burger King: my down fall is caloric drinks like Pepsi and “the devil” sweet tea.

Kami February 18, 2013 - 9:04 AM

I stopped eating at fast food and hood chinese restaurants almost two years ago. If I eat out it will be a fancy restaurant with unique cuisine such as Lebanese, Spanish Vegetarian, East African or South American. Most of the time it is a treat or I struggle to make the dish at home. I am vegetarian so I end up ordering healthy food but the portion sizes are alot so I ask them to give me half and get a doggy bag. The dessert I worry about I love vegan raw desserts with tarts and vegan ice cream but I share with a friend.

@Curvy_Jones April 29, 2013 - 8:49 AM

So…..I can see a skinny menu at IHOP or other sit down restaurants. Your neighborhood Applebee’s or Cheesecake Factory has the lighter menu that is much appreciated. IMO the idea of health food at McDonald’s is ridiculous. I just personally think it is!

I mean thanks for the option but if I am going to McDonald’s I’m not going to order a salad that is two cups of bitter, slimy iceberg lettuce, 2 cubes of dry chicken and something that may have resembled cheese yesterday but today….. I dunno. Oatmeal? Not at McDonald’s. That fruit and yogurt thing is okay but I don’t like the texture of yogurt and I don’t like green apples so I end up spending 1.99 to eat grapes and walnuts. If I’m going to McDonald’s, I’m going to eat badly. That said, McDonald’s is a sometime stop. As is Taco Bell or KFC or Popeyes or wherever I choose to get my free meal eat on. If I want a salad or healthy food, there are a number of BETTER places to get a salad.

Conversely, when I go out to dinner, I am likely to get a steak or salmon or chicken. If I want a burger and fries, I go to McDonald’s– bump paying $14.99 for something I can get for $5.

As far as talking skinny and eating fat.. I guess that assumes that once you start eating a certain way that you never stray from that, which I don’t think is realistic for most people. I wouldn’t say I eat FF on the regular, but there ARE times when I just need a slice of potato fried in lard and I can ONLY get it from McDonald’s. Sometimes I needs some pintos and cheese. NOW.

I know to control my portion and not let it be an everyday thing, but I know I am not going to live the rest of my life never going to a fast food restaurant. I DO know that when I go there, I’m not going there to eat healthy.

Coco May 11, 2013 - 10:21 AM

While I enjoy the comments of all I appreciate the effort of these restaurants in attempting. I do not whole heatedly trust their “healthier” offerings. But as a person that travels for work & spends most of her time in airports that is the food that sustains me. We do not have refrigerators or microwaves at my job. I rely on some fast food restaurants to provide a semi-healthful meal to get me through my day. And I rely on the hotel restaurant to prepare my fish and veggies in a healthy way. It is more than it would cost me to prepare even in expensive Chicago but I do not compromise my diet (as in how I eat not some fad I’m going through) because I live out of a suitcase. It’s all in what you willing want for yourself. I chose to eat better to take care of me.

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