Could a time-delay between ordering and eating help your waistline? A recent study suggests that ordering your meal hours ahead could make a significant difference in the amount of calories you consume. 
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If you're trying to lose weight and plan to eat out, order ahead, and you'll slash calories. That's according to research from a team at Carnegie Mellon University. The team's field experiments indicate ordering in advance might contribute to consuming fewer calories.

In the study, sets of participants ordered lunch early. In the first experiment, participants were given five hours to order their lunch (starting at 7 a.m.). Those who ordered the earliest were more likely to choose healthy options over those who ordered at the last moment. The difference was 38 calories for each hour before lunch the meal was ordered. That means those who ordered at 7 a.m. saved 190 calories over those who ordered later, closer to actual lunchtime.

The idea that early ordering leads to healthier choices was reaffirmed with the team's third experiment, which involved college students. A survey promising free lunch for participating was provided to students in a class held near lunch time. Those who ordered before class chose healthier options (by about 100 fewer calories) than classmates who ordered after class.

What to Do Right Now

- Order hours in advance. We now know that people who order before a meal have a better long-term view of their choices. Ordering ahead may prevent you from choosing something unhealthy in the moment and considering the impact later. The other benefit of ordering ahead is that research shows those who know the caloric-content of their order will choose food with 10 percent fewer calories. 

- Order via smartphone. If you can't order hours in advance, you can order before you get to the restaurant in some cases. Several nationwide chains feature online and app ordering options that can allow for planning meal orders. Place your order from the protected space of your office, and you won't be tempted to request that heaping scoop of guacamole when you're walking down the burrito line. These restaurants include:

  • Panera Bread
  • Chipotle
  • Starbucks
  • Taco Bell 
  • Chick-fil-A
  • Jamba Juice
  • Subway

- Consider the menu. If you can't truly order ahead but you know you'll be dining out, scout the menu and its nutrition facts. Pick an option that fits your daily calorie goal. When you get to the restaurant, don't bother even perusing the menu. Place your order, and enjoy your (lower-calorie) meal.

- Plan for your nights out. Carefully planning your week can help you avoid buying too many groceries, overeating, or running through the drive-thru in a hungry hurry. Make a meal plan, and if you know you'll have an open night or two for dining out, pick a place right then and there. You can even go so far as to search their menu for your dinner. Fill in the dish on your plan, plot your calories, and you'll rest easy knowing you're still getting to enjoy dining out without the calorie guilt.