Does having calories listed on menus help?

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If you feel like you're seeing more calorie info posted in your favorite restaurant menus, it's because you are. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently began requiring restaurant chains to list calorie and other nutrition labeling on menu items. If you're trying to lose weight and stick to about 1,500 calories, this could be a big help. 

"Its intention is to help to educate; give people more information - but not to use it as a judgment. And, the hope is that it increases your awareness and you reach out for more education about nutrition," says Dr. Susan Albers from the Cleveland Clinic. 

The calorie-posting rule is aimed at getting Americans to make healthier choices when eating out. Does that work?  

A recent study showed that only about half of people in restaurants even notice calorie information when it's listed in menus. And when they do, it doesn't always influence decision-making.    

Dr. Albers says that people are often surprised by how many calories are in restaurant food items. She says that many times, people will only have their decisions swayed by the items that are very high in calories by either looking for a lower calorie item, or opting for a smaller portion. For example, at Pizza Hut, a small meat-eater pizza has 1,320 calories; a cheese lover has just over 1,000. 

"What is likely to happen is that it's going to open up conversation. So, we're going to have a lot more awareness, and discussion about foods that we're being served; how we make decisions; why we make those decisions and how to eat them in a more mindful way."

If you don't want to look at calories, try splitting a meal with someone. Skip the bread basket, avoid liquid calories and maybe skip dessert. 

Dr. Albers adds that research shows that people who struggle with disordered eating are often negatively impacted by calorie listings. If you become overwhelmed or triggered by calorie information, she recommends meeting with a health professional who can help you develop a strategy to deal with these new calorie labels. 

Complete results of the study can be found in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.