How Being a Yelp Reviewer as Made Me Ask More Questions and Connect with Servers

By: Nikki Nies

Last night, my roommate and I went to Sushi Star in North Dallas as our last meal together before we part ways. While we’ve lived together for the past year, this was our first meal out together. We’ve done tons of cooking in the home together or take out, but when I thought about it, it was crazy to think this was our first time breaking bread together. It made me realize how much one can learn about another just by dining out.

What do I mean exactly? I warned my roommate that I tend to ask questions when dining out, it’s rarely a quick exchange of ordering. Thankfully, she was fine with that. Over the years, I’ve learned to ask questions, not only for clarification of what menu descriptions are, but to discern what to order if it’s between two menu items.

Someone ordered a beer or maybe two
Original Image by Susanne Nilsson via Flickr

For example, we were debating on either getting the salmon or crabmeat sushi tower. After learning about the nutritional difference between imitation and real crabmeat, I make every effort to eat only real crab meat. Since the menu didn’t detail which type of crabmeat was used, I asked! I’m glad I did, as the restaurant uses imitation crabmeat.  After a few more exchanges, we didn’t end up getting either tower as I was drawn to the tower due to aesthetic look of it. I’m glad I asked more questions (e.g. how much food is it) as I would’ve been underwhelmed with the tower dish. I hope servers can see my genuine interest in understanding what’s been served and recognize I understand there’s only so much space on menus for descriptions.

Of course, there’s always a polite way to ask menu questions. I try to only ask the ‘necessary’ questions and take the suggestions, such as ‘What do you recommend?’ as they should know the menu quite well. When dining out, I try to order foods I wouldn’t necessarily make at home. I don’t mind spending a few more pennies for the ‘seafood’ version of  a meal, as I’m grateful someone else is taking the extra steps to cook the lobster or steam the mussels.

Hopefully, you can relate to my inquiries. I’m sure you’ve seen some menus state subsitutions aren’t allowed. Politely, if it’s not too busy of dining time or you can sense they’d be open to substitutions  (e.g. a local, fresh restaurant). Most servers want to accomodate requests, especially dietary restrictions, but don’t want to be bombarded with elaborate changes.  Many restauranteurs are happy to make accomodations if the dishes are made to order and again if you ask politely. While I believer it’s a minor request, I always ask with a smile if they can hold the mayo or sour cream. I urge you to ask for substitutions whether it’s listed or not. Many patrons are fine with [sweet potato] french fries as the generic accompaniments, but I never opt for that. I know I have to make a more concerted effort to obtain my allotted fruits and veggies for the day, so I’m willing to pay the extra couple dollars to do so.

I hope from the above suggestions, you can tell I enjoy the whole dining experience and appreciate any and all suggestions servers make. I want to use all my senses and take advantage of their knowledge of the dishes. Most recently, I’ve started writing restaurant reviews on, which has elevated my dining experience. I want to be able to articulate better how a meal was, better than stating ‘It was good.’ While critics may say some of the reviews on yelp aren’t written by real people, I’ve used yelp religiously to pick out great restaurants and I want to do my part to help direct people to great restaurants, food and service.

Are you an avid yelp user? Do you write or read reviews regularly? How has asking your server questions shaped your dining experience?


Calorie Detective

By: Nikki Nies

Food establishments that have 20+ locations are required to post food calorie amounts of food offered with the new Obamacare regulations. The idea is that when you know how much you’re eating, you’ll tend to eat less. Yet, Casey Neistat finds the calories provided can be inaccurate.

Original Image by Brett Jordan via Flickr
Original Image by Brett Jordan via Flickr

While the NYC Health Code states that the Health Dept. will cite violations if calories aren’t posted. However, accuracy isn’t required.

With the resources of the Obesity Research lab at St. Luke’s Hospital, a calorimeter was used to test 5 items in 10 hours. Check out the following calorie discrepancies found:

  1. At Grandma’s, the  Original Banana Nut Muffin, it was reported it had 640 calories. However, with Neistat’s fine tooth comb and calorimeter, it was found the banana nut muffin actually had 734.7 calories!
  2. With the Starbucks Grande Coffee Frappuccino with whipped cream, it’s reported it’s a mere 370 calories. However, it’s 392.9 calories. Not too bad off.
  3. In a custom made Chipotle Barbacoa burrito, Chipotle’s online burrito stated it would come out to me 1175 calories. The calorimeter found the burrito to be 10% more calories, at 1295 calories.
  4. One of Neiget’s favorite “Healthy” spicy tofu sandwiches, which was listed to be 228 calories, but was actually 548.4 calories, nearly double the listed calorie amount!
  5. At Subway, the 6″ turkey sandwich rang in accurately! The sandwich is listed as 360 calories and the calorimeter found it be 350.8 calories, 97.4% of the 360 calories listed!

Multiple samples were not tested for validity or reliability, but with Neistat’s experiment, it confirms that we can not believe every nutrition or health claim provided.  If Neiget had gone by the calories listed on the packaged food, he would have consumed an EXTRA 548.5c alories he was unaware of. What does this mean? Can we forgive a 10% margin? Are we being too hard on the restaurant and food industry? This is up for debate. Discuss!


Incorporate the 3-D Habit Stat!

Myths-About-Dieting-300x199By: Nikki Nies

We’ve all heard talk about the introduction of the 3D TV coming to a home near you, but how familiar are you with the 3-D habit?  If not, it’s a way to keep bad habits from getting the better of you. The breakdown of the 3 D’s are: determine, distract and delay.

1. Determine goal (and remind yourself of it).

2. In the face of temptation, find a way to distract yourself so that you can perhaps interest or immerse yourself in an activity that does not run counter to your goals.

3. Delay. Feel like you must have the carrot cake or the 75%-off Christmas decorations? Can you see if the need is just as urgent in an hour? Do you have a buddy you can call for support?

By having a set plan in place for how to react and best deal with tempting situations and foods, it can alleviate chances of guilt, shame and overindulgence.  Let’s all start the New Year with a clean slate! Better yet, let’s all start the year with clear 3 D habits(s)!

Photo Credit:


#004: The “3D” Habit for Weight Loss (Podcast)

Healthy Eaters=Attuned Eaters

attuned-eatingBy: Nikki Nies

Healthy eaters=attuned eaters=you are tuned into what your body needs and wants, choosing foods that make you feel good while you are eating them and after. You don’t eat a lot of highly processed foods, and because of that don’t have a much of a taste for them. You cook at home frequently, even if it means preparing simple meals. You tend to use fresh, whole foods but don’t shy away from lightly processed convenience foods like canned beans and frozen vegetables to make life a little easier. When dining out, you intuitively stay close to your core healthy eating habits, making nutritious choices that still appeal to your taste buds, but aren’t afraid to splurge on special occasions.

Do you consider yourself an attuned eater? What benefits do you see with being a more attuned eater? What barriers in your life and/or environment limit your ability to be best attuned to your eating habits?Say no to diets once and for all, gaining more with fewer restrictions!

Photo Credit: Your Path to Fit 

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

me_logo_smallBy: Nikki Nies

I keep saying it, but the truth hasn’t changed! I’m confident I’ve picked the right profession as I get excited by the prospects of what kind of jobs and ways I will be able to help people nutritionally.  Specifically, I’m looking forward to the day where I can merge multiple interests and skills.  I say this with pleasure as I know it can be done.  I’ve developed an interest in the pyschology of eating.  To learn more about the interrelationship between psychology and food, who better to turn to besides Dr. Brian Wansink?

I’ve been a fan of Wansink, with many other health professionals familiar with Wansink’s research on mindless  eating over the years, if interested in the correlations with the mind andeating!  Wansink, a food psychologist, is the leading spokesperson on the concept of mindless eating.  He’s given many speeches and talks on mindless eating

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think is a stellar book that’s recently topped Time’s Top 5 Must Reads.  So, of course, I had to delve deeper into the list to find out what I’ve missing.  I’ve just started this book and the first part already opened my eyes! Wansink brings up the point that the average individual makes over 200+ food related decisions daily, subconsciously too! This includes eating in the kitchen vs. dining room, fresh or frozen peas, 5 or 6 o’clock for dinner.  With so many decisions “automatic” for us, its’ easy to see how we forget how many external factors influence HOW MUCH we eat!   This 2010 book is up to par with all his other research and food and behavior findings.

Wansink poses the following the questions in the book! And more!

1. Can the size of your plate really influence your appetite?

2. Why do you eat more when you dine with friends?

3.  What “hidden persuaders” are used by restaurants and supermarkets to get us to overeat?

4. How does music or the color of the room influence how much—and how fast—we eat?
5. How can we “mindlessly” lose—instead of gain—up to twenty pounds in the coming year?

I’ve enjoyed following Wansink’s research over the years and can’t wait to get my hands on his book!

Photo Credit: Mindless Eating 


Why You Should Care About Sustainability

By: Nikki Nies

Original Image by Takver via Flickr
Original Image by Takver via Flickr

I’ve always cared about executing sustainable living and eating practices.  Even though I never referred to my abhorrence to food waste as the desire to have more sustainable practices implemented, now that I know I’m not the only one that feels so strongly regarding food waste, I’m definitely on the campaign to provide and utilize more sustainable foods and practices.  In regards to nutrition, sustainability is important as dictates nourishment.

Sustainability is more important than ever as such farming techniques and practices protects public health,ecosystem, communities and the welfare of animals. Additionally, such practices allow us to provide the most healthful food without compromising the future.

Unless you’re a farmer yourself, the best way to contribute to sustainability efforts is to eat sustainability!

How to implement more sustainable practices:

  • First, assess your current eating practices.  How do you obtain food, where do you shop? How much food does your family purchase on a weekly basis?  How much food do you have to throw out at the end of the week due to spoilage? By answering these questions, this is a great starting point and you can decide from here what changes you want to make!
  • Shop locally: Due to the increased demand and favor, more and more farmer’s markets are popping up in local neighborhoods.  Support these “neighbors” of yours, which helps keep the market in your community!
  • Add a garden, pots, herbs and/or plants to your property! By getting your hands soiled and in the trenches of the freshly grown produce, pun you can really reap the benefits the earth has to offer! Pun intended! This will also give you a better appreciation and pride in what you are able to grow yourself!
  • Get to know foodhandlers, local farmers and supermarket employees:  They have insider info on what’s the best crops last year vs. this year! It’s also not a bad idea to initiate conversation to learn more tips and/or local resources!
  • Learn or refresh your memory of what it means to eat in season! You’ll be guaranteed to be eating more fresh, sustainable foods!
  • When possible, limit purchase and consumption of bottled water.  Instead, invest in a filter and/or reusable water bottle!
  • Evaluate your grocery list and/or store: When possibly, opt for minimally processed foods and ingredients.  In addition, buying in bulk can help keep costs, packaging and waste down!
  • Keep your reusable bags in the car so you’re more likely to remember to use them while shopping!
  • Additionally, keep a traveling mug with you every where you go! You’ll be surprised how much plastic you can preserve when you ask the barista to fill’er up instead of using the designated plastic and cardboard!

By implementing small, sustainable changes in your household can make a world difference for you, your family, friends and the future! Have any additional tips that you’ve adopted over the years?  What makes you passionate about our planet and the future?



“The more you eat, the less flavor; the less you eat, the more flavor.” ~Chinese Proverb

While we often rely on more than one of the five senses to decide what to eat, the saying that we “eat with our eyes” is sometimes too true!   One’s sense of smell and taste are distinct, yet visual stimuli can trump the 4 other senses, with color perhaps, the most visual cue.  Next time you’re sitting down for a scrumptious, indulgent meal, really try to embrace the flavors, who knows, you may only need a bite or two to really appreciate what’s in front of you! 1. Delwiche J. You eat with your eyes first. Physiology & Behavior [serial online]. November 5, 2012;107(4):502-504. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed July 3, 2014.

Yale Food Addiction Scale

By: Nikki Nies

The word addiction is easily associated with drugs or alcohol.  However, with the ever increasing research confirming that food addiction exists, it’s inevitable for the word food and addiction to occur hand in hand.  Indicators of an addiction may include unsuccessful attempts to cut down on intake, continuous eating despite negative consequences and/or embarrassment of how much is being eaten throughout the day.

Check out the scale and see where you lie!It’s no coincidence that those foods that are labeled as more addictive are being studied and people’s relationship with certain types of foods (i.e. high sugar, fat and sodium foods contain additives that make them tastier and more addictive).

The scale measures what you’ve eaten within the last year and while it can’t ask about every type of food.  The generalizations cover a wide range of food options.  The more honest you are with the scale, the more likely you can uncover what is beneath your eating patterns.  Don’t be alarmed if your results aren’t to your liking.  If you’re not happy with your results, talk to a physician or schedule an appointment to meet with a RDN in your area. Like any other kind of addiction, reaching out for support may be the best route.

Sources: Pedram P, Wadden D, Amini P, et al. Food addiction: Its prevalence and significant association with obesity in the general population. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(9):1-6.

Battling Food Addiction With a Substance Abuse Treatment Program