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One summer I worked in a restaurant and I gained twenty pounds. Take another look at that—that happened in one summer. Not one year—a summer. It was my college break, so that was barely three months. That’s nearly seven pounds a month. That’s nearly two pounds a week. How did I let that happen? And so fast? That’s just how it can be when you work in the food industry. You’re surrounded by food all day—and probably good food, too. It’s not the simple, bland stuff you keep at home. It’s mozzarella sticks. It’s seafood pasta. It’s gourmet burgers. It’s hard to be around those mouth-watering smells and not want to eat. The restaurant likely hooks you up with a free meal and the chefs serve you little snacks, just because. Just like that, you’re gone up two pant sizes. Here is how to not gain weight while working in the food industry.

working at a restaurant tips

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Eat before your shift

I used to starve until my shift, knowing I’d be snacking the entire time. But, that made it very hard for me to actually track how much I ate. A bowl of soup here, some fries there, one slice of pizza here, jalapeno poppers there…it adds up. It did add up to twenty pounds. Eating a well balanced, satisfying meal before going to wok helped me tell my brain “We’re done eating now. Now we’re working.”

working at a restaurant tips

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Don’t visit the busser station

The busser station, where the bussers bring all the leftover food, is a problematic area. If there’s a dish that was messed up and sent back, you’ll find it there—an untouched, enticing bowl of spaghetti or chicken Parmesan. If you don’t need to visit that station, don’t.

working at a restaurant tips

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Don’t get too friendly with the chefs

You should have a good relationship with all of your coworkers, but if you become besties with the chefs, they’ll feed you all of the time. Each time you pass by them, they’ll push a little plate towards you with something delicious they want you to try. Of course, if you are a chef then that’s a different story—you have to have the most self-control of all.

working at a restaurant tips

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Pack protein bars

Even if you have a good meal before your shift, you may be on your feet for eight hours. You’re bound to get hungry again. Keep a protein-packed bar with you—go for the wholesome ones like KIND or Lärabar. These are easy to shove in your mouth during a bathroom break and will stave off other cravings.

working at a restaurant tips

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Study the menu

Face the music: look up exactly how many calories are in each thing on your restaurant’s menu. You may think, “It’s just a few jalapeno poppers” but if you look up the calorie count, you’ll see that food differently—and all the food you graze upon.

working at a restaurant tips

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Sip water throughout your shift

Staying hydrated is important for many reasons when you work in a restaurant. First, you’re running around, so you lose water through sweat. Second, dehydration can masquerade as hunger. And finally, it’s better for you than anything from the soda fountain.

working at a restaurant tips

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Do a little judging

This may not be the nicest thing to do, but nobody has to know you’re doing it—just do a little judging of your customers. Notice the people who are in the type of shape you’d like to be in, and those who are, well, not. Notice their eating habits. What do they order? What do they drink? Do they finish their whole portions? You eat at this restaurant daily so if you follow the habits of some of the diners, the results will be tenfold on your end.

working at a restaurant tips

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Have a buddy system

You likely have a coworker with similar goals to your own—someone who’s snacking a bit too much at work, and would like to stop. Get on a buddy system. Consult each other when you feel like eating a free plate of fries. Keep tabs on each other. Report your progress each day after your shift.

working at a restaurant tips

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Take your free meal to go

If you get a free meal at the end of each shift—as many servers do—take it to go. Or, at least, eat just half of it on site and take the other half to go. Restaurant portions tend to be larger than necessary, so you don’t want to consume whole portions every day.

working at a restaurant tips

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Don’t spend too much free time there

You’ve made friends at work so perhaps on your free time you like to stop by there, and hang at the bar. But you know what happens when you do that—the kitchen sends out free appetizers and the bartender pours you free drinks. Don’t spend too much of your free time at the place where you’re bound to be over-fed.

working at a restaurant tips

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Exercise before your shift

Whatever your workout routine is, do it right before your shift. That will put you in a healthy mindset of wanting to keep up your good habits for the rest of the day.

working at a restaurant tips

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Focus on being a great employee

Rather than looking for a snack when you have a free moment, see if a table needs bussing. See if someone else’s table has been trying to flag someone down for a while—ask what they need, and notify their server. Complete a few silverware roll-ups. You could see a promotion or more shifts in your future if you do that, rather than snack.

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Weigh yourself regularly

While women have a complex relationship with the scale, if you work in the food industry, you may want to hop on your scale daily—at least until you’ve established your new rules and routine. You can’t tell yourself that those daily pizza slices aren’t changing anything when the scale clearly says otherwise.

working at a restaurant tips

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Don’t default to jeggings

It’s tempting to just wear jeggings and stretchy pants all of the time. They’re comfortable, and they don’t really make you face the reality that you’re getting bloated with every extra snack. Don’t take the easy way out. Continue to wear your fitted clothing—the pants that tell you when you’re overeating.

working at a restaurant tips

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Tasting something takes one bite

You probably have to try everything on the menu so you can answer customer’s questions about it. But remember that you don’t need to eat the whole dish to try something. One bite will suffice.

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