Are you someone who, when they dine out, is less observant of your food choices? Do you ‘forget’ about your health or weight goals when you are eating away from home? Or do you simply feel it’s too hard to eat well when eating out?
Eating out is much more common today than it was even 10 years ago. Every corner you turn there is either a fast food joint or a sit down chain restaurant or fine dining restaurant. With the increase in dining out, and our expanding waistlines, can you see the correlation?
BUT WAIT! It doesn’t have to be that way! You CAN dine out without throwing in the towel on your health and weight loss or maintenance endeavors!
I love to eat out, I love trying new foods, having someone cook for me, ordering my favorite meals, but I don’t like ending my meal feeling uncomfortable, sluggish, guilty, or having eaten too much, knowing my personal goals are going to be a bit slower, even stalled, due to the meal.
The Solution? To change my mindset around eating out, and practice a set of behaviors that will help me stay in track when I do eat out. By doing this for the majority of my meals I eat out, I can enjoy myself, my food, and end on a happy note! (Quick side note before moving on; I’m NOT saying to never indulge when out, but you must choose your battles, and unless it’s a super special, occasional splurge, you need to eat on track when out.)
Before I go ahead with how to stay on track, take a moment to accept and recognize that it is up to you to eat out and stay on track and that it IS doable. Changing your mindset to one of acceptance of doing the best you can when out, instead of the ‘let loose’ mentality will aid in your actions themselves.
Here are some simple ways to stay on track while eating out:
- Avoid the bread bowl or chip basket. I know you may be hungry when you first sit down, but why waste your calories on empty carbs and fat! If the restaurant serves some special, one of a kind, bread or chips, choose to either have a serving of those, a serving of carbs with your entrée, OR a dessert, (or wine if you’re going that route), but NOT all 3. I’d rather order something on the menu as my carb source.
- If you are hungry when you sit down, practice learning how to regroup your mind before grabbing what’s in front of you or ordering the first thing on the menu. Try my ‘Take 5’ method; calmly and quietly focus on your breathing in and out for 5 rounds. No one needs to know you are doing this. Afterwards, come back to what’s going on.
- Start with water, seltzer, unsweet tea (hot or cold) and sweeten any of them with lemon or citrus of choice. Again it’s choosing your battles, sweetened calorie laden beverages or empty calories, so if you REALLY want to have something special, you will need to cut back on the carbs, and calories in the rest of the meal. Instead, order a delicious entrée.
- First up, a salad or broth or vegetable based cup of soup. These will fill you up (fiber and water), and vegetables are full of rich flavor = satisfaction. If ordering a small side salad, skip the croutons, and ask for dressing on the side.
- Ordering an appetizer? Go for one that is rich in protein or produce and share it amongst the table. Have one piece or 1-3 bites, savor the food, and enjoy the company/atmosphere. You may always choose to skip the appetizer in favor of going straight for your main meal.
- If those around you are determined to indulge on fatty, fried fare, drinks, or multiple appetizers and you are wanting salad/soup, or a lighter meal, you can still enjoy the time with them without giving in! This is entirely your mindset and thought process in charge! Shifting your focus away from deprivation or obsessing about the foods they are ordering, instead put your energy on socializing with others, paying attention to the environment and atmosphere you are dining in, sipping your water, etc… Staying busy until your delicious food arrives! Or you may order your soup/salad in the meantime. Whatever you do, be CONFIDENT, and set your own example; forget any naysayers, this is about you and your body!
- The main event. Portions are blown up, and foods are cooked in unmeasured amount of fats, oils, and butters; unless you speak up and take initiative. When ordering, you want to create what I call a ‘Balanced Carb Controlled Plate’. This is a medium size diameter (8-9 inches) plate that is ½ full of produce/vegetables, ¼ full of lean protein, and the rest is optionally full of carbs, garnished with fat as necessary. Most serving plates are 10+ inches and diameter, and there are much less vegetable and more protein or carbs served. So when ordering your main meal, choose a protein, and order 2 side vegetables or 1 side salad and a side veggie. When the food comes to the table, take a look as the size of the plate and items and be realistic in how large they are.
- Take home half your meal. Ask for a to go box when your meal arrives so you can divide up your food. Now you get to enjoy your leftovers at a second meal!!!
- Share your entrée.
- Order 1 or 2 appetizers instead or a soup/salad and an appetizer. Choose appetizers that are protein or produce rich. Even appetizers may come in portions enough for 3-4 people so be conscious of what is served.
- Flavor sparingly. When placing your order ask for your food to be cooked ‘dry’. Restaurant terms for not adding butter or oil. Order any dressing or condiments on the side and add them yourself. Flavor your food with clean condiments and flavorings. Citrus, vinaigrettes, pickles, vinegar, hot sauce, salsa, marinara, or pepper/salt free spices. Avoid the calorie dense, sugar and fat loaded dressing and sauces.
- ENJOY YOUR FOOD! Pause and look at your meal before digging in. Smell it. Then when you being eating, savor the flavors, textures, aftertaste. Pay attention to how your stomach feels. STOP RUSHING, and eat slower. This will aid in satisfaction, satiety, and digestion of your food.
- Again a mindset shift. Changing your mindset away from ‘needing’ dessert. Make a conscious choice before going you will skip it. If you are choosing to have dessert instead of a carb with your entrée or main meal, consider sharing or eating only a few bites. The first 1-3 bites are the best tasting. Order something that is lighter, contains fruit, preferentially, unless this is honestly a special occasion.
- Be specific and speak up. When ordering, you can ask for sauces on the side, foods to be cooked ‘dry’, grilled, broiled, or steamed. Talk to your server and make sure he communicates to the kitchen about your order. Most restaurants today are happy to accommodate your needs and preferences within means. Often, you can order food a la carte and create your own meal of 2 veggies and a protein if you just ask!
- Move on! Once you have had a chance to enjoy your meal and you are satiated and not stuffed, get up and do something else. If your dining companions are sticking around you can choose to socialize more as well, just keep your hands on the water, and enjoy the company. If you are leaving, go for a walk, wander around town, if you have some work to do, do that. The whole idea is that you are moving on from just grazing for extra food after you’ve finished eating until the next meal has come.