Going out to eat can be stressful for people who are trying to eat healthy and/or lose weight. If you don't have even a glimmer of will power, all of your progress and good choices that you have made for the day will be outweighed. I always schedule a cheat meal in to my weekly meal plan for either Friday or Saturday. If you have planned ahead and are going out to eat knowing that you are going to be ordering your weekly cheat meal, then you should feel guilt free of what you decide to order. If you going out more than once per week, or if you don't want to necessarily "cheat" when you eat out, then here are some tips that will help you stay on track.
1. Plan Ahead! There is a reason why this is tip Number 1. Many of us get caught up in the pictures that are plastered all over food menus, or the delicious, juicy meal descriptions. If you go to a restaurant hungry, worse yet, starving, then you will fall in to the trap of ordering some marvelous sounding deep fried meal, only to find that you feel bloated and sick once you get home. If you know that you are going to be going out, see if the menu is online. If it is, check out your options and give yourself some time to really look over the menu. That way you won't feel rushed when you get to the restaurant. Did you ever find that when restaurants list the number of calories in a meal that you tend to stay away from meals that have tons? I wish all restaurants did that; however, many would probably lose business! If you set up a free account with MyFitnessPal, you will have the opportunity to search many chain restaurants and check out the nutritional information on what you'd like to order. For example, don't you just love Olive Gardens Chicken and Gnocchi Soup? Would you love it as much knowing that there are 250 calories, 8 grams of fat, 1,189mg OF SODIUM, and 29 carbs in ONE BOWL! Combine that with getting the all you can eat soup and salad lunch special and you could potentially more than max out your daily nutritional intake! By planning ahead, you know what you are getting and hopefully have an idea of the ingredients.
2. Order First! It is so easy to be suede by your friends and family. Picture it, the waitress is going around the table getting everyone else's orders. You are listening to your friends and family order fried food, hearty portion meals, extra cheese, etc. Then, it's your turn. You have two choices, you could decide to buckle and order that delicious sounding special that is soaked in butter, or you can stick with your original, healthy choice. Chances are, unless you have a strong will power, you will buckle. By ordering first, you are finalized and you are leading by example. Who knows, maybe the others that are with you will be inspired to choose a healthier alternative.
4. Stay clear of all you can eat specials and/or buffets. I know we all want to get the most bang for our buck; however, if you have the option to eat as much as you want without a price increase, you will most definitely overeat and end up feeling disgusting and guilty once you leave! Enough said!
5. Try to stick with lean protein. Chicken and fish are considered to be lean proteins; however, you have to be cautious of the way it is prepared. Grilled chicken is great; however, when it is soaked in a garlic buttered high calorie sauce, it isn't exactly the healthiest choice you could be making.
6. Going along with Number 5, ask for your food to be prepared the way you want! I know you don't want to be the pain in the butt customer requesting your food to be prepared different from what the menu says, but in the end, you are the one eating it. If you want that grilled chicken but don't want the sauce smothered all over it, ask if the sauce can be placed on the side or better yet, no sauce at all! The worst that can happen is the waitress says no, which will signal you to choose something else. Similarly, if you choose anything that contains sauces (including gravy and salad dressing), ask for it on the side. It is better to dip your fork and use the sauces sparingly, as they contain a lot of calories, fat, and sodium. This really applies to fresh or steamed vegetables. I always choose fresh vegetables as a side when going out and have learned to ask how they are prepared. It is so disappointing when my plate is placed in front of me and the fresh vegetables are laying in butter. A rule of thumb for me is to always ask that they be cooked and served plain. On the same note, including fresh vegetables and whole grains as part of your complete meal is a must! Brown or wild rice are great options. And just a reminder, stay clean of anything and everything that is fried! There are zero health benefits of eating fried food!
7. Don't always assume that what you are eating is healthy! I know, from experience, that when I go out with friends and family, many of them, mainly women, end up with a grilled chicken salad (including myself). Sounds good, right? Grilled chicken is a perfect lean protein, and salad, of course salad is healthy! WRONG! Many restaurants are loaded with cheese, croutons, and French Fries. Worse yet, they only have one small handful and limited veggies. When ordering salads that sound like this, ask for extra veggies and no cheese, croutons, and French Fries. The worst they can say is no to the extra veggies. You always have the option to get the French Fries on the side and give them to someone else at the table; however, if that is too tempting to you (as it is for me), keep them removed all together. As for the dressing, keep it on the side. Stay clear of creamy dressings and stick with vinaigrettes like raspberry and balsamic. Since meal salads tend to be large, many restaurants add an extra side of dressing. Needless to say, it's just another trap that will pack on the calories.
8. Be cautious of the free appetizers! I know when you get to a restaurant, chances are you are pretty hungry. When that basket of bread or the chips and salsa come out, you dig in! Next thing you know you begin to fill up and your meal hasn't even made its way to the table yet! This goes without saying, try to avoid those free appetizers or at least limit how much you eat!
9. Mind your portions. It's not hard to figure out that portion sizes have dramatically increased throughout the years. Many restaurants offer a "lunch" (small, petite, half) portion. Always go with the small portion. It's probably cheaper too! If your meal doesn't come in a smaller size you can always ask the waitress to box half of it up before bringing it to you, or, you could just ask for a box when your meal comes and do it yourself. Then, you have some yummy leftovers for the next day!
10. Skip the dessert! I HATE when restaurants come out with a tray of desserts to show off! They look so delicious and it is so tempting! I don't think I have to remind you how many calories are in most of those desserts, right? If you need something after a meal try to stick with a warm cup of Green Tea or some Black Coffee.
If you think you will struggle and go down the wrong path when eating out, you can always have an accountability partner. Accountability partners have really helped me stay on track! Pick someone that will be with you and tell him/her that you are trying to watch what and how much you are eating. Ask him/her to be that "voice of reason" if you start to get off track. If someone is truly a friend, then he/she will respect what you are doing and help. The last thing you want to have are friends and family encouraging you to go with the unhealthy choice just because they are.
If you are interested in learning more tips and cleaning up the way you eat, contact me for details about my next 30 day Clean Eating support group, or 60 day Clean Eating and Fitness group. I will provide you with the motivation, support, accountability, and information that you need to reach your health and/or fitness goals.
Have a great weekend!