Dining Out Without Busting Your Diet

We all know the feeling.  We are trying to stay healthy and on track with our diet but there are always temptations around us.  One of the most challenging situations you can face while watching what you are eating is going out to eat.  It would be ridiculous to think that in order to be healthy you need to lock yourself in your house and never socialize with others around food.  We as a society associate almost all human to human interactions around food.  If you are going to meet up with friends what are your options?  Almost all of the ones that come to your mind immediately either directly involve food (i.e. restaurant, bar, coffee shop, etc) or indirectly involve food (movie theater concession stand, mall food court, etc).

So if you are committed to eating well and being a social creature, what are your options?  Here are some suggestions on how to handle eating out so that you can stay aligned with your goals:

1. Make smart choices
More and more restaurants are prepared for the health conscious customer.  Take a moment to scan the menu and see if they have a lower calorie section or a healthy eating section.  If not, almost every menu contains lean healthy meats like chicken or fish cooked in a healthy way. Look for words like “grilled,” “broiled,” or “steamed,” and avoid “sautéed” and “fried.”  This is a quick way to cute a ton of unnecessary calories.

2. Skip the appetizer
Some appetizers contain more than 1,000 calories.  That amount of calories, on top of your actual meal, is exactly what you are trying to avoid.  There are enough calories in some appetizers for a full meal and more! If you do want an appetizer, select a healthier option.  Restaurants often offer lighter options such as salad, bruschetta, ceviche, or anything that’s light on sauce and heavy on fruits, veggies, or lean protein.  To cut down even more on the calories, offer to share the appetizer with the table.  That way you get a taste but aren’t tempted to eat the entire portion.

3. Eat a salad
I know, I know…. Not everyone is a salad lover like me but greens are also a great option.  However, not all salads are necessarily good for you so be careful. Stick with salads that don’t contain mayo (in other words, avoid the tuna and chicken salad), and ask for the dressing on the side. I hate when I get a salad and there is so much dressing on the greens that everything is wilted and there is a giant puddle on the bottom of the bowl.  When the dressing is on the side you can add your tablespoon or two so that you can get the flavor without all the added calories.

4. No bread
Don’t eat the bread. Does it taste good? Sure! But instead of eating something because it’s in front of you, swap those empty calories for something you’d actually enjoy.  I have actually started asking them to take it away or stopping them before they put it down on the table.  If there is no temptation in front of you it is an easier win!

5. Eat half
The portions of most main courses are HUGE!  Restaurants often provide you not with one serving of pasta, but with as many as 4 or more. Top that with the fact that many of us were raised with the idea that you have to finish your plate and you have a recipe for disaster.  Simply ask that the waiter split your order in half before they bring it to the table. Another option is to ask for a to go container right when they bring your meal.  Pack it up and get it out of sight.  That way you can enjoy your dinner as lunch later in the week.

6. No soda
Most of us consume the majority of our calories during the day from what we drink.  Soda is one of the worst choices you can make.  And don’t even think about going the “diet” route.  Artificial sweeteners aren’t healthy, and they can lead you to crave more sugary substances. That means you are craving more and more of the bad stuff you are putting in your body! If you want something other than water, ask for unsweetened iced tea. It’s calorie free, so you can drink as much as you want!

7. Dessert
OK so this is the hardest for me.  I am a sweets girl!  It is almost impossible for me to pass up on dessert…even when I am stuffed.  Just like the main course, most restaurants dish out desserts that are big enough for the whole table.  So if you are out with friends, take advantage of the size and share it.  Splitting it with the table allows you to get a taste and not feel depraved.  The hard part is putting your spoon down and not elbowing your friends out of the way for the last bite.  That way you are not denying yourself, instead you are making smart choices. The smartest choice is to say “No Thank You!” when the waitress asks or to wait until you have gotten home.  If you’re still craving something sweet when you get home, enjoy some yogurt and berries or a piece of fruit.

8. Throughout the meal, talk to your friends
While you are out with your friends, remember why you are there.  To socialize!  Talking to your friends during the meal will slow down the pace at which you are eating.  This will allow your body to recognize the amount of food you have eaten and provide the sensors in your stomach to realize you have eaten enough.  You stomach can often take a while to trigger that it is full.  This is why we eat until we are uncomfortably full.  Enjoying the company of your friends will allow you the time to not only enjoy the food but it will also help you make better decisions about if you are truly still hungry or if you are actually full.

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