When you’re trying to eat healthy or if you take a more strict approach like myself and weigh and measure every morsel of food that hits your lips, it can be quite challenging to eat out. Most restaurants aren’t healthy. Their menu items are packed with hidden fat, full of sugar and one plate alone can contain enough calories for two or three meals. However, it is possible to eat both healthy and tasty restaurant meals without having to sacrifice one of life’s great pleasures. What we’ve done is created 5 easy strategies to prevent you from sabotaging your diet and help you make healthy and educated menu choices.
- Plan Ahead. Take a look at the menu before you arrive at the restaurant if it’s available online. Also, try your best to not arrive at the restaurant starving. Eat a small snack an hour or two beforehand to curb your appetite and drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Be Mindful. There are internal, external, and social cues that you should be aware of and it’s important to tune into these cues especially when you’re eating out, at a party or a BBQ, and before and while you eat.
- Internal cues: this is also referred to as physiological cues caused by our hormones, nerve signals, and neurochemicals. Before you eat, ask yourself, “Am I feeling physical sensations of hunger?” Examples of these would be an empty, gurgling, rumbling or growling stomach; feeling light headed, faint, or dizzy; having a headache, or feeling irritable, cranky, and easily agitated. While you are eating try eating more slowly and enjoy every bite – really savor it. Check in to how you are feeling periodically. Are you feeling full? Is your stomach distended? Try to stop eating before your feel stuffed or uncomfortable.
- External cues: this can either be the hedonic appeal of the food that we experience based on things like taste, smell, sight, and cognition (i.e. reading descriptions on the menu), or things like portion size and finishing your plate. These can significantly influence our feelings of hunger and cause us to consume food even if we are not actually hungry. Try to estimate portion sizes – ask yourself before you eat whether you really need that much. If you don’t, separate it out before you start eating. You can even ask the waiter to box it up for you so you won’t be tempted to overindulge. You can also split a full entrée with your dining partner or instead try ordering a few appetizers to share and skip the entrée all together.
- Social cues: when we are eating with others this often causes us to eat and drink more than we would otherwise. When we eat with friends we tend to socialize more and eat for longer amounts of time. It’s very easy to get distracted and focus on what those around you are eating and drinking. Instead, focus on your own behaviors. Try to slow yourself down – chew more, put your silverware down between bites, really taste your food, and tune into internal cues that will let you know when you’ve had enough.
- Use an App or Website to help you out. MyFitnessPal (MFP) and CalorieKing.com both have extensive databases where you’ll be able to find a list of restaurants and their menu items with a complete nutritional breakdown. MFP has even added geolocation that makes it even easier to log your exact meal since you can select the restaurant you are dining out at and the exact menu item.
- Be assertive. Don’t be afraid to ask your server specific questions like how the dish is prepared, or make personal requests. For instance, if an item is fried, ask for it grilled. If it comes with french fries, ask for a side of veggies. Ask for dressings and sauces on the side, skip the bread or chips, have your sides cooked dry (oil-free), and if you have food allergies, make them known to your server.
- Read between the lines. Having a general idea of keywords to look for on the menu will help you choose lower calorie and lower fat options on the menu.
- Choose cuts with “loin” in the name
- Roasts: chuck, rib, or rump
- Steak: flank, porterhouse, skirt, sirloin, tenderloin, T-bone, cubed
- Pork: tenderloin, chops, ham, Canadian bacon
- Poultry: skinless, white meat
- Fish: any (not fried)
- Egg white or egg substitute
- The 3 B’s: baked, broiled, boiled
- Fat-Free, light, or reduced
- Beware of sauces and dressings such as: alfredo, béarnaise, carbonara, hollandaise, gravy, white sauces, stroganoff, aioli
- A La Crème
- Au Gratin
- Breaded, battered, tempura, crispy or crunchy
- Buttered, sautéed
- Cheesy, creamy, whipped
- Fried, golden
- Loaded, covered, smothered, platter, stuffed, giant