When you’re trying to lose weight or eat healthier one of the hardest things can be navigating restaurant menus. When I was training for my first fitness competition, the thought of eating at a restaurant was so terrifying I chose to just avoid it. This, however, can cause you to isolate yourself and alienate family and friends. You (and others) may find then resent your healthy lifestyle, which is definitely not a good thing. Rather than avoid all social situations, follow these simple tips for sticking on plan even when dining out.
1. Have bread, alcohol, OR dessert, not all three.
The hard thing about eating out is there are so many temptations. The bread basket, the bar, and the dessert menu. If you’re trying to lose weight or reach a fitness goal, none of these things is going to help you get there. Piling on all three can be a huge setback. If your willpower is really strong, I suggest skipping all of the above, but if you find you really want to indulge, pick whichever one you will enjoy the most, but don’t overdo it. One piece of bread, one drink or one (small) dessert.
2. Opt for grilled chicken breast, a lean cut of steak, or fish.
When choosing your entrée, skip right past the calorie-laden pastas, pizzas, sandwiches, and (most) salads. Choose a protein like chicken, lean steak, salmon or whitefish. Don’t be afraid to ask how it’s prepared and if necessary, customize your order.
3. Nix any dressings, sauces or coatings.
Many restaurant plates come with some kind of sauce, dressing, cream or other fatty topping. Always order these on the side, or ask for the chef to leave it off. If you get it on the side, you can enjoy just a little, and that way you’re in control of how much you have. Restaurant portions are almost always more than double what you should be having.
4. Double up on veggies.
Sides are an easy way to get into big trouble. Recently during dinner out my jaw actually dropped at the amount of rice that was served with my fish. It was easily two cups, when a portion for someone my size is 1/2 cup at most. The best way around this problem is to order two sides of veggies and omit the customary starch (rice, potatoes, etc.) That way you’re still getting plenty of food and your money’s worth, without the carbs and calories you don’t want.
5. Ask for light on oil or butter.
The best option for your protein and veggies is steamed or grilled, but I always ask the server to make sure they go light on the oil or butter. A little is fine, (as long as it is not vegetable oil- don’t be afraid to ask) but many restaurants use way more than necessary.
6. Keep the rest of the day’s meals light.
This one is important because even cleaned up, a restaurant meal is likely to be larger and more calorie dense than your usual meals made at home. If you’re counting macros/calories, this is a good way to ensure you don’t go over for the day. Instead of eating the same as you would throughout the day, cut back on any extras and keep the carbs and fats lighter. This will make you feel less guilty about what you might have at dinner.
7. Plan ahead.
If the restaurant posts its menu online, look it over before you leave and plan what you will have. This makes it less likely you will panic when it comes time to order and make a poor choice.
8. Accept that you cannot control everything.
When following a rigid diet whether for weight loss, health concerns or contest preparation, we can sometimes become obsessive about controlling everything that goes into our mouths. If you are going to eat out at a restaurant, you’re going to have to give up that control. That’s ok. Ask for what you want, be clear about what you don’t want, then accept that you aren’t going to know exactly how many calories your meal has or exactly how it was prepared. It isn’t the end of the world.
9. Enjoy it.
Social events should be about more than food. Focus on enjoying the company of the people you are with, the atmosphere of the restaurant, the chance to get out of the house and let someone else cook. And, yes, enjoy the food. Savor the entire experience. Make it a positive and not a stress trigger.
If you are on plan 95% of the time, one meal out will not do damage. Make it worth it, make it special and make it occasional and you can still reach your goals!