The Guide to Eating Out

(and not blowing your diet)

Eating out is an area of struggle for many people while dieting and I have found that it usually comes down to either not being prepared in advanced or not having the knowledge of certain strategies that are diet friendly when selecting food options. This article will take you through a handful of tips and tricks that you can use to enjoy a meal out while not having to worry about completely blowing your diet.

Be Prepared in Advance!

If you can prepare for your restaurant meal in advance, you will have a better chance of being successful for that day. There are a couple points within this tip that I would like to touch on.

  1. View the menu ahead of time
    A lot of restaurants now have their nutritional information online for you to view and although this is not going to be 100% accurate, it will at least give you some sort of estimate as to what you can expect in terms of macros and calories. I would ALWAYS recommend overestimating the numbers that you see as well. By viewing the menu before you go, you can plan your day accordingly. For example, if you have 2,000 calories to work with for the day and the meal that you have selected at the restaurant is 1,200 calories, then you know that you have 800 calories to work with leading up to the meal. This will often mean that you are going to have to cut back on the number of meals that you are consuming leading up to this. For example, if you are used to eating 5 meals per day, perhaps you only have breakfast and lunch for the day in which you will eat out.
  2. Eat Protein Before
    Eating protein has more than just a muscle building effect, it has also been shown to be highly satiating which means that it will keep you fuller, longer. By having some protein before you go, you might naturally eat less since you will not be as hungry as you would be going to a restaurant on an empty stomach.

Make Smart and Strategic Choices! 

After you have prepared in advance, the next step would be to make smart and strategic choices once you are at the restaurant and there are a handful of tips and tricks that we can use at this stage to help keep us full without packing in the calories.

  1. Filling Up Before the Meal – Water and Salad
    Two easy ways to get you fuller before the main entree gets placed on your table would be to drink more water and fill up on a big salad for your appetizer. Make sure that you are getting the dressing on the side as the dressing is usually what contains the higher amount of calories. Also, if possible, choose a lighter version of salad dressing.
  2. Choose Lean Proteins and Vegetables 
    Most restaurants will have an option on their menu that will accommodate this – it could be in the form of a grilled chicken salad or something similar. Selecting a lean protein and vegetable dish will really help you fill up due to the amount of protein and the fiber that you are getting in this meal. If you scoped out the menu in advance like what was recommended, chances are you found a couple of menu items that might fit this.
  3. Select Grilled or Steamed Options
    The cooking process can add a lot of unnecessary and unexpected calories if you are not careful. The items at restaurants are often cooked in a lot of oil or butter which can make a meal that should be 500 calories into a meal with over 1000 calories (and you will never know the difference). Be careful of foods that are fried or sauteed especially. Ask the waiter or waitress if the food can be cooked without butter or oil and usually selecting a grilled or steamed option will take care of this.
  4. Get the Sauce or Dressing on the Side
    As I mentioned in the section on filling up with a salad, you will want to get the sauce or the dressing on the side. By doing this, you can control how much you are using and ensure that it’s not getting drenched in calories.
  5. Eat Slowly and Take More Bites
    Research has shown that by eating slower and taking more bites of your food, you can significantly reduce the amount of food that you are consuming. This is due to allowing the food to digest and allowing your brain to receive signals that you are full. So, take your time, chat with friends, take more drinks of water and you will be on your way to eating less!
  6. Pack Up Half
    Another easy strategy to use, especially if you ordered a large entree, is to pack up half of your meal right away. Restaurants often have very large portions of food which in turn amounts to a bunch of calories. If you want to resist the temptation to devour it all, this is the strategy for you. Box it up right away and eat it for another meal later on or even save it for the next day.
  7. Wait on Dessert
    If dessert is something that you really want to consider, wait for it. After you finish your meal wait at least 20-30 minutes to see if you are actually full or not. If you are full, move on, there is no point in eating more. Remember, eating for what your body needs will always be a better option than eating for what your body wants.

Additional Tips

Above, I have listed some very practical tips that you can do either before you step foot in the restaurant or while you are there. In this section, I want to go over few extra tips that could benefit you as well.

  1. Give Yourself Permission to Eat
    While I certainly do not condone eating out all of the time while trying to diet (due to sneaky calories and the chance of overeating), a trip to a restaurant here and there will not set you back if you use the above strategies. One of the worst things that can happen is to deprive yourself completely and go into what we call “Fuck It” mode where you eat everything in sight. Give yourself permission to eat out once in a while and understand that your food intake might not be 100% accurate but it will allow you to get a short mental break from dieting. Of course, I always advise using the above strategies. I tell my clients all of the time that there is a difference between eating a cookie and the whole box of cookies and this applies to eating out. Make smart choices and you will be fine!
  2. You Are In Control!
    We also must understand that WE are in control of our eating and no one else. Ultimately, it is our choice for putting the foods that we do in our mouth. I know that peer pressure can be difficult to resist at times but that’s no excuse to let loose if you have a goal to accomplish. Speaking of goals, those that you are out to eat with might not desire to lose weight and therefore can be more loose with their diet but if weight loss is your goal then your actions must align with that.
  3. Choose Lower Calorie Alcohol
    If you are planning to avoid my advice on drinking water and will be opting for some alcohol, as with the food that you eat, you can select lower-calorie drinks as well. Some good options would be liquor with a zero calorie mixer as 1 ounce of vodka, whiskey, or tequila is somewhere around 60-80 calories. Again, you can also plan ahead for this. In the initial example, we mentioned that we had 2,000 calories to work with for the day and planned to have a 1,200 calorie meal at a restaurant. If we plan on 2 vodka/diet sprites (200 calories), then we can either reduce our food intake for the day by another 200 calories or we can select a lower calorie menu item. The choice is yours!