You’ve probably heard the joke that restaurant calories don’t really count. We regret to inform you that they actually do, and there’s almost always going to be more calories, fat and carbs in restaurant-prepared meals than in those you make at home. As easy as it might be to use a restaurant visit as an excuse to eat unhealthy foods, you’ve been putting in the time, hitting the gym regularly, measuring the ounces and counting the calories; all that effort doesn’t have to go to waste. You’re on a path to losing weight and dining out while dieting can present the biggest challenge, so don’t sabotage it! All you need to do is plan ahead, consider the menu, choose your foods carefully, and follow the rest of these tips.
1. Do Your Research
The key to successfully (and healthily) dining out is advanced preparation. Look at the menu online before you go to find out what’s available, then think about what you might order and which meals you can order customized to fit your diet. Most restaurants have online menus so you can look ahead of time and see what dishes look healthy. Decide before you go what you’ll order and stick to your decision once you get there.
2. Don’t Arrive Hungry
Ditch the starve-yourself-all-day routine. Depriving yourself at home will cause you to go overboard once you’re out. Prevent this by drinking a BURN or whipping up a LEAN shake from your home about 1–2 hours before leaving. This will make you feel fuller and help prevent overeating. Keeping your hunger under control means you won’t dive into the bread basket the moment you’re shown to your table.
3. Say NO to Bread
Don’t let the bread basket that greets you at the table be your downfall. It can be tempting to nibble on the bread, not mentally adding up all the calories you’re consuming so it’s better to steer clear altogether! It’s also wise to ask your waiter to skip the bread service all together. If you must have something to munch on while you wait for your order, ask for a plate of raw vegetables. This will get you full, not fat.
4. Get a Healthy Starter
While everyone is ordering their first cocktail, choose something with nutritional value. Start off with a light salad or soup as an appetizer. When choosing a soup, choose a broth-based soup, like minestrone. If you opt for a salad, opt for something that’s loaded with greens, raw veggies, and raw nuts or seeds. Decide on an oil and vinegar dressing, or ask for the dressing on the side. When you choose right, your body gets to enjoy healthy ingredients, which helps your body start to register that you’re filling up so you don’t overeat when your meal arrives. The main dish is where most of the calories are found, so ordering a light appetizer sets you up for a lower-calorie meal.
5. Order First
You’ve decided to pick something light off the menu, but then your friends order the deep-fried curly fries you’ve been eyeing on the menu. You start to rethink your boring grilled salmon. To avoid the temptation of your friend’s less-than-healthy dish, put your order in first! And when you make your decision, close your menu and repeat your selection to help yourself stick to it. Once your order is in, it’s in. Don’t look back.
6. Balance Out Your Meal
Before ordering your selections, ask the server about the details of your meal. This will help you make more informed choices. Don’t be afraid to make special requests. If an item on the menu is fried, ask for it grilled. If it comes with French fries, ask for a side of veggies instead. Double up on the veggies so you have less starch on your plate. Order everything on the side. Just like you wouldn’t let someone dress you, you’ve got to dress your own meals, too. Just assume you can have the food prepared the exact way you want it, very often, the restaurant will cooperate. Be “weight assertive!”
7. Eat Slowly
It takes 20 minutes for your brain to get the message from your stomach that you aren’t hungry, so slow it down! Even if you’re hungry enough to chew your arm off, your body needs time to register the meal. Fast eaters are often overeaters, while slow eaters tend to eat less and still feel satisfied. Put your utensils down between mouthfuls; it can help you slow down and give your body signals that you’re full. Try counting to a number per mouthful to stop yourself from eating too much. Savor the flavor, enjoy your company, and more importantly, take your time.
8. Practice the Three-Bite Rule
If you want to watch your calories a little more strictly, then practice the three-bite rule. Take three bites and then set it aside for a few minutes. You’re less likely to come back to it. You might even discover that those few bites can be satisfying and might be all you wanted in the first place. When you practice mindful eating, you will notice a difference in what makes you full.
9. Don’t Drink Your Calories
Forget the margaritas, piña coladas and other exotic mixed drinks. They include sugary additions that only add calories. You don’t want to drink all your calories. Even worse, alcoholic drinks can lead to dehydration, which can make you feel even hungrier. Choose calorie-free options. Drink water throughout your meal. It will slow you down, and help you enjoy the food more. Let the message get to your brain that you’re full — before your plate is empty. Stick with water and lemon and you’ll be glad you did.
10. Practice Portion Control
Portion sizes at restaurants can be massive and if it’s in front of you, you’re more likely to eat more than your body needs. Eat three-quarters of what’s on your plate and then stop. If you find yourself at a restaurant with oversized portions, request a to-go box to be brought with your meal. Take leftovers home in a container and enjoy the next day. It’s like you’re getting two meals for the price of one.
At the end of the day, dining out should be a fun experience, especially if you do it infrequently. You don’t need to feel guilty for enjoying a meal at a restaurant. Just use these tips to continue a successful diet as you dine out.