There are few things that are more enjoyable in life than having a meal out with family or friends. It’s always nice to eat a meal that you don’t have to cook – and let’s face it, restaurant meals are almost always better than what you typically make for dinner.
Of course, there is a reason why restaurant food often tastes better: it tends to be loaded with tons of extra fat, salt, and sugar. It’s no wonder, then, that eating out is linked with overeating and poor food choices.
Popular wisdom says that you should avoid restaurants entirely when you are trying to lose weight. However, there are plenty of things that you can do that will allow you to have a meal out while staying on track with your weight loss goals.
At Ideal You, we know that losing weight is complicated – and any plan to drop pounds has to be realistic. Below, we list 15 tips for how you can eat out while trying to lose weight. Ready to learn more? Give us a call to schedule a free weight loss consultation.
Tip #1: Check Out the Menu Ahead of Time
If you’re going to a new restaurant or a place that you don’t go to often, one of the best and easiest ways to make a healthier choice is to check out the menu beforehand. Studies show that you’re more likely to choose an unhealthy menu item when you are hungry or distracted by the sight or smell of food. The best way to not be tempted is to make a decision about what you will order before you even set foot in the restaurant.
Tip #2: Have a Light Snack Beforehand
As noted above, we tend to go for higher calorie foods when we are hungry. If you want to stick to your weight loss plan, try having a healthy snack before you head out the door. Ideally, your snack will be low in calories and high in protein to keep you full and prevent overeating.
Tip #3: Stick to Water
We know that drinking water can help you lose weight. When you go out to eat, sticking with water – instead of higher calorie sodas and/or alcoholic beverages – can help you consume fewer calories overall. So have a tall glass of water before you head out, and then order water with your meal (perhaps with a squeeze of lemon for extra flavor!).
Tip #4: Pay Attention To How Food is Prepared
We all know that we should avoid fried food if we are trying to lose weight. But what about other adjectives that may describe a menu item – like crunchy, smothered, sauteed, or pan-fried? These words all indicate a method of food preparation that probably packs a lot of calories (like smothered in a creamy, high fat sauce). Instead, look for food that has been steamed, grilled, poached, or roasted.
Tip #5: Order First
Research shows that our food choices are often influenced by our dining companions. Even if you have the best intentions to order a salad, when your loved ones start ordering burgers and fries, chances are good that you’ll ditch your original plan and get something unhealthy. The solution? Order first to reduce the temptation.
Tip #6: Watch Portion Size
When we are served bigger portions, we tend to overeat. If you’re going to a restaurant that is known for its massive portions (Cheesecake Factory, anyone?), think about getting two appetizers instead of a main course. This can help you keep your calories in check – while still enjoying a meal out.
Tip #7: Eat Mindfully
Mindful eating means that you make conscious choices about what to eat, and that you pay attention while eating. If you’re distracted by the TV or even a good conversation, it’s too easy to overeat. Instead, take the time to savor the flavors and aromas of your meal – and you’ll likely eat less overall.
Tip #8: Avoid Buffets
When you are faced with an unlimited amount of food at a buffet, it is incredibly hard – perhaps impossible – to make healthy food choices. The best way to avoid the temptation of overeating is to skip buffets entirely. If you are already at a buffet, try using a smaller plate or only filling up half of a normal-sized plate to minimize overeating.
Tip #9: Make Substitutions
As a general rule, you don’t have to get a menu item exactly as it is described. When you order a meal, ask for substitutions for a healthier meal. For example, instead of fries on the side, ask for a salad or vegetables. It’s a simple way to increase your veggie intake – and cut calories.
Tip #10: Get Dressing on the Side
One of the biggest sources of hidden calories at restaurants comes in the form of dressings and sauces. If you want to reduce the likelihood of overeating, consider asking for sauces and dressings on the side. That way, you can control how much of it you will eat – and won’t take in too many extra calories on gobs of ranch dressing or another sauce.
Tip #11: Say No to Bread and Chips
Many restaurants put a basket of bread or tortilla chips and salsa on the table as soon as you arrive. If you’re hungry when you arrive, it is all too easy to mindlessly munch – consuming more calories than you intended to before you even order a meal! If you know that you’ll be tempted by the bread basket, ask your server to not bring one, or send it back when it arrives.
Tip #12: Eat Slowly
Chewing your food thoroughly can help you eat less and feel full more quickly. Try counting the number of chews per mouthful, or even setting down your utensils between bites. This can help you to eat more slowly and consume less overall.
Tip #13: Start with Soup or Salad
Studies show that having a bowl of soup or a salad before your main course can help you eat fewer calories overall. By filling up on a higher volume, lower calorie food like salad or soup, you can avoid overeating. If you forgot to eat a snack before heading out, this is a great way to enjoy your meal without overeating.
Tip #14: Split Your Meal
A long-term study of people who lost weight and were able to keep it off showed that they tended to split an entree when eating out, or to order a half portion. The reason why is simple: restaurant portions are often huge. If you want to cut back on calories, either share your meal or order a half portion.
Tip #15: Be Flexible
We know that diets don’t work. One of the reasons why is that they tend to take an all-or-nothing approach that simply isn’t sustainable over time. While you may be able to maintain a super strict, low calorie diet for a period of time, it is rare to maintain that kind of discipline over the long-term. In addition, our bodies tend to adapt – making it hard to keep losing weight.
With that in mind, don’t stress too much about eating out. Think of what you order in the context of your overall week. If you have generally been sticking to your weight loss plan, it is probably fine to have a bit of a treat.
Of course, this advice doesn’t mean that you should throw caution to the wind entirely. Instead, try to think about your meal as just one part of your week’s worth of eating. If you have followed your plan 90% or more of the time, cut yourself some slack if you just can’t pass up those fries one night.
Ready to Lose Weight? We’re Here for You.
Losing weight isn’t easy. When you find yourself struggling to stay on track, the best option might be to get help from a professional. With Ideal You, you can lose a life-changing amount of weight quickly and sustainably.
Our program doesn’t require you to buy shakes, bars, or frozen meals. Instead, we offer a healthy, holistic approach to weight loss that helps you achieve your goal weight. Ideal You can help you lose up to 40 pounds in just 40 days!