Eating out, what’s not to love about catching up with friends or family over some good food that you can all enjoy and not have to deal with the washing up afterwards!
However, it can also be the crime scene for the collapse of many a good intention; not so much falling off the wagon, but more of a lemming style dive into the minefield of negotiating the menu.
There is a myriad of ways to make healthier choices if you’re looking to watch the calories; tomato over cream-based sauces, ask for dressings on the side, and go easy on the prawn crackers. If you’re looking to enjoy your meal and not create stress by focussing on what you can’t/shouldn’t eat, then here’s some tips to help keep on track with your health and fitness goals without feeling deprived!
Do your research
Get to know what you’re getting into before you get to the restaurant and are tempted by enticing menu descriptions. Many restaurants have their menus online — some with nutrition information readily available. You’ll be able to choose the destination and have some ideas of what you will have, ready to ask for substitutions where necessary.
Make a plan
Eat a light dinner if you ate a big lunch that day, or vice versa. DON’T go without and stock pile your calories; you’ll end up over eating from the minute the bread basket is put in front of you and the choices made with a nutrient starved brain aren’t the wisest!
Make a commitment to eat slowly. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the message from your stomach that you are no longer hungry.
Get moving as a group before or after eating. A brisk walk before a meal gives you time to chat. A stroll afterward helps your digestion.
Practice visualizing what your plate would look like at home and trying to replicate that in your restaurant meal. We often over estimate how much we can actually eat, particularly if we’re sharing dishes, so don’t order too much – you can always order more!
Be deliberate when ordering. Balance your meal by including healthier selections from all the different food groups such as lean protein foods, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Look for freshly made salads that give you fresh produce and ask for dressing on the side.
Add to Your Meal
Focus on what healthy items you can add to your plate instead of only what foods to avoid. Look for whole-grain breads, pastas and sides; opt for foods with healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds; be sure to order lots of fruits and veggies; take the opportunity to supercharge the nutrient count and this will fill you up without the guilt!
Watch for the Wording
The way a dish is described on a menu can give you clues to how it’s prepared. Look for words including “grilled,” “baked” or “steamed,” meaning the food is cooked with less fat, and dishes with descriptions such as “fried,” “breaded,” “smothered,” “alfredo,” “rich” and “creamy” are going to be higher in calories that you may want to moderate.
If you don’t ask…..
Don’t be afraid to ask your server to help you healthy-up your meal. For example, you could ask for a salad in place of the usual fries or chips with a meal. You can also ask for items to be prepared with less oil or cheese, ask the server to take away the bread basket and serve salad with dressing on the side, and request a starter for a main meal if they are generous with their portions.
Time for pud!
When it comes to dessert, if you’re not the sharing type of person, and don’t like to compromise on your sweet course, try having your dessert at home. You won’t feel obliged to having something that you wouldn’t normally, and this enables you to control the portion. That break taken can also remove the urge for something when you’re in the moment as you realise you may already be full to the gills!
Alcohol is higher in calories than most people realise, containing seven calories per gram2, compared to protein and carbohydrate which have around four calories per gram and fat which has nine. The calorific nature of alcoholic drinks can be deceptive, a pint of beer can have as many calories as a large slice of pizza. What’s more, calories in alcohol are considered ‘empty’ calories, as they don’t provide any nutrients.
It’s not just the calories in alcohol that can contribute to weight gain, it’s also the loss in our appetite radar, leading to eating bigger portions, or hitting the takeaway food/fridge raiding later in the evening.
As alcohol is a diuretic, your body will quickly become dehydrated, never a good idea when trying to keep healthy or manage weight. To avoid this and moderate the liquid calories:
- Make sure you are well hydrated during the day beforehand.
- Ask for a jug of water for the table and alternate a soft drink with an alcoholic one.
- Check out the alcohol %, choosing lower alcohol beer and wine will make a massive difference on the cumulative effects.
- Add soda to create a wine spritzer that will last as long as a large glass.
Unfortunately, even if you’re the designated driver, you still need to watch for the high sugar content in the soft drinks, thankfully the options for non-alcoholic drinks is vastly improved and many restaurants have a wide range of tasty alternatives to the juice or fizzy sodas.
If you enjoy dining out, don’t think you have to stop if you want to stay healthy. With some preparation and savvy substitutions, you can order meals that are as nutritious as the ones you prepare at home.
If you are looking to improve manage your weight through a healthy lifestyle approach to your diet, get in touch with Nicola Clark at Breedon Priory Health Club on