When you’re following a weight loss plan, it’s inevitable there will be hurdles along the way. And one of the biggest obstacles is how to deal with eating out.
When you’re at home you have a degree of control over what you choose to eat. But as soon as you eat away from home, temptations are everywhere and it’s easy to abandon the diet goals.
Of course, eating out should be an enjoyable event. But if you’re following a weight loss plan, dining out at a restaurant can be stressful. You may wonder whether there will be anything healthy to eat. Or will you be able to resist those calorific puddings!
Fortunately, these days many restaurants will provide at least some healthier options for you to choose. You just have to know what they are, where to find them and how to avoid the diet breakers.
Have a read through my top tips for eating out on a weight loss plan and you shouldn’t have any trouble staying on track.
1: Research before you go
Many restaurants have their menus available to view online. So before you go out to eat, have a browse through the menu. This can help you avoid making unwise or hasty decisions on the day/night. Choose places where you know there is food you can easily eat without too much temptation for unhealthy foods on the menu.
More restaurants and food outlets are showing the calorie count and also provide nutrition guidelines for their food. Choosing one of these places makes it easier for you to keep track of how much you’re eating.
When going through the meals, always plan a back-up meal just in case they’ve run out of the meal you wanted when you show up!
Serve yourself restaurants are a fantastic choice when you’re trying to stick to a diet plan. You can load up on vegetables and salad and serve yourself a decent amount of protein with a small amount of dressing.
2: Monitor your alcohol
Alcohol is a big part of the meal for many people. But if you’re watching your weight, this is one area you really need to keep an eye on as the calories soon mount up. Alcohol is fermented and distilled from sugar so it's high in calories - 7 calories per gram. It also has little to no nutritional value.
If you’re drinking wine with your dinner, order it by the glass rather than the bottle and try making it last the entire meal and don’t allow your glass to be re-filled! Try to avoid liqueurs as these are very high in calories too.
Be extra vigilant if you’re a cocktail drinker. Not only are they easy to drink, they tend to have the highest calories of all alcoholic drinks.
Go for low or 'light' alcoholic drinks or those with the lowest percentage of alcohol to keep calories down. Some low alcohol wines have nearly half the number of calories per glass.
Keep in mind that alcohol is more likely to lower your resistance to temptation!
Guide to calories in alcohol.
A single shot (25ml) of spirits average 50-60 calories. Choose diet/low calorie mixers
A 125ml glass of Champagne has around 89 calories
Small bottle of beer (330ml) around 142 calorie
A 175ml glass of wine has around 159 calories
A Mojito has around 160 calories;
Pint of beer: around 182 calories
A bottle of Alcopops (275ml) has around 220 calories.
A Pina Colada has around 460 calories;
A Long Island Iced Tea has around 780 calories.
Further information on calories in alcohol can be found here.
3: Share a course
While some restaurants serve up teeny doll sized portions, others go to the opposite extreme with supersized meals. If meals are overly large, consider sharing your meal. Additionally, many restaurants also have a ‘sharer course’ as an option. These can be cost effective and you can eat the amount you want.
Some restaurants will serve up a smaller plate or a starter sized main course if you ask.
You could try persuading your dining companion to buy the dessert or treat that you would love and have a small taste or sample. Ask the server for an extra spoon. This way you get to enjoy the taste without the calories and extra cost!
4: Watch your carbs
If the server brings a bread basket to your table, ask him or her to kindly remove it. This pre-dinner snack is really unnecessary and often costs extra. Do you normally eat bread before your meal at home? And if others at the table start complaining, get them to take what they want first.
Don’t eat carbohydrates with more carbohydrates. For example, if you’re eating a pizza, don’t order chips or dough balls. If you’re eating a pie made with pastry, don’t have potatoes or chips. The same principle applies to meals such as curry.
Many curried meals come with a portion of rice, in which case don’t order extra poppadoms or naan bread (naan is massively high in calories). For pasta and lasagne meals, again, definitely no chips as well.
If possible, order thin crust pizzas or pies without a top crust.
You don’t need to go really low in carbohydrates to lose weight, just try to get into the habit of no more than one carbohydrate (not counting vegetables) at each meal. Even better, aim for one to two meals without any carbs per day.
5: Have one treat course
Eating out should be enjoyable, so if you’re counting calories or watching your weight, try allocating one course to healthy eating and splurge out (a bit) on another course.
Ideal starter courses include non-cream based soups (minus bread), mixed olives, roasted peppers & grilled haloumi/goat’s cheese etc., avocado & prawn cocktails (dressing on the side). Platters are sometimes a good idea as there’s usually a selection of healthier options such as hummus, vegetables, olives and mozzarella.
Watch out for desserts as they are notoriously high in calories and this is the section of the menu where you’re least likely to find a diet friendly choice.
If there’s a fruit salad, then go for it but don’t add cream or ice cream. Sorbets are a bit of a grey area. They can be lower in calories but are often high in sugar. Avoid any cheesecake, waffle, pastry and anything with cream etc. One slice of cheesecake can be worth an entire meal in calories!
If you really want a calorific dessert, but know it would play havoc with your diet plan, try choosing a light starter and no main course, or a light main course rather than a heavy main and decadent dessert. By doing this you can enjoy your meal, feel confident you won’t gain weight and won’t finish the meal feeling letha
6: Take a doggy bag
Staring down at a supersized meal placed in front of you might seem like great value. But when you’re trying to lose weight, you’re placed in a dilemma. Do you eat the lot so as not to waste money? Or do you rely on your willpower to leave some on your plate?
Bring a doggy bag
Remind yourself that eating gargantuan sized meals is not good for digestion and definitely not helpful for weight loss. Our stomachs aren’t designed to fit huge portions of food and getting used to eating smaller portions is a big step towards successful weight loss.
According to research, if you take a doggy bag with you to the restaurant, you’ll be likely to EAT LESS. It seems that if we know whatever we leave on our plate will be heading for the bin, we’re more inclined to finish it all, even if we’re not that hungry.
BUT if we know we can take home whatever we don’t eat, we’re more likely to stop eating when were full up. This is a great way to reconnect with your true hunger/satiated signals, rather than eating the portion size you’re given. After all, one set portion size isn’t going to be the right one for each of us, but that’s what happens when you eat out.
Many restaurants will provide you with a container to put your leftovers in if you ask or forget to bring your own.
7: Watch out for hidden calories
As a general guide when eating out, avoid ordering any food that’s been fried, coated in batter or crumbs or has the word ‘cream’ in it. Stick to tomato based sauces to save hundreds of calories.
If you’re unsure of what's hiding in a menu item, ask the server what the ingredients are. Also it’s worth asking for something to be prepared a different way. For example, ask for your fish to be grilled rather than fried if possible.
Chefs love negating the health benefits of a plate of vegetables by smothering them in butter, cream or sauce. If your meal comes with vegetables, ask the server if you could have yours without any butter when you order.
Be aware of sauces in meals such as chicken Korma or Lasagne. Any meals cooked in a creamy sauce will have many more calories. If you must order a 'saucy' meal, spoon or drain off most of the sauce (into some other vessel) which is where the majority of calories and fat are. The meat / fish / chicken / veggie alternative will have absorbed a lot of the flavour and there will still be some sauce left.
Salads can turn into a high fat and calorific nightmare with the addition of creamy mayonnaise type dressings. Ask for your dressings on the side then add a teaspoon or two to provide some more flavour if you need. Olive oil with a squeeze of lemon juice is simple and flavoursome. All you seed is a couple of teaspoons. This healthy oil also helps with absorption of vitamins from the salad.
8: Bulk up with veggies
Unfortunately, in many restaurants, vegetables are still seen as a token garnish, to be placed as an adornment on the side of the plate. Or sometimes not at all!
If you’re eating out somewhere where you can order extra vegetables or salad as a side dish, order 1 or 2 extra portions.
The ideal healthy balanced plate should have at least half (non-starchy) vegetables. This is because starchy vegetables have a higher carbohydrate status so are more likely to raise blood sugar levels faster which will hinder weight loss. They usually have more calories too.
Starchy vegetables include potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, green peas and sweet corn. But if the only vegetables you really like are peas and carrots, then absolutely have these and aim for half the plate. You’ll still be getting plenty of nutrients and they’ll fill you up.
Veggies are filling so help with weight loss, plus they’re high in fibre which help with keeping bowel movements regular. They’re also full of a wide range of vital nutrients.
As per tip 7, don’t forget to say no to the butter and ask for any salad dressing on the side.
9: Photograph your meal
With the explosion in social media sharing, photographing our food is something that many are already doing on a regular basis.
But, besides filling your Instagram feed with mouth-watering food pics, did you know that photographing your food can also help with weight loss?
According to a study, taking photos of everything you eat serves to strengthen the proof of your food intake. This study has shown that you’re more likely to think about what you're about to eat when you have to take a photo of it.
This means your mind is registering what you’re about to eat in advance, so may be making helpful mental connections about the amount of food your stomach is about to receive.
Additionally, if you photograph everything you eat and upload it to a page where you can see everything you’ve eaten that day, this can provide the motivation needed to not overeat.
So get your smartphone / camera ready and take photos of everything you eat while you’re out at the restaurant.
10: Slow down your eating
Try cutting your food into smaller pieces to lose weight. US researchers found that cutting food into smaller pieces can help you eat less. This is believed to be an optical illusion, whereby the brain is tricked into believing that eating more pieces meant more food is being consumed. It also slows down your eating, giving your stomach more time to register the fact that you’re becoming more full, thereby preventing overeating.
Eat slowly, chew carefully and make your meal last. For example, make a conscious decision to not scoop up the next spoon/forkful of food until you have swallowed your current mouthful of food.
There is even a diet called ‘The Chew Chew’ diet whereby every mouthful must be chewed at least 32 times before swallowing. This is probably overkill for most of us, but it can certainly help with prolonging your meal and helping with digestion. You may even become so bored with eating, you’ll leave food on your plate.
A Japanese study found that those who ate the quickest, were associated with being overweight or obese. The faster you eat, the greater the likelihood of taking in more food than you need.
Try eating with chopsticks (unless you’re a dab hand at using them) or use your non dominant hand!
If you'd like more help or advice with food choices when eating out, I also offer a meal planning service to help you make the most helpful choices when eating out.
This includes fast food, eating out at breakfast and lunch with advice on specific menus.
Drop me a line at: email@example.com with your requirements and I’ll get right back to you.
If you’re struggling with your weight and need help or support, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a FREE health assessment.