Being healthy while you’re at home is much easier than when you’re relying on others to prepare your food for you. But, there are many occasions when eating out is necessary. Trying to stay (or become) healthy is no excuse to miss out on social opportunities. This week, instead of sharing a recipe, I wanted to provide some tips for how to stay healthy when eating out.
True celebrations are not what I’m talking about here. Your birthday, anniversary, and maybe a special holiday or two can be true free-for-alls. But, if we treat every trip to a restaurant as a celebration, we’re likely not going to be able to stay on the healthy wagon for long.
So, how can we balance an evening out with healthy choices?
First of all, remember that everything is OK in moderation. Then, try out these tips!
1. Only Drink Water.
You know you’re going to be consuming more calories and sodium than you would be if you were eating at home. Why not save yourself the extra calories of soda or juice? Even diet soda can make you feel more hungry than you actually are because your body is searching for the calories that it can taste but isn’t getting (ie any artificial sweeteners). This can lead you to consuming more food than you intended.
If you’re going out to a Happy Hour and don’t want to be the only person without a drink (because no one wants that!), choose a lower calorie option and stick to one serving. A glass of wine, a beer, or a gin/vodka with diet tonic and lemon/lime juice are your lowest calorie options.
Whether you do stick to just one drink or you have more than one, make sure you’re still drinking plenty of water! That will help you stay hydrated and combat the extra salt that you’ll be eating.
2. Order salad dressing and high fat condiments on the side.
If you’re having a salad, good job! Salads aren’t the only healthy options on the menu but they can often be a good choice. Just watch out, it’s easy to pack in the calories without realizing it.
Choose a salad without anything fried – no fried meat or onions, etc. Also, the less cheese, the better. And always, always ask for the dressing to be served on the side! Salads are always served with too much dressing and they’ll bring you too much on the side as well. So only use half of what you get.
If you must have high fat condiments, like mayonnaise, with your order then ask for that on the side as well. When you add it yourself, make sure you do so sparingly. If you can do without it, then even better!
3. Ask for a To-Go Box.
You will seriously thank yourself for this one. Ask for a to-go box as soon as you order. When they bring the food out, place half into the box and set it aside. Yes, people might look at you for a second while you’re doing it but it will soon be completely forgotten about.
Restaurant servings are entirely too big. So, by putting half the food into a box to begin with, you’re saving yourself from over eating, and providing lunch for yourself for the next day. Hate eating leftovers? No problem. Give it to your spouse, give it to a co-worker, give it to a person in need that you see on the way home. Someone would be more than happy to have your leftovers.
Make sure you put away half of the food before you begin eating. This is the key. Once you begin your meal, it’s much easier to get lost in conversation or how delicious the food is, and not recognize when you’re full.
Another great option is to share an entrée with someone else you’re with.
4. Use Small Plates at a Buffet.
Ah, the infamous buffets. My number one recommendation? Don’t go to buffets! But, you’re not always in charge of choosing the restaurant. So, if the buffet is unavoidable, what do you do?
Only use the smaller plates. There are two reasons for this. First, research has shown that the amount of food it takes to make you feel full is related to the size of our plates. As humans, we want to see a full plate of food. Unless we have a strong mindful eating practice, we will continue to eat until all of the food on the plate is gone. However, if we fill a smaller plate (which will require less food), we will still feel full when this plate is empty.
So, does that mean I expect you to go to a buffet and eat one small plate of food and be done? No. The second reason for using a smaller plate is so you can fit less food on it. This means multiple trips to the buffet, and every step counts! No, you’re not getting a full workout in between plates, but a little activity in between certainly never hurt anyone.
I also recommend getting a very tiny amount – only one bite – of foods that look good on your first trip to the buffet. Try each bite and then decide which is good enough to have a larger serving of. Do your best to keep in mind a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
5. Have a Snack 1-2 hours before you go out.
I always hear about people starving themselves all day if they know they’re going out for a meal. Unfortunately, this usually ends with that person grossly overeating whenever they do go out. It’s a much better idea to have normal healthy meals on days you’re planning to eat out. It’s perfectly fine to make those meals smaller than normal, but completely cutting them out will likely cause you to over eat later.
Having a small snack 1-2 hours before you plan to arrive at the restaurant is a great idea. When you arrive at a restaurant completely starving, you’re much more likely to order an appetizer and a higher calorie entrée. You’re also much less likely to put away half of your meal in a to-go box. Overall, you’ll make much better choices if you aren’t starving.
An apple with 2 Tbsp peanut butter, a piece of fruit with cheese cubes, a handful of nuts, or some veggies with humus are great snack ideas.
Do any of these sound do-able to you? Keep in mind that if you want something you’ve never had, you have to do things you’ve never done! You don’t have to start with all 5 things at once. Choose 2 to start with and then build on from there.
What tips and tricks do you use to make healthy choices when you’re eating out?
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