Honestly, the best strategy for dealing with the challenges of eating out is to minimize how much you eat out! Between the bread basket (or basket of chips), the oversized portions, and the high calorie menu choices, it can be nearly impossible to eat healthy at restaurants. If you are trying to lose weight, you will be much better off preparing healthy meals at home. That being said, it would be completely unreasonable to NEVER eat out, so I’ve prepared some tips for minimizing the damage to your diet:
(1) Eat out only one meal a week, and make that your “special treat” for the week. Order what you would like, but make sure to stop eating when you get full. Eat slowly and deliberately, and enjoy every bite of your meal. Knowing that you will get a “cheat meal” once a week can help you stay on track the rest of the week.
(2) When you eat out, be sure not to be STARVING when you arrive. If you are ravenous, then your willpower will likely go out the window. When a bread basket is sitting in front of you, and you are hungry, it would take a miracle not to dig in. Try eating an apple or a yogurt before you leave the house. It will take the edge off of your appetite and allow you to make better decisions at the restaurant.
(3) Choose a restaurant where there are healthy options and temptation is minimized. For example, Mexican restaurants can be particularly difficult due to chips, queso, margaritas, and high-calorie entrees. If there is a restaurant you know that has delicious salads, grilled chicken, and healthy soups, that would obviously be a better choice.
(4) Restaurants usually serve portions that are 2-3 times what you need, so it definitely makes sense to split an entrée with someone else. Or you can ask for a to-go box with your entrée and package up half for lunch the next day. The important thing is to NOT feel like you should clean your plate, because doing so could definitely result in a lot of extra calories.
(5) Ask your waiter to hold the bread basket or basket of chips. If it’s not in front of you, you won’t have to summon up all your willpower to resist them! Also, when needed, be sure to ask for modifications to your order. For example: order dressing on the side, get veggies or fruit instead of fries, hold the cheese or mayo on your sandwich, make sure your entrée is grilled and not fried, etc.
(6) Drink a full glass of water before you start your meal, and begin with a healthy salad. The water and salad will fill you up, so you will most likely eat less. In addition, you might be less tempted to get dessert.
(7) Go for a walk after dinner. It will help your food digest, and it will help you burn a few extra calories before bedtime.
By using some or all of the strategies above, you can minimize the damage to your diet. And my limiting how many times you eat out each week, you will help your waistline AND your wallet too!