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Posted on May 6, 2011 in Weight Loss, Weight Loss 101 | 18 comments

Weight Loss 101: Eating Out

Hello all! It’s been a little while since the last installment in my Weight Loss 101 series, so I thought I’d get back in the game with an addition of some more of my losin’ tips & tricks. On the docket for today: going out to eat.

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If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I like to eat out. A lot. I fully recognize that food intake and calorie counting is easiest to do if you cook for yourself, but it isn’t always reasonable to assume that you’ll be able to do that for every meal. As I’ve had to find out the hard way, if you deprive yourself of things that you enjoy, you will only end up crashing and burning harder later. It is totally, 100% possible to still eat healthy and lose weight even if you like to go to restaurants (or in my case, if you like to go to restaurants a LOT, haha.)

You’re going to want to go out to eat. Even if you’re absolutely hellbent on cooking for yourself while you’re losing weight, what about when you move onto weight maintenance? Hopefully you can glean something from this post if you find yourself resisting wanting to spend time with friends or try out a new place for fear of what it may do to your weight loss.

General Tips

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1. Look up nutritional information online beforehand.

This is the number one, most important thing that you can do to make smart choices about what to order at a restaurant. Most restaurants (especially chain places) have all of their nutritional information available online nowadays. Granted, some places may be trying to hide it a little more than others, but it’s usually there. Do a quick online search or head straight to the restaurant’s website to check out your options. In today’s uber-technological world, you probably even have the technology to look up this kind of stuff on the go! So even if you are out with a group of friends and make a last-minute, game-time decision on where to eat, just borrow someone’s smart phone and get Googling.

If looking up the information online isn’t an easy solution for you (or if you’re just looking for another resource), I also highly recommend the “Eat This, Not That” books. The standard book pretty much all existing chain restaurants listed with the best and worst dishes to order, and the special “Restaurant Survival Guide” (I own both) includes even more info as well as some general guidelines on eating out.

2. Budget for dessert (or skip it altogether!)

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My sweet tooth only rears its ugly head every once in a while, so not having dessert when eating out isn’t something I have a fundamental problem with. However, I do know that a lot of people really go to restaurants almost solely for the decadent desserts. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! Just keep your cravings in mind, and plan out the rest of your dinner accordingly. Ask to take a look at the dessert menu along with the regular menu ahead of time (as they often offer it separately) so you can identify if there’s something that you just HAVE to have on there.

3. Ask for a takeaway box when your meal comes out, and put half of your portion in there.

I don’t really do this myself, but you’ve probably heard it as a trick for dealing with restaurant portions before, too. Restaurant portions are typically HUGE. They are far more than a person needs to eat in a single sitting, especially if you have any kind of appetizer, soup, salad, or dessert course involved as well. If you’re a devoted member of the Clean Plate Club, you may need to utilize this tip so you don’t end up overeating. Also, revoke that membership. It may be appropriate for kids who refuse to eat their broccoli, but you are under no obligation to finish everything on your plate every time you sit down to eat.

4. Drink water.

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Why drink your calories when you can eat them in the form of delicious food instead? Forgo the soda, juice drinks, fizzy cocktails, and whatnot and just drink refreshing, good-for-you water with your meal (with lemon or lime if you’re feeling adventurous!) Naturally, if you are out for happy hour or something and want a glass of wine or light beer then you should go for it, but just bear in mind that liquid calories are calories all the same, and they won’t fill you up.

Cuisine Guidelines

Naturally, you won’t always have the luxury of being able to look up restaurant information before you go. You may be visiting a small local place that barely even has a website, let alone one that has nutritional information posted on it. So you want to be equipped with some basic knowledge about good things to order that won’t affect your waistline too severely, even if you don’t know the specific caloric count. Here’s a breakdown of tips when dining on some of the cuisines I most often partake in:

American:

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American cuisine is usually full of robust, full salads and light fare. Stick to lean proteins like chicken or fish, and vegetable sides. Ask for dressing on the side. All pretty standard stuff in terms of menu navigation. You should have some good options here.

Recognizing the obesity epidemic that we are all facing, many American-style restaurants even include some sort of “Light Fare” section on their menu. And you should never feel awkward asking your server what some of the healthier choices on the menu are. It might surprise you — I would never have known that the Hong Kong Style Seabass at Coastal Flats was the lightest choice on the menu if I hadn’t asked once. And it was deeeelicious!

Asian:

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Asian food can be a really great choice for diet-friendly food, or a really bad choice. Sushi (my fave!!) is usually a pretty safe bet. For all you ‘phobes out there, just because it’s sushi doesn’t mean it has to be raw! You can get lots of delicious, fully-cooked fish rolls. The ratio of protein to carb is usually pretty good, and it’s extremely filling with all that rice. Ask if they offer brown rice, and enjoy other healthful, vegetable dishes like edamame and seaweed salad as well to round out your meal.

Pad Thai Shrimp

Thai food (another one of my absolute favorites) can be a little trickier. Ka Pow (so fun to say!), Cashew Chicken, or even Pad Thai Shrimp aren’t too bad (bearing in mind that you watch the amount of rice/noodles you actually end up consuming.) But beware of thick curries, which are almost always made with coconut milk and have a high saturated fat content (but are oh. so. good.) Steer clear of thick noodle dishes like Drunken Noodles and Pad See Ew, and be aware that many times the tofu in vegetarian dishes at Thai restaurants comes fried.

Mexican:

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Mmm, Mexicano. Mexican food can be surprisingly good for you… if you know what to do. First things first, always ditch the tortilla. Flour tortillas (and even corn ones!) add hundreds of unnecessary calories to your meal. Do it like Chipotle and eat your burrito bowl-style. Turn your fajitas into a salad. And just, you know, don’t get enchiladas. The same rules applies for the shell of your taco salad, as well as the big basket of chips that inevitably get parked in the middle of your table. I know it can be difficult, but practice restraint and you can reward yourself with an extra spoonful of guac.

Super Guac

Speaking of which, guacamole > sour cream. Always. Guacamole may have a lot of calories, but it comes from healthy fats. Ditch the sour cream altogether, and be sparing with the cheese, too. Feel free to load up on the salsa though! I’m not how true this is, but I hear a lot about how spicy foods help slightly speed your metabolism so the hotter, the better! Fish tacos are UHHmazing and a much better alternative than beef.

Italian:

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Well, I have to say that this is a toughy. Italian food involves pizza, pastas, heavy meats, creamy sauces, and extreme deliciousness. My basic tips would be to always choose a tomato-based sauce over a cream-based sauce, forgo pasta dishes for lean proteins (hello mussels!) and vegetable sides, and recognize that Caesar salads, despite their misleading name, are actually not very good for you.

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And leave that bread basket alone! Almost all Italian places (and most nicer restaurants in general) will offer you a bread basket to gnaw on while you’re perusing the menu. Granted, I rarely ever actually follow this rule because I love bread, but then again I also have only lost like a total of 5 pounds in the past two months. So take from that what you will, huh?

Eating out is part of having a life. It happens. And it generally results in good times and (hopefully) great food! Hopefully some of the things I’ve listed here will help equip you to make healthy (or at least, healthier) choices when eating out. Diet may be a four letter word to some people, but it does not in any way mean you have to stop enjoying your life. I certainly know it’s not stopping me from enjoying mine!

What other cuisines are you looking for tips on how to dine healthily on? Do you have any tips that I’ve missed? I want to hear from you guys!

18 Comments

  1. Ethiopian food is full of very healthy dishes particularly stews with lentils, vegetables and the leaner cuts of meat that have been cooked over long periods of time to get really tender.
    …plus you get to eat with your hands, which is awesome.

    Lebanese food can be really healthy as well if you choose the right dishes. Hummus and baba ghanoush are great options. As is a refreshing tabbouleh or fattoush salad.

    • Mmm, I’ve actually been having a hankering to go out for Ethiopian lately! I’ve only had it once, but I think it’s the fun group eating experience that I really like. Good call on Lebanese, too! I <3 lebanese food, and you’re right — there are so many good options!

  2. Mediterranean food in general is pretty healthy. It’s typically seafood oriented, plus the fats in olive oil are good fats. I also heart chickpeas, therefore hummus and falafel are faves of mine (i bake my falafel at home but in restaurants it’s usually fried).
    I wish I could resist the bread baskets and the chips/salsa! It’s the freebies that getcha.

    • I know! It’s such a good deal because they’re freeeee so you feel like you should eat more of them, too….

  3. I can never resist that bread basket. I just really love bread, especially with butter or olive oil. The healthiest thing I do in those scenarios is choose the whole wheat bread if it’s there as an option.

    One type of cuisine I have trouble with is French cuisine. There’s amazing bagette (which is only really good when it’s white bread), the cheeses (MY ACHILLES HEEL), the pastries (how can I resist?), the fresh cream, and all of the salt that goes into the meats. Let’s not forget the fact that I enjoy eating my fries with mayo (you crazy North American’s with your ketchup). The healthiest French restaurants I have found are the ones that cost quite a pretty penny. The ones I can afford are generally those that contain all of the no-no ingredients listed above. Is there something I don’t know that you know, Gretchen? Can you help me? I can’t live without my French food.

    Another type of cuisine I’d be interested in hearing about is Carribean food. From what I’ve had, it’s a lot of carbs, meats, and salt with not many vegetables.

    Thoroughly enjoyed your post today. I learned something!!!

  4. Love your tips — honestly we really don’t go out to eat much, and if we do we go to a TGIFriday’s type place where I get one of their big salads, eat 1/2 and bring the rest home.

    What I have trouble with is at family style places — where we all get a pizza or a big Italian dish to share (but that isn’t something I need tips about, I need to just not stuff myself to the brim) 🙂

    • We all need to learn how to not stuff ourselves when the food is especially delicious… obviously I still super struggle with that, too! Hahaha

  5. Great tips, Gretchen! I love to eat out too but don’t do it for budgetary and waist line reasons. When i do go out, I LOVE Asian food. my favorites are sushi + Vietnamese, and it’s great because most items on the menu (besides the deep fried stuff, of course) are good for you! It doesn’t feel like I’m walking through a mind field while looking through the menu, which I love. 🙂

    • I’m pretty sure that if I lived with a professional chef, I wouldn’t feel the need to eat out that often either! 😉

  6. Great post. Somehow I always trick myself into thinking, “oh we are going out! therefore I can splurge” as if we don’t go out that often…quite the contrary though!
    Anywho, I wanted to comment because as someone who has worked/works in restaurants the tip about ordering your salad dressing on the side is tricky. In my experience, when people order their dressing on the side they end up using the entire container of dressing, which is more than what would have gone in the salad if it was tossed. People think that by ordering it on the side they can use it sparingly, but end up using the whole thing! I would recommend ordering the salad lightly dressed, or just order a salad with balsamic vinegar and oil on the side as opposed to the dressing that regularly comes on the salad!

    • Ooh, great tip! I didn’t even think about that. I always try to use the method where I dip the tines of my fork into the dressing to measure it for each bite. But I guess if it’s a thick dressing that might not really be a very good way of portioning it! I’ll definitely try seeing if ordering a salad “lightly dressed” makes a difference from now on!

  7. Thanks for posting this!! I have always had the wrong frame of mind when going out to eat “that it’s a meal out and I should get whatever I want.” Unfortunately, one night of thinking like that leads to many more nights of binge eating.

  8. LOTS of great tips! My best advice is to be particular!! Don’t relent to one meal being a “cheat” for the sake of your diet/lifestyle. Ask for ingredients, ask for food to be cooked without butter (if that’s how you’d like it), ask for dressing on the side, ask for healthy options to sides (ie. veggies/side salad instead of fries). I always remember: nobody else will advocate for your diet but YOU! Take control of your foods, whether you’re at home or at a restaurant.

  9. I try to go out for lunch more so than dinner because the lunch portions are smaller (not to mention cheaper!)

  10. I usually just shoot for balance, and while I don’t generally order cocktails or dessert, I usually like to order salads with protein on them while out. Or some delicious sushi. 🙂

  11. We’re a gaggle of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community. Your site offered us with helpful information to paintings on. You’ve done an impressive job and our whole group can be grateful to you.

  12. Thanks for the excellent post. My job keeps me on the road for several days a week, so eating out is a must. You are correct it really helps if you can look up the nutritional info before going out helps. I also try to make sure I have healthy snacks with me so I can have a small snack an hour or 2 before I go to the restaurant this keeps the cravings down and allows me to make wiser choices.

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