Eating out

It is possible to eat out and lose weight. It is not always an easy task though, so you do want to educate yourself on secrets to success. Remember that not all food is prepared the same. Review these tips so you can make educated decisions when eating out.

Nutritional Tips from USAF LivingFit

Take control of takeout

You don’t have to swear off takeout when trying to cut calories -- there are many healthy options. Portion control is key, though: Take out half of your takeout before dishing up your dinner, put the food in microwave containers and tuck it away in the fridge before you even start eating. (Instant willpower and instant next-day lunch!)

Pre-dinner snack helps you from overeating while eating out

A registered dietitian interviewed for the Daily Burn website recommends having a snack containing 5 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber an hour before going to dinner. You should feel less hungry when you order and thus save yourself from splurging on more calories than you need or want. Snacks might include part of a protein bar, almonds or walnuts and sliced apples or carrots with a bite of cottage cheese.

Watch your calorie intake from drinks

When the server intially approaches your table, the first question is almost always, “What would you like to drink?” Get in the habit of asking for water, then wait until later to order another beverage such as soda, wine or beer. You’ll manage to save yourself the calories from at least one drink by holding off until mid-way through your meal.

Ethnic restaurants offer healthier choices

Look to Greek, Lebanese, Moroccan and Turkish restaurants offering Mediterranean-style foods for the health benefits you’ll find in dark leafy greens, lean meats, olive oil, yogurt, beans, fish and whole grains. Many Asian restaurants—Thai, Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese--offer healthful soups rich in vegetables and other ingredients such as seaweed and shiitake mushrooms.

How to order smartly in a Chinese restaurant

The National Institutes of Health offers tips for ordering healthy options in a Chinese restaurant. Look for these terms or items on menus:
  • Zheng (steamed)
  • Jum (poached)
  • Kao (roasted)
  • Shao (barbecued)
  • Steamed rice
  • Dishes without MSG added

Teach kids how to avoid overeating in restaurants

It’s easy for children and teens to give in to temptation when eating out with their peers. Even though they might not order large portions on purpose from the menu, that is often what they are served. Because they are with friends, they may overeat while talking and not pay attention to how much they’ve consumed. Advise your children to eat slowly and be aware when they are full. Remind them that they don’t have to eat everything on their plate.

Guidelines to help you choose what to eat

Most restaurants have nutritional information about the meals they offer that is available at the restaurant or online. Using that information, the American Institute for Cancer Research offers these guidelines when eating out:
  • Calories: aim for 400-500 per meal unless your calorie needs are especially high
  • Trans fat: avoid
  • Saturated fat: 20 grams or less per day (lower is better)
  • Sodium: lower is better: aim for 600 milligrams or less per meal
  • Fiber: aim for a minimum of 25 grams per day
Also look for foods high in vitamins, minerals and fiber: vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

Be mindful of your meal

A recent study showed that women who practiced mindful eating meditation when eating out lost an average of 4 pounds in six weeks without really trying. Techniques of mindful eating meditation include concentrating on the sight, smell and taste of the food; taking deep breaths before your first bite; focusing on the process of eating and reflecting about what you’re eating rather than rushing through your meal.

Go small

Smaller portions contain less calories than larger portions. A simple fact that is simple to grasp. Except when you’re in a steak restaurant, looking at a menu, and trying to choose between the 6 oz., 9 oz., or 12 oz. steak, right? Make it easy on  yourself and go with the smallest portion. Fill up on salad and veggies. Drink a lot of water. Eat your steak slowly and savor the flavor of each bite!

Beware of the Sneaky Salad Add-ons

Ordering a salad as your entrée may make you feel virtuous, but calories quickly add up when cheese, bacon, ham, croutons and creamy dressings are included. Vinaigrettes are a better choice, but ask for your dressing on the side and use sparingly. Ask for only vegetables in your salad and skip the fatty toppings.

It’s getting easier to find
restaurant nutrition data online

The National Restaurant Association reports that “guests are finding nutrition information more easily. NRA research shows that about a third of all adults have gone online to get nutrition data on restaurant food. A growing number of restaurants provide such information. An NRA-advocated standard will soon set a consistent format for how larger chain restaurants provide nutrition information.”

Help teens make healthy choices eating out

Teens often gather with their friends in mall food courts and fast food restaurants, where healthy foods can be found, but they may not always be the first choice. Encourage them to avoid high calorie drinks like shakes and slushes. Suggest that they skip fried foods and dessert and choose whole wheat bread and buns when available. Teach them to order the smaller sizes of foods rather than the largest and to opt for salads and vegetables over potatoes and rice.

More veggies, please

Providing they are not breaded, fried or baked in cheese or a cream sauce, vegetables can be the healthiest part of a restaurant meal. Consider asking your server to give you twice the normal amount when you place your order. You can offer to pay extra, but chances are good that you will not be charged. Vegetables that are steamed or grilled are your best bet. Make sure you ask that your veggies be served without a topping of oil or butter.

Watch out for sneaky sodium

Limiting your salt intake helps to prevent water retention, which puts extra stress on your heart and vascular system, which can lead to high blood pressure. But even though you don’t add salt to foods at the table when you’re eating out, be aware that many restaurant menu items are high in sodium. The American Heart Association recommends that you try to avoid eating pickled foods, cocktail sauce, soy and teriyaki sauce, and items served in broth or au jus. Do not be shy about requesting that your food be prepared without added salt or MSG, a flavor enhancer sometimes added to Chinese foods.

Choose your dining companions wisely

You know how easy it is to splurge while eating out. A 2013 study from the Agriculture and Applied Economic Association shows it’s even easier to go overboard when you’re with people who order not-so-healthy foods. The study results indicate that people eating together tend to choose menu items from the same category as others at the table. Therefore, you’re more likely to stick to your goal when you eat with friends who order healthy items.

Find healthy options in Mexican restaurants

You won’t wreck your diet if you search out healthier menu items in Mexican restaurants. Soup made with a broth (minus toppings such as sour cream and cheese) is a great way to begin your meal. Choose corn or whole grain tortillas instead of flour. Go for fillings such as black bean, tomatoes, lettuce, onion and avocado rather than meat. Say no to anything fried and resist the urge to drink a sugar-laden frozen margarita.

Eat your salad first

Ask your server to bring your salad before your entrée and eat it first. You will satisfy your hunger and won’t be tempted to overeat when the main course arrives. Make sure you request the dressing on the side and use options lower in calories such as vinaigrette instead of creamy dressings. Skip additions such as croutons, bacon and cheese.

Lean toward low fat soups and stews

Winter soups are hearty and nourishing, but try to avoid those laden with cream, sausage and cheese. Look for broth-based soups that contain a lot of vegetables. Great ingredients for healthy soups are spinach, lentils, chickpeas, barley, beans or peas. If you can’t resist a soup that’s not quite as lean as you’d like, just order a cup instead of a bowl.

Study up on sauces

Avoid sauces high in fat, such as those made with milk, cheese, oil or mayonnaise. For pasta, marinara and tomato-based sauces are usually more flavorful and healthier than sauces that contain cream, such as Alfredo sauce. Choose menu items flavored with herbs and spices rather than toppings such as bacon, gravy, and cheese. 

Choose wisely from steak and seafood menus

You find yourself in a steak restaurant and want to stick with your meal plan. What’s one of the leanest cuts of meat on the menu? Flank steak, which has one third the amount of fat as rib eye. Forego the baked potatoes or fries and opt for grilled veggies and a salad. If seafood is on your mind, go with grilled, broiled or baked and top with a squeeze of lemon rather than using sauce or butter. 

Simple ways to cut calories when eating out

  • Avoid the bread basket
  • Limit your alcoholic beverages
  • Skip the fatty appetizers
  • Go easy on the salad dressing
  • Choose vegetables instead of potatoes
  • Order grilled, broiled or baked foods instead of fried
  • Opt out of calorie-laden sauces and gravy

Choose Restaurants that Offer Healthy Choices

When deciding where to go out to eat, give yourself options that will not sabotage your healthy eating plan. Opt for restaurants with a wide variety of choices, such as grilled, baked or broiled meat and fish; several types of salad; numerous vegetable side dishes and alternatives to baked and fried potatoes. Restaurants with wide-ranging menus should provide enough selections for everyone in your group to find something they like.

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Four tricks to eating
out AND losing weight

Be aware!

It is important to be aware of the hidden calories in restaurant food.  Look for key words (ex: crispy, cream sauce, twice baked, etc.) for foods to avoid.

Make better choices

Restaurants are typically open to accommodating your requests as long as they are reasonable.  When ordering a salad, ask for the dressing on the side.  Ask for steamed vegetables instead of the mashed potatoes. And, it’s ok to ask for the sandwich without cheese.

Do your homework

Choose your restaurant wisely.  Some places like a greasy spoon Diner or an authentic Mexican restaurant may not have too many healthy options for you. It helps to know what you are getting yourself into prior to arriving at the restaurant – whenever possible.  The goal is to minimize temptations.

Be prepared

Do NOT go out to eat when you are starving!  The number one rule to prevent overeating is to have a snack (handful of almonds, an apple, one string cheese) prior to leaving the house so that when you get to the restaurant, you can make rational decisions and order healthier food choices.

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