Many think of eating out as a surefire way to derail a commitment to nutritious eating and achieving (or maintaining) a healthy weight. We’re all too familiar with why, of course: Those oversized portions, a generous cocktail list, the parade of sweet-tooth-tempting desserts, nevermind a natural tendency to feel that such an occasion is an opportunity to “treat” yourself.
The enjoyable experience you set out to have suddenly turns discouraging when you acknowledge that you’ve, knowingly or unwittingly, overindulged. With a little extra thought and awareness, though, you can leave the table having had a restaurant meal that leaves you both satisfied and feeling good about yourself, says Marilyn Majchrzak, M.S., R.D.N., Canyon Ranch’s corporate food development director.
So, don’t skip the chance to head to your favorite bistro with family or friends. Eating well isn’t about sacrifice, just choices and balance. While you’re there, try some of Canyon Ranch experts’ tips to help you maintain your healthful lifestyle when eating away from home.
Start With a Healthy Mindset
- Instead Of: Eating out is a special occasion, so I’ll indulge myself.
Tell Yourself: This meal should give me energy for the next four or five hours. I want to feel satisfied without feeling stuffed.
- Instead Of: I eat well at home. It’s too tedious, depressing and embarrassing to try at restaurants, too.
Tell Yourself: I can make better choices at restaurants, just as I’ve learned to do at home.
- Instead Of: For what this meal is costing, I’m going to eat my money’s worth.
Tell Yourself: It’s money well-spent if I leave this restaurant feeling full, energetic and relaxed.
- Instead Of: I wonder what other people will think or say about what I eat.
Tell Yourself: I know what I need to eat to feel my best, and that’s what I’m going to have.
Set Yourself Up for Success
- Make it known to your dining partners that eating healthy is a priority for you.
- When possible, patronize restaurants with healthful menus. Regardless of where you go, decide what you want beforehand so you can sidestep temptations (many menus are available online for advance reading).
- Try to avoid all-you-can-eat buffets—more choices tends to mean more “sampling.” If you do go to one, start by surveying all of the selections. Pick out your “must haves” and make sure that some of the good-for-you stuff makes it onto your plate, too.
- Don’t arrive at the restaurant famished. Plan a small snack or light meal earlier.
- Order a la carte—selecting individual dishes instead of opting for a “complete meal” helps you avoid eating something just because it’s there.
- Ask the waiter questions about preparation. You know this, but it’s worth repeating: Typically, you’re better off choosing an entrée that is broiled, grilled, poached or roasted, rather than fried.
- Begin with a tossed salad or clear soup (one made with broth instead of milk or cream) to help fill you up, and sip on water throughout your meal.
- Ask for sauces and dressings on the side and use them sparingly.
- Consider ordering a child’s portion or an appetizer as your main course. Choose a yummy vegetable side to help fill up (skip those doused with creamy sauces or butter).
- Ask if you can sub in a healthy side for a less than optimal choice that might come with your meal.
- Eat sparingly from the bread basket and avoid or limit butter and other spreads. Helpful hint: Take a piece of bread and ask the waiter to take the rest away, or just push it to the other end of the table.
- Use our fork-and-dip method: Dip your fork into the dressing and then dip it into your salad.
- Remove the skin from chicken and visible fat from meat. If you drink alcohol, choose one or two beverages that you’ll really enjoy with your food, and stop there. “As you become more euphoric from drinking, you’re not even thinking about what you’re eating,” Majchrzak says.
- Have dessert if you want, but share it or consider ordering a fruit cup. “For most people, the first three bites of a dessert are the most satisfying,” Majchrzak says.
Check in with Yourself
- Take note of how fast you’re eating and try to be the slowest diner at the table. Leave some food on your plate. (If you do this at every meal, you’ll eventually do it naturally.)
- While dining, ask yourself, “Am I still hungry?” Allow yourself to stop eating when you’re satisfied, not stuffed.
- Remember that you don’t have to be a member of the “Clean Plate Club.” Ask for a doggie bag and eat the remainder of your meal the next day.