Eating healthy is hard enough at home, but next to impossible when eating out. The average American should consume approximately 2000 calories daily. When dining out, you can easily consume that much in ONE meal alone. That’s your total calorie allowance for the entire day sunk into one meal.
While exercise does negate some of those calories, no exercise program or fat burning workout will make up for overeating.
Fear not. It IS possible to enjoy an evening out without breaking the (calorie) bank. Below are some basic guidelines to take control of your (caloric) spending.
Use Available Resources
Be sure to check nutritional information before deciding what to eat. Recent FDA regulations require restaurants to make nutritional information available. This equips us with the ability to make better choices. No guessing necessary.
Fast Food Alternative
We’ve all been there. Out of the house, hungry and short on time. What to do? Try hitting the grocery store rather than the golden arches. Most grocery stores have salad bars with fresh fruit and other healthy options such as grilled meat, raw or steamed veggies, beans and eggs. Not to mention, these items are placed close to the entrance for a quick in and out.
Sit Down Restaurant
- If possible, decide where to eat in advance and choose from the menu before arrival. Impulsive ordering is more likely to be calorie dense.
- Ask how food is prepared. We know to avoid fried, greasy food, but it’s often difficult to tell from the menu. For example, “grilled” burgers are often pre-fried, then reheated on a grill. “Steamed” veggies are usually buttered or oiled. Grilled food is often brushed with melted butter. Even salads are sometimes drizzled with oil.
- Ask the waiter to hold the bread so as not to fill up on it before your meal even makes its way out.
- Ask for no butter, sauce or dressing. If you can not go without, request it on the side and use sparingly. Dip your empty fork in the sauce BEFORE picking up your food.
- Choose red sauces over white, broth-based soups over cream-based soups and clear, watery dressings over thick, creamy ones.
- Choose your sides carefully. Vegetables are typically the lowest calorie choice unless they’re smothered with cheese, butter or any kind of creamy sauce. Choose sweet potato over white and skip the sour cream (or any) topping. Of course, fresh fruit or salad is always great (so long as it’s not smothered with the aforementioned items.)
- If you really need that sweet ending to your meal, split a dessert with one or more people. Order coffee or tea with your dessert so you feel satisfied with less.Choose ice cream over rich items such as cakes or brownies. It has fewer calories. Savor every bite, putting the spoon down in between.
- If you must splurge, choose an area you want to splurge on. Is the main dish what you savor or do you prefer the appetizer or maybe the dessert? Choose one and make sure the rest of your meal is healthy.
- Drink a glass of water before arriving at the restaurant so your body does not mistake thirst for hunger.
*Drink water while waiting for your order to arrive. This will help you eat less1 as well as reduce the number of calories absorbed by the body after the meal.
- Order water for your drink. Nearly everything else contain lots of empty calories, especially alcohol. If you really must order something besides water, mentally note that it contains extra calories.
- Portion sizes are out of control just about everywhere. Learn the feeling of satisfaction. It is different than being full.
- Find someone to split that supersized meal with you, or take half of it home. You just got two meals out of one.
- An appetizer is usually as big as a meal should be, so either forgo the appetizer, split it, or get it as your meal.
Eat slowly. Pause between bites, chew food thoroughly and put your fork down occasionally. Eating slowly causes you to eat less and feel more satisfied.3 Keep in mind all calories count, not just what’s on the entre. There are calories in drinks, sides, dips, dressings, appetizers and bread.
Finally, if you blow it, remember tomorrow is a new day.
1. Dennis EA, et al, Water Consumption Increases Weight Loss During a Hypocaloric Diet Intervention in Middle-Aged and Older Adults, Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010 Feb;18(2):300-7. doi: 10.1038/oby.2009.235. Epub 2009 Aug 6.
2. Dennis EA, et al, Water Consumption Increases Weight Loss During a Hypocaloric Diet Intervention in Middle-Aged and Older Adults, Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010 Feb;18(2):300-7. doi: 10.1038/oby.2009.235. Epub 2009 Aug 6.
3. Andrade AM,, Greene GW, Melanson KJ, J Am Diet Assoc, Eating Slowly Led to Decreases in Energy Intake Within Meals in Healthy Women, 2008 Jul;108(7):1186-91. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2008.04.026.