Most of us love to eat out. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics approximately 57% of us eat meals and snacks away from home on any given day.
Why can this be a problem when you are trying to stay on track with a weight loss program? Restaurant food is usually higher in calories, sodium and unhealthy fats and lower in nutrients compared to home-cooked food.
Restaurants also serve larger portions, meaning we often eat more than we do at home. Peer pressure to eat poorly often occurs, or emotional judgments are made, with a justification that it is a "special occasion."
Do you need to avoid restaurants entirely to stay on track? Of course not! With some planning and initiative eating out can be both healthy and enjoyable. Here are some simple tips to employ so that you can eat out without sabotaging your weight loss program.
Tips To Keep From Sabotaging Your Weight Loss Program
- Don't wait until you're starving to find a place to eat. You'll be more likely to walk into the first place you see, regardless of the kind of food it serves. Plan ahead; buy an apple, some nuts, or other healthy snack to tide you over.
- Plan ahead. Try to select a restaurant where food is cooked to order, rather than a fast-food or buffet-style chain, where the food is made ahead of time.
- Choose restaurants wisely. Avoid places that lure you in with multi-course meal specials, unhealthy food, supersize deals, and all-you-can-eat or buffet-only specials.
- Many restaurants today offer foods lower in cholesterol, fat, and sodium, and higher in fiber. Many offer reduced-calorie salad dressings, low-fat or fat-free milk, and salt substitutes. It's easy to find salads, fish, vegetables, baked or broiled food, and whole-grain breads.
Skip the fast food restaurants. Look for places that offer fruit, yogurt, soup, sushi, and sandwiches or wraps, and allow you to choose how your meal is prepared. If you're stuck with fast food, check to see if healthier options are available, such as salads, fresh sandwiches or yogurt.
- Look for places that offer a variety of foods. Try going Asian or vegetarian for different, tasty selections.
- Look for places that offer menus with nutrition information.
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Once You Are At The Restaurant
- Read the whole menu. Get a feel for what's available and estimate the calories before you make a decision about what to order.
- Select from the menu carefully.
- Avoid unhealthy and high-calorie fats, choose steamed, poached, broiled, baked, grilled, or roasted foods over deep-fried. Many restaurants will honor requests for low-salt, low-saturated-fat versions of certain dishes. In general, try to steer clear of dishes described with these terms (which usually indicate less-healthy preparation):
- au gratin
- in cheese, butter or cream sauce
- in gravy
- pan-fried or pan-roasted
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- Ask questions before ordering. If you see something on the menu that interests you, ask the waiter how the dish is prepared. Ask if you can request healthy substitutions (salad instead of fries, olive oil instead of butter).
Ask politely but unapologetically; remember, restaurants are in the service business. Most are more than willing to accommodate your request - after all, you're paying! If you can't get a substitute, just ask that the high-fat food be left off your plate.
- Be the first to order. That way you won't be tempted to go along when the rest of the gang orders more than you'd like to eat.
- Consider a la carte. Try getting a soup or salad and an appetizer, or a couple of side dishes, instead of an overly large entree.
Try to eat the same portion as you would at home. If the serving size is larger, share some with your dining partner, or put the extra food in a container to go.
- Split the meal. If an entree sounds like too much food, see if one of your dining companions would like to share it with you. Or set aside half of the food as soon as it arrives and ask the waiter to wrap it up for you.
- Limit appetizers, bread and butter, and other fillers. If you must have something before your main meal, order a salad with the dressing on the side, or perhaps a light soup.
- Ask for sauces and dressings on the side. Most restaurants use a heavy hand with toppings; they just can't help themselves. When you ask for them on the side you can control the amount without having to miss out.
- Dip, instead of pour. If you must have the sauce or gravy dip the tip of your fork into the dressing or sauce, then take a bite of food, so you'll get a little taste in every bite, but not flood the meal with sauce -and lots of extra calories.
- Pass on gravies and sauces. If you have a salad, ask for dressing on the side.
- Choose desserts carefully. Fresh fruit, fruit ice, sherbet, and angel food cake are good alternatives to fattening desserts.
- Limit alcohol, which adds calories but no nutrition to your meal.
- Skip the sugary drinks and sodas. Drink water or a low calorie beverage.
- Use skim milk in coffee instead of cream or half-and-half.
- Eat slowly. Studies show that eating slowly allows your stomach to catch up with your mind so that you feel full and don't succumb to overeating dues to the lag time it takes the stomach to tell your mind that you are full.
- For dessert, try herbal tea or decaffeinated coffee. If you just can't resist dessert, order something with fruit and split it with a dining partner.
Following these simple tips can allow you to eat out, and stay on track with your weight loss goals. Bon appétit!