Congratulations! You’ve made the decision to begin living a healthier lifestyle. You’re working out and have become an expert at preparing healthy meals at home. But what happens when you leave your perfectly stocked refrigerator full of fresh fruit, veggies, and lean proteins for an evening out at a restaurant? Do all of your new healthy habits go down the drain? Follow my top 10 tips for eating out in a restaurant, and you’ll have no trouble sticking to your weight-loss plan, while still being able to go out and live your life like the social butterfly that you are.
Jennifer Leah Gottlieb is certified as a personal trainer and weight-loss specialist by The National Academy of Sports Medicine. She built a successful business training a large roster of celebrities and many of Manhattan's elite. Jen has a knack for designing healthy meal plans, and she has helped clients lose hundreds of pounds throughout her career.
Your evening begins before you even step foot in the restaurant! Think of Google as your new BFF and review the menu in advance. The best thing you can do to save yourself from making an impulsive and unhealthy decision, is to choose what you are going to order before you even get there. You are much less likely to splurge, when you’ve taken the time to choose a healthy option ahead of time. Do your homework.
Going to a restaurant hungry can be the kiss of death for those on a weight-loss plan. A rumbling belly almost always leads to poor decision making and over eating! I always have a small snack before I leave to go out to dinner. A handful of nuts, some veggie sticks with hummus, or some thinly sliced chicken or turkey are all great pre-dinner snacks.
Bounce the Bread
Have the server remove the bread basket immediately. Out of sight, out of mind. If it’s not there, you won't be tempted to pick at it. Instead, you are much better off drinking a full glass of water with lemon while you wait. This will help you to feel more satiated so you’re less likely to overindulge when the food comes. Another great option is an herbal tea or a club soda with lime.
Think Before You Drink
Of course, if your goal is weight-loss, your best bet is to steer clear of alcohol. Not only is it caloric, but those cocktails can also bring on the dreaded boozy binge that you always regret! However, if you’re going to drink, there are some strategies to help keep you on track. The fewer ingredients in your cocktail, the better. Avoid fancy martini variations and mixed drinks loaded with sugary juices and syrups that pack on calories. Stick to a glass of wine, a light beer, or a vodka soda with lime. Also, try and limit yourself to one drink and make it last the whole evening, or if it’s going to be a two-drink night, drink a full glass of water in between. Always sip slowly, and switch to water or club soda whenever possible.
Menu Word Search
Key words on the menu to avoid are "crispy," "fried," "breaded," "crusted," and "cream of..." If an item has any of these words in it, stay away! Stick to items that contain "grilled," "steamed," "roasted," and “baked” in the description.
Sauce on the Side
Restaurants love to hide very caloric ingredients like butter and mayo in sauces and dressings. A regular salad or a grilled piece of fish can easily turn into a 700-calorie meal after it's drenched in sauce. I always ask for all sauce and dressing on the side. Simply order that delicious chef’s special of the day steamed or grilled, and ask for the sauce on the side. This way, you can control how much (or how little) you actually put on your food. A teeny, tiny dip for each bite would be best. Also, fresh-squeezed lemon with pepper makes a great substitute for sauce or salad dressing. These simple changes can save you hundreds of calories!
Eat slowly and chew mindfully. Take the time to savor every bite! It takes the brain up to 20 minutes to get the message from your stomach that it's full. We often over-eat because we stuff our faces before our brain can even tell us that we were full 10 bites ago. Take your time, chew your food, enjoy your conversation, and listen to the messages your belly is sending to your brain. I find that putting my fork down and taking a sip of water in between each bite really helps me to slow down.
Don't Clean Your Plate!
Forget your mother's voice in your head telling you to not waste food. The Japanese practice something called “Hara Hachi Bu.” It means eat until you are 80 percent full. This practice is so healthy that the Okinawan people often live to be 100. Considering the portion sizes in most restaurants, many of us consume way too much food in one meal. Only eat until you are no longer hungry, and either leave a few bites on the plate or ask for a doggy bag.
When it comes to dessert, follow the two-bite rule. I’m not a fan of depriving myself of anything, because deprivation leads to cravings. And cravings lead to binges. Order the dessert of your choice, but only take two bites! I promise, that’s all you need. We don't eat dessert because we’re hungry. We eat it because it tastes good. Make those bites the most enjoyable bites you’ve ever had, and then be done. If you don't think you can follow the two-bite rule, order some fresh berries or an herbal tea with lemon instead to cap off your meal.
And last but not least, enjoy! Just because you’re watching what you eat doesn’t mean you can’t go out to that cool new restaurant and enjoy yourself. Just keep these simple guidelines in mind, and try to make the healthiest choices possible. Now go out to eat and show that menu who’s boss!