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Weight Loss 101: Eating Out

Posted May 06 2011 10:27am

Hello all! It’s been a little while since the last installment in my Weight Loss 101 series , so I thought I’d get back in the game with an addition of some more of my losin’ tips & tricks. On the docket for today: going out to eat.

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If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I like to eat out. A lot. I fully recognize that food intake and calorie counting is easiest to do if you cook for yourself, but it isn’t always reasonable to assume that you’ll be able to do that for every meal. As I’ve had to find out the hard way, if you deprive yourself of things that you enjoy, you will only end up crashing and burning harder later. It is totally, 100% possible to still eat healthy and lose weight even if you like to go to restaurants (or in my case, if you like to go to restaurants a LOT, haha.)

You’re going to want to go out to eat. Even if you’re absolutely hellbent on cooking for yourself while you’re losing weight, what about when you move onto weight maintenance? Hopefully you can glean something from this post if you find yourself resisting wanting to spend time with friends or try out a new place for fear of what it may do to your weight loss.

General Tips

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1. Look up nutritional information online beforehand.

This is the number one, most important thing that you can do to make smart choices about what to order at a restaurant. Most restaurants (especially chain places) have all of their nutritional information available online nowadays. Granted, some places may be trying to hide it a little more than others, but it’s usually there. Do a quick online search or head straight to the restaurant’s website to check out your options. In today’s uber-technological world, you probably even have the technology to look up this kind of stuff on the go! So even if you are out with a group of friends and make a last-minute, game-time decision on where to eat, just borrow someone’s smart phone and get Googling.

If looking up the information online isn’t an easy solution for you (or if you’re just looking for another resource), I also highly recommend the “ Eat This, Not That ” books. The standard book pretty much all existing chain restaurants listed with the best and worst dishes to order, and the special “ Restaurant Survival Guide ” (I own both) includes even more info as well as some general guidelines on eating out.

2. Budget for dessert (or skip it altogether!)

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My sweet tooth only rears its ugly head every once in a while, so not having dessert when eating out isn’t something I have a fundamental problem with. However, I do know that a lot of people really go to restaurants almost solely for the decadent desserts. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! Just keep your cravings in mind, and plan out the rest of your dinner accordingly. Ask to take a look at the dessert menu along with the regular menu ahead of time (as they often offer it separately) so you can identify if there’s something that you just HAVE to have on there.

3. Ask for a takeaway box when your meal comes out, and put half of your portion in there.

I don’t really do this myself, but you’ve probably heard it as a trick for dealing with restaurant portions before, too. Restaurant portions are typically HUGE. They are far more than a person needs to eat in a single sitting, especially if you have any kind of appetizer, soup, salad, or dessert course involved as well. If you’re a devoted member of the Clean Plate Club, you may need to utilize this tip so you don’t end up overeating. Also, revoke that membership. It may be appropriate for kids who refuse to eat their broccoli, but you are under no obligation to finish everything on your plate every time you sit down to eat.

4. Drink water.

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Why drink your calories when you can eat them in the form of delicious food instead? Forgo the soda, juice drinks, fizzy cocktails, and whatnot and just drink refreshing, good-for-you water with your meal (with lemon or lime if you’re feeling adventurous!) Naturally, if you are out for happy hour or something and want a glass of wine or light beer then you should go for it, but just bear in mind that liquid calories are calories all the same, and they won’t fill you up.

Cuisine Guidelines

Naturally, you won’t always have the luxury of being able to look up restaurant information before you go. You may be visiting a small local place that barely even has a website, let alone one that has nutritional information posted on it. So you want to be equipped with some basic knowledge about good things to order that won’t affect your waistline too severely, even if you don’t know the specific caloric count. Here’s a breakdown of tips when dining on some of the cuisines I most often partake in:

American:

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American cuisine is usually full of robust, full salads and light fare. Stick to lean proteins like chicken or fish, and vegetable sides. Ask for dressing on the side. All pretty standard stuff in terms of menu navigation. You should have some good options here.

Recognizing the obesity epidemic that we are all facing, many American-style restaurants even include some sort of “Light Fare” section on their menu. And you should never feel awkward asking your server what some of the healthier choices on the menu are. It might surprise you — I would never have known that the Hong Kong Style Seabass at Coastal Flats was the lightest choice on the menu if I hadn’t asked once. And it was deeeelicious!

Asian:

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Asian food can be a really great choice for diet-friendly food, or a really bad choice. Sushi (my fave!!) is usually a pretty safe bet. For all you ‘phobes out there, just because it’s sushi doesn’t mean it has to be raw! You can get lots of delicious, fully-cooked fish rolls. The ratio of protein to carb is usually pretty good, and it’s extremely filling with all that rice. Ask if they offer brown rice, and enjoy other healthful, vegetable dishes like edamame and seaweed salad as well to round out your meal.

Pad Thai Shrimp

Thai food (another one of my absolute favorites) can be a little trickier. Ka Pow (so fun to say!), Cashew Chicken, or even Pad Thai Shrimp aren’t too bad (bearing in mind that you watch the amount of rice/noodles you actually end up consuming.) But beware of thick curries, which are almost always made with coconut milk and have a high saturated fat content (but are oh. so. good.) Steer clear of thick noodle dishes like Drunken Noodles and Pad See Ew, and be aware that many times the tofu in vegetarian dishes at Thai restaurants comes fried.

Mexican:

Mexican Food
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Mmm, Mexicano. Mexican food can be surprisingly good for you… if you know what to do. First things first, always ditch the tortilla. Flour tortillas (and even corn ones!) add hundreds of unnecessary calories to your meal. Do it like Chipotle and eat your burrito bowl-style. Turn your fajitas into a salad. And just, you know, don’t get enchiladas. The same rules applies for the shell of your taco salad, as well as the big basket of chips that inevitably get parked in the middle of your table. I know it can be difficult, but practice restraint and you can reward yourself with an extra spoonful of guac.

Super Guac

Speaking of which, guacamole > sour cream. Always. Guacamole may have a lot of calories, but it comes from healthy fats. Ditch the sour cream altogether, and be sparing with the cheese, too. Feel free to load up on the salsa though! I’m not how true this is, but I hear a lot about how spicy foods help slightly speed your metabolism so the hotter, the better! Fish tacos are UHHmazing and a much better alternative than beef.

Italian:

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Well, I have to say that this is a toughy. Italian food involves pizza, pastas, heavy meats, creamy sauces, and extreme deliciousness. My basic tips would be to always choose a tomato-based sauce over a cream-based sauce, forgo pasta dishes for lean proteins ( hello mussels !) and vegetable sides, and recognize that Caesar salads, despite their misleading name, are actually not very good for you.

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And leave that bread basket alone! Almost all Italian places (and most nicer restaurants in general) will offer you a bread basket to gnaw on while you’re perusing the menu. Granted, I rarely ever actually follow this rule because I love bread, but then again I also have only lost like a total of 5 pounds in the past two months. So take from that what you will, huh?

Eating out is part of having a life. It happens. And it generally results in good times and (hopefully) great food! Hopefully some of the things I’ve listed here will help equip you to make healthy (or at least, healthier) choices when eating out. Diet may be a four letter word to some people, but it does not in any way mean you have to stop enjoying your life. I certainly know it’s not stopping me from enjoying mine!

What other cuisines are you looking for tips on how to dine healthily on? Do you have any tips that I’ve missed? I want to hear from you guys!

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