How to Make Better Choices When Dining Out

By January 23, 2020 Nutrition
Friends eating out at restaurant

There are many different philosophies when it comes to dining out and making changes to your eating habits, and many are valid. What you have to determine is what works for you. There are going to be some difficult changes if you are in the habit of dining out all the time, but you don’t have to sit at home either. I’ve compiled a list of what has helped some of my clients make better decisions when it comes to choosing menu items. 

The comment I hear most is that friendships often revolve around food. You want to go out and hang out with your friends, and most of the time, they suggest dinner or the ever popular brunch. It’s hard to sit among your friends and eat a salad while they are enjoying their enchiladas. Who orders a salad at a Mexican restaurant anyway?

The key is to strategize. Want fajitas? Fine, but don’t get the tortillas, sour cream, and leave out the beans and rice as well. I always ask for extra pico to help boost the veggie content! If you just HAVE TO have the enchiladas, go ahead, but ask them to bring a to-go box with them and put at least 3/4 of it in there. Now you can enjoy it for longer. See – strategy! Treat brunch the same way: smaller portions or healthier versions of the dishes you love.  

The reason I recommend putting 3/4 of a meal in a to-go container is to control portion size. In the United States, we tend to feel we aren’t getting our money’s worth unless we have huge, heaping portions on our plate. We are easily eating our daily calorie requirement in one meal. Sometimes it’s the greatest meal ever, but most of the time it’s something you have eaten several times. It takes us being mindful of portion sizes. If you need help understanding portion sizes, we are happy to help you with this!

The “healthier” options on restaurant menus are not always that healthy, so make sure you are choosing wisely. The calorie count may look appealing, but it is still processed, and most processed foods have a lot of sodium. Excess sodium can wreak havoc on your body, causing an increase in inflammation and water retention. So even if the calorie count says 350, the sodium may be as high as 1200mg. That amount of sodium is not what you want to put into your body at one time!  

Another strategy is to do your research! Before you go out, take a look at the menu and start formulating a plan. Sometimes it’s hard to when you make a last minute decision to go somewhere, but that’s where your handy smartphone comes into play! Almost every restaurant has its menu online, so look at it and decide what your best options are before you get there. When you’re talking and laughing with friends, it’s hard to concentrate on what the best options are for you. Or is that just me?!  

If you can, eat just before you go. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? What’s the point of eating at home and then going to eat at a restaurant? I promise you this is a good strategy. It’s the same principle as when going to parties you know won’t have the healthiest of options. I always recommend to those who want to eat with their friends and not be the weird person just sitting there to eat a healthy snack just before going out. Eating a healthy snack, such as real peanut butter and an apple or cucumbers and hummus, will go a long way in curbing the starving feeling and help you make better choices. It can also shrink your portion sizes just by the fact that you aren’t as hungry. 

Condiments are calorie killers. I’m not really big on counting calories when it comes to eating whole foods, but when it comes to processed foods like those you get when dining out, I do.  Condiments such as ketchup, mayo, salad dressing, and sour cream all have added fats and sugars that can derail all the work you have been putting in. I’m sure you’ve heard it before: don’t get the salad dressing on your salad, opt for mustard instead of mayo, etc. These are all valid suggestions. I actually like lemon juice and a little bit of olive oil on my salad instead of dressing. There are other condiments to be mindful of as well, such as barbecue sauce or any other sauce that comes with your meal. Eat it sparingly if you can. Nothing can derail healthy lifestyle changes faster than those sneaky condiments.

The last suggestion I have is eating mindfully. My mother is always telling me I eat “skinny” because it always takes me forever to finish my meal because I’m always talking. I really think that is just her nice way of saying I talk too much and eat too slow! But there is a message in there that I think we can all adapt to our eating habits. Taking your time is a very useful tool to use when eating. Taking your time to chew every bite and have a bit of conversation with someone allows you to pay attention to your body’s cues. This is what it means to eat mindfully. This is a strategy to use whether you are at a restaurant or not. It is what will help you understand your body’s signals like knowing when you are actually full so you don’t over-eat.

All of these strategies work if you take a little bit of extra time to plan, even if it’s in the car on your way to the restaurant (unless you’re the one driving!).  If you need any extra help with tips when you’re eating out, please ask us!

At Physician’s Weight Control and Wellness, our weight loss programs are unique in that they are physician-guided and individually tailored to each patient. Because every patient is different, no two treatment plans are the same. The same philosophy applies to our nutrition consulting and coaching programs.  These programs are designed to be the next step after meeting with our doctors to ensure your investment in your new lifestyle takes root. Learn more and contact us with any questions!

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash