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7 Strategies to Help You Eat Healthy When You Eat Out

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After the indulgent foods eaten over the holidays, I was determined to stay on track during a road trip with my husband last week. I packed water bottles, almonds, and apples for snacks. However, eating out was inevitable.  And it's always harder to make healthy choices when away from home.

So, what can we do to help us eat healthy when we eat out?  

Here are 7 strategies that allow you to enjoy eating meals out with family and friends without derailing your healthy lifestyle.

 1. Choose the restaurant

When you have the option, pick a restaurant with healthy options. Look for cuisines centered around whole grains, vegetables, and lean protein (Greek, Indian, or Japanese).

Also, consider eating at places that have a seasonal menu.  They are likely to cook with fresh, local meats and produce.  This doesn't only make the food taste better, but is generally better for you.

 2. Preview the menu

You can find most restaurant menus online.  This allows you to check out the menu before you even leave home.  It is easier to make a wise decision at home. . . you aren't as hungry and away from the influence of what others are ordering.

In addition, once you arrive, the sight and smell of food can make sticking to your plan more difficult. Showing up with a plan of what to order will help you avoid snap decision you might regret later.

3. Make a special request

When ordering your meal, don't be shy.  Foods on the menu described as fried, crispy, crunchy, or creamy are often not going to be a good choice. Politely ask your server if these meals can be prepared steamed, grilled, or roasted.

It's usually easy to substitute a salad or double the veggies. Asking for sauces and condiments on the side can be a simple fix too. Most places are willing to adapt their meals to meet your needs.

 4. Box half your entree

So often, I have ordered something at a restaurant with the intent of only eating half.  I know most American restaurants serve two to three times more food than a serving.  I put my fork down several times and claim to be finished.  As I chat with friends, I unconsciously continue to eat.  I'm not hungry anymore. It's just there.

You can ask for an extra plate to divide your entree yourself or ask your server if they are able to box up half right from the start.  Another option is to split an entree with someone.  Either way, you're getting two meals for the price of one.

 5. Slow down

It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the message from your stomach that it is full.  If you slow down, chew more, and put your fork down between bites you are less likely to overeat.

You won't be left hungry either because by this time your brain senses you are no longer hungry and you will feel satisfied.

 6. Drink water

Just by replacing sugar-sweetened drinks or alcohol with water, you will reduce the calories at a meal. In addition, those sodas and specialty drink don't hydrate us and often leave us craving more sugar.  

One study showed that those who drank 500 mL of water 30 minutes before a meal ate fewer calories than those who didn't.  They felt full sooner and didn't mistake thirst for hunger. Alternate bites with big sips of water and it will also force you to slow down.  You'll better be able to judge if you are even still hungry for that next bite.

 7. Dress up to go out

I'm sure I eat twice as much at a meal in yoga pants as in jeans.  So, even if it's just going out to a casual family meal try to dress nicely. (I'm talking pants with a button)

In addition to less room in the waistband, you will treat the meal differently.  If you view it as a special event, different from your everyday dinner at home, it will change the way you feel about it.  You will savor your food and your company with more mindfulness.

Take a deep breath and relax . . .  

Of course, there will be times when you want to eat your favorite restaurant foods for pleasure and not worry about its health factor.

Being flexible about your diet and food choices is critical to long-term success with health and weight loss.   If you are following healthy meal patterns most of the time, go ahead and treat yourself (GUILT FREE!) occasionally.  Keep your eyes on your overall wellness plan.

If you need help sticking to your wellness plan, consider attending our next nutrition workshop where we discuss balance your nutrition and strategies to stay on track both at home and when out at restaurants.  Click the link below to request a seat for our next FREE Hands-on Workshop.