How to Eat Healthy When Dining Out
By Luke Pearce, Lead Nutritionist, B.Sc. Biology, PN-1, NASM-CPT
Inner Element Fitness Lead Nutritionist
When it comes to eating out at restaurants, people who are watching what they eat generally fall into two categories. The first will fall into a panic, worrying that all of their hard work is bound to be destroyed by the gauntlet of sugar and fat that they’ll be forced to walk. The second will simply throw up their arms, give into temptation, and order up an insanely large platter of the unhealthiest food that the restaurant has to offer.
Of course, neither of these reactions is constructive or healthy. Eating out is an enjoyable, and often unavoidable, part of life for most people. While it is certainly true that home dining typically offers us greater control over what we eat, a trip to a restaurant need not turn into a diet nightmare. In fact, whether we are cooking for ourselves or dining out, our greatest diet weapon and our biggest diet obstacle remains the same – our power of choice.
By Making Mindful Decisions, We Can Strive for “Good, Better, Best”
The path to better health and wellness is a long one. This may sound daunting, but it also allows for a certain amount of leeway. When you realize that healthy eating is a lifelong journey, you won’t suffer from the misconception that a single misstep (or trip to McDonald’s) is going to end it all.
Ultimately, the difference between success and failure comes down to the decisions that we make from hour to hour, day to day, and week to week. And the power of these decisions remains the same wherever we are: in our kitchens, on the go, and at a restaurant.
Let’s face it. No one is perfect. We are all going to have those “cheat days” when we indulge in those French fries, that slice of pizza, or a couple chocolate chip cookies. If we manage our food decisions in a mindful way, however, we can limit those indulgences and direct ourselves toward healthier options.
Some days, we absolutely kill it when it comes to eating right. We choose the best options wherever we go, we don’t overeat, and we make giant strides toward our overall weight and fitness goals. But it’s entirely naïve to imagine we can accomplish this feat each and every day. The important thing is to remain aware and do the best that we can.
Regardless of who cooks our food or where we eat, we must strive for our “best” diet with the knowledge that some meals will be better than others. As long as we can keep most of what we eat in the “good” category, we don’t have to beat ourselves up when we fall short of absolute perfection.
The “Good” Restaurant Meal
While most restaurants offer at least a few healthy options, they can often be difficult to choke down. After all, we tend to dine at restaurants as a special treat.
You’ve been making healthy eating decisions all week. Now that you’re eating out, don’t you deserve those chicken nuggets or that basket of chips and salsa?
Well, perhaps you do…but let’s not get carried away! By adhering to the following tips, you can have a satisfying restaurant dining experience while making those “good,” “better,” or “best” eating choices that will keep you on the path to a healthier tomorrow. Remember, it’s all about the general accumulation of positive decisions, so every decision truly matters!
Preview the Menu
As the online wellness resource Healthline suggests, make sure that you are familiar with the menu before you head out to any restaurant. This will not only help you identify adequate healthy meal options, but allow you to select your meal ahead of time. It is much easier to succumb to the temptation of fried and/or fatty food when you can smell it cooking and see it on a neighboring table.
Practice Healthy Meal Selection and Portion Control
Even when eating fast food, you can opt for a salad over a Big Mac. Simple decisions like going grilled rather than deep-fried can go an incredibly long way toward overall healthy eating. Furthermore, wise diners should never underestimate the power of portion control. A 6-piece box can satisfy your craving for chicken nuggets while adding half the fat and calories of the 12-piece box.
Fill up on the Right Foods Over the Course of the Day
If business keeps you on the go throughout the day, you know that you’re going to have to eat out for lunch, dinner, or possibly both. So the business leaders at Forbes have learned a thing or two about staying healthy while eating out. In addition to avoiding fried/breaded foods and empty calories from sugars and carbohydrates, Forbes contributor and CEO of Visit Philadelphia Meryl Levitz suggests eating right for breakfast and any meals that proceed dining out. This will not only lead to an overall accumulation of good choices, but ensure that you aren’t “starving” when you order your meal.
The relaxation associated with paying someone else to cook and serve our meals is a huge part of what dining out is all about. Take the time to enjoy yourself by eating slowly. Science has shown that fast eaters tend to overeat because it takes about 20 minutes after eating begins to fully stop the hunger cues that run from stomach to brain. Try limiting your amount of food intake to help your stomach accurately inform your brain that you are no longer hungry.
Think About What You’re Eating Rather Than What You’re Avoiding
Turn a negative into a positive by forgetting about the food that you must avoid and concentrating on healthy items that you can add to your plate. Through its Eat Right publication, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends searching out menu items such as whole-grain breads and pastas, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and lean meat such as chicken, turkey, and fish.
Enjoy the experience of dining out and remember, it’s all about making positive decisions consistently to stay on track and achieve your health goals.
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DISCLAIMER Please recognize the fact that it is your responsibility to work directly with your physician before, during, and after seeking fitness consultation. As such, any information provided is not to be followed without the prior approval of your physician. If you choose to use this information without the prior consent of your physician, you are agreeing to accept full responsibility for your decision.