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10 Tips for Dining Out on a Diet

I have followed the WW/Weight Watchers program for years, from "exchanges" up to the most recent Wellness Wins program.

Dine out and eat clean with these tips!

Dine out and eat clean with these tips!

How to Stick to Your Diet When Eating Out

Eating in restaurants is not just about the food. For many, it’s also an opportunity to spend time with family and friends, explore new cuisines, or just let someone else cook so you can enjoy yourself at mealtime. Going on a diet may make you nervous about your dining-out options. But there’s no need to fear. With a little thought and advance preparation, you can enjoy a meal out and still stay on course with your weight-loss goals.

1. Choose the Restaurant Wisely

Not all restaurants are created equally when it comes to “diet-friendly” meal options. If you can select the restaurant, you can set yourself up for success before you even walk in the door. Many restaurants feature menu options targeted specifically for the diner on a diet. Check your local listings on Google before you go. And remember, that “all-you-can-eat” buffet is probably not your best choice.

2. Research the Menu in Advance

Once you’ve selected the restaurant (or even if you didn’t get to choose), explore the menu options before you leave home. Many restaurants have their menus online. Also there are apps that can help you research your options (e.g., Grubhub, Seamless, etc.). Figure out in advance what the healthiest option will be, plus one back-up if possible.

3. Snack Before You Leave Home

I understand that this sounds like a contradiction, but hear me out. If you “save up” all day by not eating, you’re going to arrive at the restaurant “hangry” (i.e., a combination of hungry and angry, or being irritable due to hunger). Eat something low calorie but high in protein, like a boiled egg or some yogurt, and you’ll be less likely to want to stuff yourself with the first thing you see (like the bread basket or chips with salsa).

4. Drink Water

Drink water before your meal, during your meal, and after your meal. It will make you feel full, and studies have shown that people who do this wind up eating fewer calories. If you don’t like “plain” water, then order some fancy fizzy water and put a lime slice in it.

5. Be Mindful of Beverage Choices

Sugar-sweetened drinks are notoriously high in calories, and low on nutrition. But that’s not the only bad beverage choice you can make. Having just one alcoholic drink can not only add calories to your meal, it can also lower your inhibitions and make you more likely to drop your guard and eat more than you had planned.

The calories in alcoholic drinks add up fast. You do the math.

The calories in alcoholic drinks add up fast. You do the math.

6. Be Careful About Salads

Ordering a meal-sized salad sounds like a good option for a diet, right? Well, yes and no, depending on a number of details. If you get a nice salad of lettuce, tomatoes, celery, carrots, onions, and other veggies, but then dump a cup of high-fat dressing over it, you’ve defeated the purpose of a salad.

Also, entrée salads that include bacon bits, croutons, and other high-calorie tidbits, may be higher in calories than an entrée of grilled fish and steamed veggies. Finally, always order your dressing “on the side.” Trust me on this one. It’s just better that way, and you have complete control over how much you use.

7. Watch Portion Sizes

Most restaurants in the United States (not so much in Europe) serve incredibly large portions. Who really needs a 16-ounce steak, with a fully loaded baked potato, salad, and bread? One option is to immediately put half in a container to take home, before you even start your meal. Or split an entrée with someone. Chances are you’ll still get plenty to eat, and save money too. Another way to control portion size is to order an appetizer, rather than (not in addition to) an entrée.

8. Slow Down

Dining out should be a happy, and social time. Slow down the meal by concentrating on the conversation, and make a point of putting down your fork or spoon between bites. Savor your food, by paying attention to the aromas, flavors, and textures. Also, you can get up and stretch, or go to the restroom. Slowing down gives your stomach a chance to catch up with your eyes and brain, and you will most likely eat less than you would have otherwise.

9. Split Desserts

If you’re dining out, chances are you don’t really want a fruit cup for dessert. Especially after you’ve seen what’s on the dessert cart. Opt instead to order one dessert for two or three people, and only take a bite or two. If you have a large party, you might be able to have one bite of three different desserts. Just enough to satisfy the sweet tooth, without going overboard.

10. Make Dining Out a Special Event

Last but not least, think of dining out as a special event, and something that you only do infrequently. Probably only once or twice a month would be good. Having an occasional indulgence isn’t going to tip the scales too far, but eating out every day or two will definitely put a strain on your good intentions.

© 2018 Carolyn Fields