Dining out and eating healthy are not two concepts that are considered well paired. And for good reason.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have documented that at any given meal, on average, the typical American eats more than he or she did only a few decades ago. In fact, items available at fast food restaurants are estimated to be 2 to 5 times larger than 2 decades ago. Super-size me. Literally.
A study referenced in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states that when adults were served 4 different portions of macaroni and cheese on different days, subjects consumed 30% more energy (more food) when offered the largest portion compared to the smallest portion.
Meaning if it is going to be set in front of you, you are likely going to take it down.
Or at least make a good attempt. Gulp.
My business partner and I currently have several clients who literally feel they can't leave the controlled environment of their own kitchen for fear of sabotaging their efforts and goals. And while I don't blame them, we are always incredibly excited to share our tried and true tips for #winning at a restaurant. Keep in mind these tips are for the lot of us who dine out once or twice a week, MAX. If you eat out more than that, you may need some additional strategery to keep things in check.
1. Don't over think it.
No, you aren't limited to greens and boiled chicken and don't have to enrage the waitress with a long-winded list of modifications. Craving a burger? Have a burger. Skip the bun and fries, pile it high with your favorite toppings and eat it like a steak . Most people are surprised at how little they miss the bun and appreciate the flavor combinations all the more.
Add a side salad or veggies and you will be comfortably full while having successfully avoided raising your blood sugar and inspiring cravings and weight gain. (You can even do this with any sandwich and turn your side salad into a fancy club salad.)
2. Sharing is caring.
A sure-fire way to manage the excessive portions is to share them. Whether this is a romantic endeavor or true testament to your friendship, split it. Restaurants are great at divvying up their ginormous servings and it usually means it is STILL enough. You can also ask for a half portion, or box up the other half to share at home or eat tomorrow.
3. Go out for Happy Hour.
This is genius. Not only will it keep you from overeating, but it will likely allow for some really, really good food at fabulous prices. Steakhouses are great for happy hour. Sure, it may mean making a bee-line for the office door a few minutes early to secure a spot at the bar, but your wallet and waistline will thank you.
4. Get your calories from food, not drinks.
Sweet cocktails like strawberry margaritas or mojitos can mean well over 350 calories and 24 grams of sugar per drink. Even the seemingly innocent tonic water has over 32 grams of sugar and upwards of 120 calories. And consuming this much sugar only means you are officially set up on the sugar/crash cycle and will likely swing by Jack In The Box on the way home. Our favorite recommendations? Red wine, or vodka and soda muddled with mint or basil and lime.
5. Get the soup.
Weird but true, soup is a champion at providing fill power. No one can really point the finger as to the why's, but beginning your meal with a soup or using it as main course provides excellent satiety.
6. Have a snack before you leave.
Something as simple as a handful of almonds can keep your hunger in check and allow you to enjoy your evening instead of sabotage it. Being famished in front of a menu (and possibly having had a cocktail or two) can spell disaster. A quick snack high in protein and/or healthy fats can mean all the difference.
7. Use the restaurant to indulge and keep home safe.
For those of us who eat healthy most of the time, dining out can be a well deserved indulgence. It's easy to stay on track most days if your trigger foods aren't screaming to you from the pantry or fridge in your kitchen. And one meal here or there is not a demonstration of your lack of willpower, it's a reward for being awesome at most other meals.
My husband I drove our kid-free selves to the nationally recognized Pizzeria Bianco on Tuesday night and I think you all would have been impressed (or frightened) with my intake. I went for it and smiled with each bite. Pizza is a monthly indulgence where I focus on the best quality and don't for a second get caught up in feeling guilty.
Sure, a lot of these tips require an interest in staying focused most days, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. It's almost an adventure now to peruse the menu and find my path to success. And for the other outings when I decide I'm going to go for it, I know I can balance out my gratification over the course of the week and it won't count for a thing.
Eat with purpose.
For more tips, check out the nutrition guide
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