Dining Out Dos and Don'ts
Afraid dinner out will ruin your diet before you even start your entrée? These 10 dos and don'ts will help.
Some people trying to lose weight steer clear of restaurants to avoid the large portion sizes, bottomless bread baskets and all those high-calorie entries. But shunning restaurants altogether isn't a realistic approach to weight loss — and it's unnecessary.
You can eat out and
lose weight. Start with this list of tips to help you navigate the menu options at your favorite fast-food joints and sit-down restaurants.
1. Set a budget. Determine how much you're willing to eat before looking at the menu. Give yourself some leeway by scheduling some exercise on or near days you plan to eat out. Putting in gym time or going for a brisk walk will help offset a little extra eating. And remember, be flexible. You can loosen up a bit on special occasions, as long as you eat carefully most of the time. (Just don't let every day become a special occasion.)
2. Put on your game face. Decide on some guidelines before you go to a restaurant, and stick to them. For instance:
- Skip the all-inclusive (prix fixe) menu and opt for à la carte selections. Doing so might not be as economical, but you'll probably eat less.
- Take one piece of bread, then ask your server to remove the bread basket from the table.
3. Make special requests. Don't be shy. You're paying good money for that meal, so you're entitled to make special requests or slight modifications. Why not say:
- Can I have that without butter? Grilled? With the sauce on the side?
- I'd like mixed greens instead of fries with my sandwich.
4. Practice portion control. Some restaurant portions can be two, three, even four times the "normal" size — especially super-sized fast food and chain restaurant meals. Keep your portions in check by:
- Ordering a salad as a starter and then splitting a main entrée with a friend.
- Creating your own scaled-down meal from a couple of appetizers and/or side dishes.
5. Break down (language) barriers. If you don't know what a preparation term means, ask. In general, though, the following words translate into high-fat, high-calorie dishes:
- Au gratin, scalloped, hollandaise.
- Parmigiana, scampi, Bolognese.
6. Downsize the super-size. Super-sized fast food meal options can be loaded with calories. Either:
- Order something small, like a basic burger. After all, the first bite tastes the same as the last.
- Order yourself a children's meal.
7. Watch out for extras. The average burger with ketchup, lettuce and tomato isn't so bad. But one with "the works" is usually a caloric nightmare. Skip bacon, cheese and mayonnaise, and also double-pattie burgers and extra pieces of bread.
8. Don't go top heavy. Salad bars and garden salads grace menus across the country. But those extra toppings can sabotage your seemingly diet-conscious choices:
- Go light on croutons, grated cheese and bacon.
- Opt for small amounts of low-fat or nonfat dressings on the side.
9. Don't drink away your progress. A drink with dinner is fine, but too many margaritas may wreak havoc on your dieting resolve. Keep your appetite under control by:
- Alternating alcoholic beverages with noncaloric sodas or sparkling water.
- Not drinking alcoholic beverages on an empty stomach.
10. Resign from the "clean plate club." You paid for it so you have to eat it, right? Wrong. Just think of the health and emotional costs of those extra calories on your body. Downsize by:
- Eating half the meal and doggie-bagging the rest.
- Pushing your plate away when you're full.
- And remember to eat slowly. It takes 20 minutes for your body to recognize that it's full.