Whether you are on a diet or simply trying to eat healthier, it can be a challenge to maintain your good habits once you leave the comfort of your house. The restaurant world is full of fast food, oversized portions, and all you can eat deals that are sure to please the palette but burden your waistline. However, unless you plan to be a hermit for the rest of your life, it is not always reasonable, nor convenient, to commit to only cooking your own food at home.
If you’re like most people, you have friends and family, and when they invite you out for a good meal and good company, you can’t always rely on the “I’m busy,” or “I can’t, I’m on a diet” excuses. So, for those times when eating out is your only option, here are five tips to help you choose health over indulgence even in the most unlikely (and unhealthy) of places.
1. Choose water
One of the simplest ways to cut back on your caloric intake is to drink water. You may be tempted by the unlimited refills at the soda fountain or the fancy drink mixes listed next to enticing photos; however, our drinks are often the main source of calories we consume when we eat out.
One tall glass of soda can be several hundred calories alone. Multiply that by your refills and you’re looking at an entire meal’s worth of calories before your food even arrives. Stick with water and you will not only reduce your caloric intake, but you will also avoid consuming unhealthy amounts of sugar and other additives.
2. Read nutrition facts
Menus can be deceiving. While you may think that choosing a salad over a burger is the “healthier” choice, you may be surprised to find that some salads are up to three times as many calories. Check the nutrition facts at the restaurant. Most places, including fast food restaurants, will provide nutrition info upon request, or you can look it up online before you go.
For example, Smashburger, a gourmet burger restaurant founded by Rick Schaden, may not sound like the healthiest of places. However, if you look on their menu, you will find that they provide several lower calorie options for the health conscious diner, including a veggie burger (625 calories), the Baja Smashcobb Salad (sans chicken is 190 calories) or the regular Harvest Chicken Salad (470 calories). If you check your facts beforehand, you can make much wiser (and healthier) decisions, even when you’re out with friends.
3. Look for healthier alternatives
If a night out on the town is inevitable, look for opportunities to eat at healthier restaurants. If the location hasn’t been determined, suggest alternatives that provide a lighter menu. For example, instead of hitting up your favorite pizza place, opt for a soup and salad café. If you choose locations that are already more health conscious, you set yourself up to succeed.
4. Ask for healthy substitutes
On a similar note, even if you are at a fast food restaurant or classic diner (let’s face it, American cuisine has never been high on the “healthy” list), there are still ways to breathe some health into your meals. Tailor your order to meet your needs and ask for healthy substitutes to traditional menu items.
For example, if your heart is set on that big BBQ salad, go ahead and order it, but get it without chicken, or opt for grilled rather than crispy. Just switching the cooking method will take off a couple hundred calories. You can also ask for dressing or sauces to come on the side. These alone can account for a large portion of the fat and calories of a dish. When they come on the side, you can better gauge how much you really want to eat.
5. Get a doggy bag
Finally, know when to stop. Everyone knows that portions at restaurants are out of control. Just because it is included in one meal, doesn’t mean that is the amount you should consume in one sitting. A healthy dish can quickly become unhealthy simply by eating too much of it. When you begin to feel full, step back and ask for a doggy bag. Then you can avoid overeating and you’ll have tasty leftovers for lunch the next day.
Or, if you’re like me, and have a hard time saying no once you get started, ask your server to pack up half of your meal before he or she even brings it out. You can safely eat everything on your plate without feeling guilty, and then your server can bring out the rest for you to take home when you’re finished. Win-win.
We may live in a fast food nation, but that doesn’t mean a night out has to ruin the healthy habits you’ve been working so hard to maintain. By applying these simple strategies you can both enjoy your food and your health.
About the Author: Drew Kobb, in addition to studying civil law, loves long distance running and considers himself a health and fitness enthusiast. His interests range all over the medical field, and Drew highlights that range on his blog, Dr. Ouch.