This main demographic I work with at this time has a common challenge to their healthy weight or eating goals. They eat out – A LOT. So what advice does this dietitian offer again and again?
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I dislike this subject for a few reasons.
#1 We eat out for many reasons, and some reasons I support and wouldn’t want to take away from clients (ie. celebratory feasts, holiday outings etc) so I don’t want the perception to be that eating out is all bad.
#2 With so many varied establishments it’s hard to give specific advice, so I end up spouting things which are unoriginal, and I don’t feel like I’m actually helping anyone.
However, it happens often enough that I know it’s worthwhile summarizing my thoughts into this article and to share it with those interested.
It’s possible to find some “better” meals when eating out.
Though I don’t want to give the impression that it’s just hunky dory to eat out every meal because “better” choices exist.
A restaurants main priority when designing a menu item is providing you with a good experience and getting your butt back in their establishment again. They focus on taste, and value above all else. Translation: salty, fatty, sugary and big portions.
Don’t get me wrong, I love eating out too because it’s a chance to try different cuisines, a reason to get together with others, and it sometimes coincides with celebratory occasions. I don’t want each time you dine out to be about locating and selecting the lowest calorie menu item either! That leads to resentment of salads, and no one wants that.
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Let’s explore the reasons why people eat out:

  • Work meals (taking clients to lunch, attending conferences)
  • Celebratory (graduations, birthdays, holidays)
  • Acceptance* (everyone eats out far more frequently now than our grandparents did, therefore it has become more widely accepted as a normal and acceptable behaviour)
  • Reward* (I worked hard today, or I’m too tired to make something)
  • Convenience* (forgot my lunch, lack of planning, disorganized grocery shop)
  • Travel* (road trips, work travel)

I’ll ask you now to pause and reflect on the reasons why you eat out. Is it possible to reduce the frequency (especially the frequency of eating out due to these* reasons)? What is that first necessary step you need to take to decrease that frequency?
Examples:

  1. Grocery shop tonight, schedule it in weekly as a non-negotiable appointment.
  2. Meal prep some simple lunch ideas (keyword simple, boiled eggs, sliced cheese, whole grain bread, baby carrots and an apple is an example).
  3. Keep healthy and portable snacks in the office or car for snacky lunches.

If you truly cannot reduce the frequency in which you eat out, what should your next actions be? I’ve summarized my most useful tips as follows:

  1. Find a “better” choice:
    – Eat at places which use fresh, whole ingredients.
    – Ask for extra vegetables.
    – Add fibre – beans, brown rice, whole grains.
    – Choose lean protein sources.
    – Reduce the sauce: ask for 1/2 portions of sauce on stir frys, curries, salads or anything else which comes with a sauce.
    – Imagine the Healthy Plate Model visual and try to build your plate around this.
  2. Deploy satiety recognition – check the Starving or Stuffed Scale stop eating when you’re full. Can’t do this? Wreck it! Over salt or throw your dirty napkin on the rest of those tempting nibbles. You’re body said you’re done!
  3. Apply my pick two rule. Instead of ordering all of these items, select the two items which would bring you the most satisfaction from the bread basket, an appetizer, an entree, a drink, or a dessert.
  4. If the meal was “meh” don’t take the leftovers home. It’s not a waste of food or money, since the food will be gone wether it disappears into the garbage or in your already full stomach. Don’t eat this high calorie meal all over again.
  5. Remember this meal is not a write off, consider the 3 P’s and indulge for the right reasons, otherwise see above.

The Bottom Line
Eat out less, period. This way when you do eat out, you can order something you truly would enjoy. However, don’t write this occasion off as a free for all. The more often you eat out, the more effort you’ll have to put in to find a “better” choice.
Hope this article was informative. Please feel free to leave a comment with your own ideas or suggestions for others!
Stay healthy – Rebecca