Fit Fridays: Maintaining a Healthy Diet While Eating Out

Last year, I distinctly remember being out to dinner with mom at our local Mexican restaurant and talking about dieting- or really, eating healthier.  She- and I think most people would agree- said dieting is boring and bland.  Dieting can be very bland and boring which is precisely why it usually isn’t something that’s maintainable long-term.  That’s why people “fail’ at their diets.  There’s a difference though, between “dieting” and a healthy diet.

Full disclosure: what I do for competition prep is not a healthy diet, and I’ll explain why.  

I may be eating healthy foods, but it’s so restrictive and specific (you know, measuring and recording each gram or ounce down, timing my meals, etc) with so few options for socializing and eating out with friends that it is not maintainable for an extended period of time. 

Maintaining a healthy diet, however, is not this.  It allows for balance and flexibility and should focus on small changes, rather than drastic “diet food” all the time.  If you’re trying to lose weight it will absolutely take longer to do so, but you’ll also be able to appreciate the changes in yourself mentally and physically as you work towards changing your lifestyle.

One of the biggest points of a healthy diet is balance and moderation.  Does it mean you never eat out or enjoy pizza?  No!  Does it mean you skip dessert every time?  No!  But you make adjustments in what you do when you do go out.

So, sitting in that Mexican restaurant with my mom, these were some of the tips and changes I discussed with her that were specific to eating out (but can certainly apply to eating at home too!).  And don’t worry- I’m not going to tell you to order the salad!

  • Skip the Chips/Bread: When you go to a restaurant, chances are they’ll give you a bread bowl or some chips to snack on before your meal comes.  Skip it– avoid the temptation and just tell them not to give you any before they even put it on the table.  Unless it’s a place known for for their amazing bread or chips (and they’re certainly are places like this) just don’t eat it.  You aren’t eating it because it’s tasty or satisfying, but usually just because it’s something that’s there.  Don’t waste your calories and your appetite on something mediocre!
  • Drink Water: Hi there, we totally talked about the benefits of drinking more water last week, but let’s go into this again from a different angle.  When you order soda (or maybe pink lemonade as my mom loves) in a restaurant, you’re wasting hundreds of calories on it- even more if you get a refill (and I mean, might as well ’cause you already paid for it and refills are free).  And if you get diet drinks or soda?  Come on- we all know those are just packed full of chemicals (even more so than the regular drinks).  Opt for water- enjoy that beverage free of charge and free of calories from the very beginning.
  • Go Light on the Cream: Getting a sandwich slathered in chipotle mayo or a grilled cheese sandwich covered in butter?  Ask them to go light on the dressings or even to just serve it separately so you can put it on yourself (I often ask for salad dressings on the side, or my sandwich condiments separately).
  • Ask How It’s Made: I’ve ordered dishes sometimes thinking it was one thing, only to have it arrive and find that it was deep fried.  Not only was I dissatisfied because it wasn’t what I had expected, but I was unhappy because there was something else I would have been happy to eat instead.  Don’t be afraid to ask your server how it’s cooked so there’s no surprises later on.
  • Opt for Veggies: If you’re getting a burger or burrito they’ll often come as their standard side of chips, fries or coleslaw or something similar.  Usually restaurants have some sort of side salad or veggie option.  Go for that instead (or just ask them not to put any side at all) because remember- you’re there for the main dish, not the sides.  Those are just an added filler.
  • Split Dessert: I get it- you totally want their amazing black forest double chocolate cake.  If you’re dead set on getting dessert, ask to split it with whomever you are with or if you’re by yourself, take home half for later!

And finally, if it’s your birthday or a party or some special event where you are going to go hard or go home (hello cheat meals) and eat everything you want- no restrictions then do it.  Have fun- enjoy yourself but then, the next day or the next meal, go back to normal eating and your normal habits.  Don’t punish yourself for having done it but also don’t continue the flow- the “well I already ate all this at brunch, might as well just keep going” mentality.  Have a good time- enjoy what you eat, and your next meal and next day is a new page.

Now go out and enjoy your life!

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