Eat Out and Lose Weight

by Charles Platkin, PhD

The problem is that we go out to eat and want it to be a special occasion — and don’t want the fun spoiled by eating “healthy.” But a complete overhaul of your diet is not required — just a few small changes in the way you order can make a big difference. Even cutting a mere 100 calories every time you eat out can result in losing more than eight pounds in a year (290 x 100 calories = 29,000 calories, and 3,500 calories = 1 pound). Something as simple as NOT putting sour cream on your baked potato or skipping that extra piece of bread can go a long way.

PLAN AHEAD: If you do nothing else, this alone will help you stick to a healthy eating lifestyle.

  • Call the restaurant ahead of time to find out if healthier options are available, and/or check out the website. You can probably even place a special order in advance.
  • If no healthy options are available, nearly every restaurant will let you order grilled chicken, fish, or lean meat with some type of vegetable or salad.
  • Dine at an earlier or later time; special instructions don’t take as long if you eat during off-peak dining hours.
  • Be aware that it’s harder to make the “right” choices when dining out with a group of friends — don’t give in to “peer pressure.”

EAT CONSCIOUSLY: Don’t just eat to eat. For many of us, this is how we prevent boredom until the real meal comes. To avoid being tempted, ask the waitperson not to bring bread to the table. But if you must have a slice of bread, at least don’t smother it with butter or dip it in olive oil.

  • French bread (4 slices): 384 calories, 4g fat, 72g carbs
  • Garlic bread (4 slices): 545 calories, 21g fat, 75g carbs
  • Butter (2 pats): 72 calories, 8g fat, 0g carbs
  • Olive oil (2 tablespoons): 240 calories, 27g fat, 0g carbs

Snacking on peanuts or other bar treats to pass the time while waiting for your dining companions just adds additional calories.

  • Peanuts (1/4 cup): 212 calories, 18g fat, 7g carbs
  • Tortilla chips (1 cup): 130 calories, 7g fat, 16g carbs
  • Pretzels (1 cup): 171 calories, 2g fat, 36g carbs

EAT BEFORE: Avoid going out to eat when you’re starving. Have a snack beforehand that is high in fiber, like an apple or even a bowl of cereal. Don’t skip meals before eating out thinking you’ll save calories; the hungrier you are, the more you will eat. Try drinking water before your meal — it will fill your stomach up a little.

AVOID LARGE PORTIONS: If you’re making the decision about where to eat, choose wisely. Steer clear of buffets and all-you-can-eat restaurants. If you know that the restaurant serves huge portions, don’t try to be a “diet hero” by assuming that you will not eat everything that you’re served. Just ask the server to wrap up half your portion in a take-out box. Avoid price-fixed menus; they encourage you to overeat high-calorie foods.

SKIP THE FRIES AND PASTA: If you think you’re going to have “just one” or “a couple bites” and leave the rest, well, you’re mistaken. Just say no — to the side of fries or pasta, that is. Replace it with a healthy portion of broccoli steamed with garlic or other type of vegetable or salad.

  • French Fries (1 medium order): 450 calories, 22g fat, 57g carbs
  • Pasta with meat sauce (1 cup): 301 calories, 10g fat, 33g carbs

DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK: Don’t refrain from asking your waitperson questions or making special requests because you are embarrassed. You are the only one who will suffer. I often tell the server I’m allergic to certain foods or even go as far as saying I have a medical condition (just to make it simpler). Remember, restaurants want you to be satisfied because your business is important to them — so don’t be shy. Ask how your dish is prepared even if it’s called “light” on the menu. Also, make sure to ask:
“Is this dish fried?”
“Can you make this dish without frying?”
“Can you steam the vegetables or fish?”
“What is the sauce made with?”
“Can you prepare this without the cheese/sauce?”
“Can you put the sauce on the side?”
“How large is the serving?”
“How many ounces is the beef, chicken, fish?”
“Can you make this dish without soy sauce or MSG?”

READ THE MENU: Look for any of the following: baked, grilled, broiled, poached, or steamed. These cooking techniques use less fat and are generally lower in calories. Avoid any of the following words: a la mode (with ice cream on the side), au gratin (covered with cheese), battered, bisque, breaded, buttered, cheese sauce, creamy or rich, crispy, deep-fried, deluxe, fried, hollandaise (sauce made of butter, egg yolks, and wine), jumbo, nuts, scalloped, sautéed (unless you make a special request for it to be prepared in a small amount of oil), and tempura.

ON THE SIDE: Ask for dressing, sauces, butter, or sour cream on the side, instead of on the dish itself.

  • Sour cream (2 tablespoons): 62 calories, 6g fat, 1g carbs
  • Thousand Island Dressing (2 tablespoons): 118 calories, 11g fat, 5g carbs
  • Caesar dressing (2 tablespoons): 155 calories, 17g fat, 1g carbs

LIQUID DONUTS: Don’t go overboard on the alcohol — it adds excess calories and stimulates your appetite. Therefore, if you want a drink, have it with your meal, rather than before. Remember, other drinks (soda, juice, sweetened iced tea) add up too. Just two or three sodas have about 400 calories!

  • Dry table wine (8 oz): 165 calories, 0g fat, 3g carbs
  • Beer (12 oz): 148 calories, 0g fat, 13g carbs
  • Margarita in a pint glass: 676 calories, 0g fat, 43g carbs

The bottom line: Think before you dine out — your waistline will thank you.

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