Want to enjoy a pub night with friends or a romantic date with your lover and take great care of your health? Or perhaps you travel for work and end up eating multiple meals out in a week. Taking care of your body and enjoying your meals out are not mutually exclusive. You can have your cake and eat it too.
In my last article I shared a few mindset shifts for success. Strategies are helpful, but only when paired with the right mindset will you make a permanent change. (In other words, go back and read my last article if you haven’t yet!) When choosing, consider how often you go out, and why you’re going out. If you eat at a restaurant once per month and eat well at home the rest of the time, it matters less what you eat for your meal out. If you are going out for lunch because you are on the road and have no other options and simply need to eat something, you might choose differently than if you were celebrating your 25th wedding anniversary.
Finally, remember, what you put into your body is your choice. I choose well most of the time, not all the time. If you choose something that isn’t healthy, decide to enjoy it and do not beat yourself up after. Here we go with some simple strategies to make healthier choices.
• If you are able to, research the menu ahead of time to see what the restaurant offers. It’s easier to stick to a plan than to try to decide on the fly. If your plan is to indulge in whatever you want, then go for it, but decide ahead of time.
• If you choose to order alcohol, enjoy a glass of wine, beer, or hard alcohol mixed with soda water. Fancy cocktails can pack upwards of 600 sugary calories per glass. Personally, I love mojitos. I order without the simple syrup (or swap soda water for sprite). I also ask for gin instead of rum, simply because I like gin better.
• Swap a bun for a lettuce wrap. Many restaurants now have lettuce wraps as an option on the menu. And if they don’t, they can likely make it. Tacos can also be enjoyed in a lettuce wrap. Or, enjoy tacos as a “deconstructed salad.” When I order fish tacos, I enjoy the fish over the coleslaw salad.
• Choose grilled instead of fried or crispy. You can also ask for a grilled option, even if it’s not advertised on the menu. The answer might be no, but you can still ask.
• Ask the server for a double serving of steamed veggies instead of all the starches. Another option is to order the “bowls” or pasta dishes over veggies instead. Or, simply eat less.
• Mind the sauces. Sauces are a great source of sugar, fat and salt. To control for condiment overload, ask for dressings and sauces on the side and use sparingly. As for salads, some can have upwards of 1,200 or more calories — more than most people need in a sitting. Go light on the added cheese, bacon, candied nuts, dried fruits and dressing.
• Split with your date. Not the bill — your food. Let’s be honest, most restaurants give way more food than your body needs in a sitting. I use this strategy a lot with I travel with my husband.
We feel better and we save money. Plus, it matters less what you eat when you only eat half as much.
• Eat less. Before you dig in, visualize how much you think you will need to eat to feel satisfied. Eat slowly and pause to check in with your hunger. When you feel satisfied, stop eating, and ask for the rest to go. If your meal will not be good as leftovers, let it go. The food is wasted whether it goes in the garbage or into your belly after you’re already full. And no, overeating will not help the hunger issues in third world countries.
• Appetizers and desserts: I’m not going to give advice on which options are healthier because most appies and desserts are far from healthy choices. If you choose to look at the menu, order something that is worth it. Enjoy slowly and mindfully. If you eat with awareness, you can reach feeling satisfied in three wonderful bites. With some planning and awareness, dining out can be part of a healthy lifestyle. Make informed choices, ask for what you want, and enjoy your meal. Be polite, grateful and tip extra.
Tanja Shaw is a Certified High Performance Coach, Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, host of the Fit and Vibrant You podcast and founder of Ascend Fitness + Lifestyle. She helps men and women to transform their bodies and life, and to love the way they feel again with fitness, nutrition, mindset and lifestyle coaching. Learn more at ascendfitnesslifestyle.com.