Can you eat out and still stay on track? The reality is that it’s best to avoid eating out if you are seriously dieting and have a deadline where you have to be at a certain weight or body fat percentage. The main reason is that it’s hard to justify spending $15-25 on one unsatisfactory meal when it could easily be made at home exactly the way you want. Another reason is that you can eat more than what you initially accounted for and break the calorie bank.
Eating out can be tricky sometimes, not to mention the fact that making clean choices when eating out is often met with negativity from your peers. It isn’t fun being ridiculed for choosing healthy options while everyone else is eating meat lover’s pizza and drinking beer. However, if you do choose to eat out while being on a strict diet, use these tips below to make your outing more enjoyable.
1. Do not go hungry
Do not fast or reduce calories to a significant degree earlier in the day to negate the potential high calorie meal. This can justify overeating and possibly lead to a binge. Being very hungry makes it harder to resist temptation and stay within proper portion control, and lowers your ability to make better choices. Simply replace one meal on your plan with the meal that you’re eating out.
2. Have a plan
Choose a place with reasonable options. A steak or seafood place will often have a much more diet friendly menu that can be easily modified, while it will be more challenging to find a workable meal replacement at Italian, Chinese, and pizza restaurants.
Review the menu prior to going to get an idea of what you might want that is a viable option. This can reduce anxiety about eating off plan while staying on the cleaner side. Choose the best option on the menu given your selection. “Mimic your plan” the best you can. You do not always need to pick the most boring and unsatisfying food option (for example, plain chicken and lettuce), but you sure do not need to pick the worst option either. Choose something that is satisfying but reasonable.
It is also best to have the meal out as your last meal of the day to avoid totally derailing your diet plan. Meals that are consumed off plan earlier in the day can potentially lead to a full day of being off plan. You must avoid that “all or nothing” approach.
3. Be aware of fat content
When eating out you can assume the fat content in the cleanest meals is going to be much higher than you would estimate. Everything is cooked in oil and butter. You can ask to have it cooked without, but 9 out of 10 times it will still have more fat than what you would make at home.
Modify the meal by limiting or eliminating any added fat sources such as butter, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, cream sauces, nuts, and seeds. If you choose grilled white fish or tuna steak, add one fat source since they are very low in fat. If you choose chicken, steak, or salmon, do not add a fat source.
4. Build your meal around a protein, a carb, and a veggie
For a starter, fill up on a side salad and choose balsamic vinegar or any other low-fat dressing. Request the dressing on the side so you can control the amount you use.
For protein, choose chicken breast, sirloin, white fish, scallops, shrimp, or salmon. Choose the cleanest carb possible—baked potato, sweet potato, rice pilaf, jasmine or white rice, or a plain dinner roll with no butter. In some cases, plain penne pasta with red sauce will suffice. Request plain broccoli, green beans, or asparagus for a side veggie with the entrée.
5. Do not be the first one done
More than likely you will be eating out with company, so eat slowly and avoid being the first one done. You do not want to eat too quickly and then get stuck watching someone eat something high in calories that you would rather have than your own entrée. The trick is to be as satisfied as you can be with the options and portions you choose. Being the last one finished can help.
Eating out is not ideal, but it is possible while on a diet. Although I have done it before on many occasions without setbacks, it does take a higher level of discipline to resist the tastier options on the menu. Personally, I would rather avoid temptation and make a meal at home the way I want. Use eating out as an opportunity to have a true “meal off plan” or “cheat meal” where you can truly enjoy yourself.