To be perfectly honest, if it weren’t for restaurants, I could probably stay on track with my diet almost 100% of the time. I grew up in a small town where I could count the amount of restaurants we had on one hand. The variety of types of foods to choose from was even more dismal. So when I moved to Portland, I felt like I had won the food lottery. A sandwich place aptly named Lardo paying homage to my favorite macronutrient?! A famous brunch spot on every corner?! Not to mention the variety of cuisines reaching every corner of the earth. Folks, Portland has it all.
Epic steaks at Ox Restaurant. Photo cred: @amandaburchell29
While it may seem like my purpose in writing this blog is to pay homage to Portland’s delectable food, I promise I have a bigger purpose: how to stay on track when there are gyros, crepes, and philly cheesesteaks on every corner. I know this problem isn’t isolated to Portland. We use food as a social and emotional vessel. What do we do when our friends or family visit? Go out to eat. Happy? Eat. Sad? You guessed it… eat. I’ve seen the bottom of one too many brownie sundaes and orders of fries while explaining it away: “Oh it’s just because Susie is in town… I’ll get back on track on Monday!”.
Chips, guac, and wine. Enough said.
I’m going to let you all in on a little secret: the all-or-nothing approach is the surest way to fail. I spent most of my life doing this and all it got me was fat, sad, and frustrated. I would binge eat for months with the promise of a fresh start on the following Monday or 1st of the month. Then when I failed, I would start the process all over again. It was only when I started practicing moderation that I lost 60+ pounds, increased my energy, and got my life back.
So what is the answer? The answer, my friends, is moderation and learning how to make healthy food choices while eating out. Cue collective eye roll. Now, I’m not saying you have to eat lettuce and drink water with lemon every time you go out. If you really want a cheeseburger, get the damn cheeseburger. Want fries? Do it up, sister. Just make sure you are eating from a restaurant that makes as many of its ingredients as possible from scratch, and uses organic and local foods when available. I assure you, a hand-formed, grassfed burger with hand-cut fries is much more gratifying than scarfing down a McDonalds quarter pounder in your car.
Throwback to that time I went out to “eat” with family while doing a cleanse (not recommended). Pictured: water, tea, more water, and club soda.
Here are a few of my life-saving tips when going out to eat. This is by no means an exhaustive list and not all of these will work for everyone.
If you know you are going out to dinner, eat on plan the rest of the day. One meal isn’t going to make or break you.
Bring snacks with you. Nuts are my favorite option. I snack on a few before my meal if I’m starving and it keeps me from ordering an appetizer.
While I’m not necessarily a fan of counting calories, understand that restaurant portions are generally HUGE. Also, keep in mind they are using a lot of highly caloric things to make that food taste amazing. They also probably use ingredients your body isn’t used to, which could cause stomach upset. Pro tip: split a dish with someone or take half home for lunch the next day.
Choose restaurants that align with your eating habits. Don’t eat pasta? Probably not the best idea to choose an Italian restaurant. Check out the menu before you leave the house and definitively decide what you are getting.
Fast for 12-16 hours after a dinner out. While this may sound daunting, it’s really not that difficult, as you’ll be sleeping for the majority of your fast. For example, if you stop eating at 9pm, don’t eat breakfast until between 9 and 11 am. This gives your body time to rest and digest.
And finally, CHEW YOUR FOOD. THOROUGHLY. I think this is the most critical piece of the puzzle. Slow down, chew, and allow your body to digest properly. Enjoy your company and be mindful and present during your meal.
The most important thing? Enjoy yourself. Photo cred: @claracurry
You don’t have to completely deprive yourself of your favorite foods, even while trying to lose weight. Adopting some (or all!) of this tips will help you keep things in moderation.
Have a favorite tip for dining out? I’d love to hear it! Share it below in the comments.