The ScenarioYou just received a dinner invitation from a friend or, perhaps, a date night invite from your spouse. Sounds like an ideal evening, right? So you accept and then instantly regret it. Why? Well, for dieters, eating anywhere other than the comfort of their own home can be a bit terrifying because of the difficulty in maintaining a healthy diet with all the temptation on the menu.
What You Can DoDon’t let the fear of going out to eat at a restaurant while on a diet keep you away from social settings. All it takes is a little pre-planning and willpower. Besides, we couldn’t think of a more perfect weeknight than one where someone else does all the work in the kitchen. Yes, you can absolutely lose or maintain a healthy weight without consuming just water and a few pieces of lettuce at dinner. Just follow these six tips to practice smarter dining habits when eating out at a restaurant, many of which come from our own community members of the Cooking Light Diet.
1. Don’t Skip Meals to Save CaloriesIf you know you’re dining out for dinner, don’t attempt to skip breakfast or lunch to save those calories. Arriving to a restaurant on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster, because when that bread basket is passed around, you won’t be able to help yourself. We suggest eating lighter meals leading up to dinner and not skipping your workout on that day
Don’t just take our word for it, though.
“If I am dying for a burger, I get a burger and eat light the next day, said CLDieter Katie Kinney Anderson. "And if it's one of those weeks and I happen to eat too much pizza, the next day I scale back. No week is the same. I try to balance it all out as best as possible. After being on the diet for a year, I find that I want to eat light most of the time. If I don't, I can recover.”
“If there's something on the menu that is more extravagant calorie-wise that I really would like to order, I'll cut back on my calories at other meals that day or do extra exercise,” said Andrea Lee Carter.
2. It’s Okay to Not Finish EverythingEasier said than done, but you should stop eating when you feel full, not once you’ve cleaned the entire plate. Practicing portion control is key here, as detailed by our Cooking Light Diet community members:
“I leave leftovers on the table,” said Joyce Van Huis.
“What we do is split the entrée since most restaurants these days have such HUGE portions,” said Salli Korbholz Bosch.
“I eat out a lot,” said Anne Egelhof Ritchie. “I do try to choose something that fits the CLD's basic principles of healthy eating and cooking. I'll either share a plate or wrap up half of the entrée. I found that now I'm eating much less by choice and that the large portions are too filling.”
“When dining out, my husband and I usually split an entrée,” said Saska Albright.
“We do eat out because we moved to a new city and like trying all of the great restaurants,” said Sharon Garret. “If I order am entrée that is close to the Diet criteria, I ask to have half boxed up right away.”
3. Sit Next to a Friend with Similar Eating Habits and Diet GoalsAs the popular saying goes, “birds of a feather flock together.” In this case, friends with the same health and diet goals, should eat together or, at the very least, sit next to each other when dining out. We tend to lose track of how many servings or rolls we’ve actually had when eating out with friends. The next time you’re waiting to be seated at a table, try to consciously choose a seat next to the person who will keep you on track and whose behaviors, such as chewing more slowly and thoughtfully, you can mimic when it comes to your next forkful.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Make Healthier SwapsYou don’t have to order meals from the menu exactly as they appear. Most restaurants are accommodating to their patrons and will substitute healthier side dishes and sauces, even making something totally different for you that's not on the menu. All you have to do is speak up. This means requesting steamed vegetables or a salad instead of a side of fries. You’re in control of how you drench your food, so ask for salad dressings, sauces, and gravy to be served on the side.
“When in doubt, I go for grilled fish with a veggie side or an entrée salad with dressing on the side (vinaigrette, usually),” said Cathy Kessler. “I find that I almost always use less dressing, even less than the amount the CLD salads call for.”
“Our meal choice is never fried or with lots of sauces on it,” said Salli Korbholz Bosch. “We also order a house salad with the lightest choice they have for the dressing and have them bring the dressing on the side, of course!”
5. Plan in AdvanceIt’s important to find a restaurant with a wide variety of healthy selections on the menu. Since most restaurants today have a website where you can check the menu ahead of time for calorie information, you can choose meals and sides that will help you to stay on track. Taking a little time to plan before will save you some self-sabotage later on when the server asks, “What will it be for you this evening?”
“With a solid dinner plan each night, we have eliminated the need to eat out as often and enjoy our dinners at home,” said Cynthia Mason Moran. “We still eat out for special occasions, and I meet my parents once a week for lunch. I look up the menus online ahead of time and research my options so I know what I can order without going off the plan.”
“Studies show that we feel more full if we eat something unfamiliar than if we eat something familiar, and it helps me stop eating when I'm supposed to,” said Saska Albright.
“When we eat out, I try to go to places that have healthy options and, preferably, calorie listings on their menus,” said Cathy Kessler. “Then, I try to stay close to the calories allowed for that meal on my menu.”
“When we eat out, there is usually at least a 20 minute wait for seating, so my husband and I search for online nutritional info or look for it on MyFitnessPal,” said Diane Isbel. “I've ordered things I normally wouldn't just because of calorie count, but I have enjoyed it more knowing I was eating right.”
“When we dine out, I often check on the web for the restaurant's menu so I can pre-plan what I will order,” said Andrea Lee Carter.
6. Eat DessertUnfortunately, for dieters, delicious entrees sometimes have to share the spotlight with decadent and savory desserts that are far too often high in calories, sugar, and saturated fat. But, if you must end the night on a sweet note, just indulge responsibly and share a few bites with the table to avoid overeating.
“If I want a dessert, I have it (often sharing),” said Anne Egelhof Ritchie. “But again, I try to keep it fresh, light, and unprocessed. I do use the MyFitnessPal app to keep the choices within the calorie guidelines as much as possible. I never feel deprived or ‘stuffed.’”
“If there's a decadent dessert involved that I want, I'll share it with my hubby and let him have the lion's share of it,” said Andrea Lee Carter. “Generally, I find that I can be satisfied with just three bites of a rich dessert.”
Once you become a member of the Cooking Light Diet, you’ll also receive an easy-to-follow Dining Out Guide that will keep you focused when eating out at a restaurant. By following these six simple strategies, thankfully, you won’t have to choose between having a social life and a whittled waistline.
*Members following the Cooking Light Diet, on average, lose more than half a pound per week.
More Tips on How to Avoid Overeating While Dining Out:
- 5 Assumptions You Might Make About Dieting--And Why They're Wrong
- 5 Tips for Eating Out from the Man Who Knows More About Americans' Eating Habits Than Americans
- How to Not Let a Diet Ruin a Vacation