Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sticking to Your Goals When Dining Out

Despite the recession, many Americans are still "making room" in their budget for weekly dinners or lunches out (sometimes more than once per week). I understand it's nice to get out of the house and be served a tasty meal on occasion, but these days it's much more difficult to make healthy choices when eating out. From my experience as a personal dietary consultant I have found that those clients who eat out more often have the toughest time losing weight. It makes sense, considering the serving sizes these days are astronomical, and even something as "innocent" as a salad or sandwich can have up to 1000 calories. The following are some important steps to follow when eating out if you are trying to watch your weight, and your health.

(Source: iStockPhoto)

Look at the menu online before going out to a restaurant. No matter what.
Try to make a decision before you go, therefore when you am out you can spend more time talking and socializing, rather than trying to decide the "healthiest" or "best" option. This also prevents you from being rushed and making a hasty decision, which can typically lead to choosing something that is not so healthy.

2) Follow the "1.5 extras" rule if you are trying to lose weight, and follow the "2 extras" rule if you are trying to maintain weight. What this means is that in addition to your meal, you can allow yourself 2 extras or 1.5 extras. What constitutes as an extra?

- One 12-ounce beer (light or not) or one martini or one glass of wine counts as 1 extra (a 16 ounce draft or a double shot martini or mixed drink counts as 1.5 extras) <------ I won't lie, I typically choose alcohol as one of my extras.

One 16 ounce pale ale = 1.5 extras

A single shot martini = 1 extra (even with the olives. Unless they are stuffed with blue cheese....)

- One small appetizer (something that couldn't count as a meal) counts as 1 to 1.5 extras (you really have to be the judge). Splitting a larger, more caloric dense appetizer (such as quesadillas) counts as 2 extras (unless you get a really small entree, then this may count as 1.5 extras).

- One piece of bread or one serving of tortilla chips and dip counts as 1 extra. One and a half pieces of bread, or one and a half servings of chips counts as 1.5 extras. Two servings of one or the other counts as 2 extras.

- Splitting a reasonable sized dessert (I'm not talking a giant ice cream sundae served over a brownie with fudge) counts as 1 extra. Having an entire dessert to yourself (reasonable size, such as a small piece of cheesecake) counts as 2 extras.

3) When you order your main meal ask for all veggies as a side, if you have the option, instead of whatever they have to offer (this is especially important if you have gone over your allotment of "extras"). If the menu doesn't say "Vegetable" under sides, always ask. Another option might be no sides at all. This is ok too, because when you pay for a meal you are really not paying for the sides, you are paying for the burger, the steak, the chicken, or whatever the main course is. The sides maybe cost $1.00.

4) Always ask for sauces and dressings on the side. NO MATTER WHAT. All restaurants are different. Some may smother your food in sauce and dressing, while others may not (but the former is typical). You never know, so play it safe and always ask for it to be on the side. I do this with sandwiches, salads, steaks, chicken dishes, and pretty much everything else in between.

5) If you really want to be extra careful, also ask for any vegetables to be steamed and not smothered in butter or oil. You can do this anywhere! You can even ask for light brown sauce when you go to Chinese restaurants (in fact I would advise this).

Check out this article in Columbus Parent Magazine, for which I was interviewed, to find even more great tips!

Question: Do you have any tips you would like to share? I'll post all tips on tomorrow's post!

Coming Up

Tomorrow (or Friday) I will post all of your fantastic tips. I know you have some, so please share!

Thanks for reading everyone, and have a great Hump Day!


  1. I am the queen of looking at the menu before I even step foot in a restaurant - I used to be afraid to ask for too many modifications, but if its a good restaurant, the chef should be able to make it how you want.

    Great tips Gina!

  2. Great ideas! We don't go out to eat often and it started out to save money but now that we've been trying so many new recipes we usually prefer staying in and always feel so much healthier about it!

  3. I prefer to make food at home than go out. It's healthier and cheaper. When we do go out I try to have my meals focused on veggies and have the main course light on bread or pasta. Most of the time I go for the free bread or chips before my meal comes so I don't need extra. Carbs then. I always ask for modifications. I figure I pay for the meal why not have it my way. Many of your tips above happen each time too.

  4. These are great tips. I have used them all...minus the point system thing. I ALWAYS look up the menu, and if there is no nutritional information available I am usually hesitant to go there. Sometimes what you think is healthy is actually loaded with calories, and I dont want to make that mistake!

  5. honestly i do not go out to eat if i am trying to lose weight! and if i do i consider it my splurge because no matter how hard i try.....i always eat something i would normally not eat-even if it is just a few fries off of someones plate. happy wednesday gina!

  6. i think its so hard to find a good restaurant that doesnt coat everything in oil! luckily i do have a great veggie place that puts the ingredients on everything.. but they do have some dishes that literally used a whole bottle of oil to the point where the meal isnt palitable anymore. its such a shame!

  7. Great tips! I always check out the menu before I go so I am not tempted by something unhealthy when I get there. I always ask for sauce and dressing on the side too. I always have to say no butter on veggies. Another tip is get your salad without the croutons and cheese.

  8. It's amazing to me how often some people eat out. We eat at home 90% of the time, and that's the way I like it! I love having control over the ingredients, plus, that way, when we DO eat out, we can splurge and make it a real treat.

  9. I couldn't agree with you more! My clients that struggle the most to lose weight also are the ones that eat out/go out the most. I think sometimes it's really hard for people in social and or work settings to not feel pressured to eat the way other people are eating or to not share an app or a desert that they wouldn't necessarily order if they were dining alone or just with one other friend.

    Basically, that's my tip: Don't feel pressured by others to eat a certain way or eat a certain something that derails you from sticking to your eating plan/needs.

  10. great rules! i like the 1.5 rule alot :) never heard of that one! haha what about a shot of tequila? that's like a plus 5 rule or a danger zone rule ;)

    btw the simple answer is that popcorn pops BECAUSE ITS AWESOME.

  11. My specialty is tips for buffet eating because I taught that in diabetes classes in Vegas. No joke, that was a topic and it was a major problem. Great tips, thanks for sharing. I don't think I have heard of the extras rule. We eat out here because I feel like it is vacation,. but not all the time. Here you get a grilled fish, boiled potatoes and a plain salad no dressing...for the standard. It is WAY healthier than the states. Many times they look at me funny when I do not eat everything from my plate. It is still too much food.

    I will say we went to an Italian place last night and I ordered tortellini and the portion would have been laughed at in the States. It was a normal sized amount, not the huge heaping plate of pasta. I find that here I can eat most if not all of my pasta dish because they don't do the super sized portions. But on occasion I will get the lobster with the butter. The butter here is very good, probably because they are local cows and it is made right down the street. It just tastes different than in the States.

  12. Ah I love eating out I don't know what my attraction is but I eat out once a week. These are great tips though - I've never heard of the "1.5 extras" rule, I like it!

  13. Great tips! I would also add boxing up half your meal! Even if you allot yourself the 1.5 or 2 extras...the entrees are usually easily 1000-2000 calories. If you immediately allow yourself only half the least you are saving yourself half the calories and fat!

  14. I always look at the menu first, and looking out for things like creamy sauces, cheese, breading/coating, etc can help cut hundreds of calories out the meal that you probably won't notice. It's also okay to ask for substitutions- ask for something to be served on salad instead of a bun, or ask for marinara sauce on the pasta instead of alfredo. I think people are often scared of "making a fuss" but I think if you are paying for a meal, it's fine to ask for it how you want it. Not always appropriate, and if you don't eat out often, it's not a big deal but if you go out a lot, it really does help.

  15. One thing I like to do when I go out to eat is always order water, first thing, and guzzle it! It's free and they'll always bring you more, so I try to drink at least two full glasses of water before my entree comes. Restaurant food usually has more sodium than home-cooked food, so I feel like the extra water fills me up and helps to flush out extra salt (or that I might be consuming.

  16. I don't eat out very much for a few reasons - 1. I'm a college student and it's expensive, 2. I enjoy meals cooked at home just as much, if not more, than meals out, 3. I usually eat too much when I'm out and feel lethargic and sick.

    I absolutely love leftovers, so my biggest trick to prevent overeating is to think of the great lunch I will have tomorrow with my leftovers. It almost always works!

  17. I always ask for the dressing on the side, because the way they drench their veggies in the sickeningly sweet and cloying dressing is kinda disgusting!

    I noticed something, though: when I just eat my (butter-smothered) veggies as is, I get full faster, so I end up eating I would think it rounds out, don't you think?

  18. I am the queen of substitutions when I dine out...I avoid most sauces and most sides unless it's a pure, steamed veggie dish. And 9 times out of 10, I'm packing my own salad dressing...cause I'm crazy like that!