The CDC (Center for Disease Control) reportss that nearly half of U.S. adults are trying to lose weight. Most adults try to lose weight by exercising more, eating less, and cooking at home over eating out. If you’re trying to lose weight, you might feel like dining out will sabotage your efforts. It’s normal to feel this way because you want to protect your hard work toward your health goals. But turning down dinner invites and avoiding takeout or delivery may not be realistic or sustainable.
Eating at home has plenty of benefits, but you don’t have to commit to it 100% of the time. Going out to eat is an integral part of life, and it gives us exposure to new cultures and flavors and a chance to unwind and spend quality time with the people in our lives.
On the other hand, we can’t ignore that restaurants have a reputation for creamy and crispy calorie-laden menu items, which come plated in massive portions. Yet, it’s possible to lose weight eating takeout without thwarting your weight-loss efforts.
We’ve created a list of smart strategies to help you learn how to eat out and still lose weight with confidence.
1. Study the Menu Online
Take a sneak peek at the restaurant menu before arrival. Skimming the menu helps you know what to order before you sit down and catch up with friends. It’s the same reason it’s better to go to the grocery store with a list versus having no plan and grabbing every item within reach. Planning what you’ll order ahead of time helps to avoid ordering high-calorie foods out of impulse or hunger. Study the menu before getting to the restaurant and create a plan you can stick to.
2. Stick to your Regular Eating Schedule
It’s tempting to want to “save” your calories for when you go out to eat, but that can backfire. If you skip meals to “splurge” when you get to the restaurant, you risk ordering high-fat or high-calorie foods and overeating out of excess hunger and low blood sugar.
A 2020 NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) study looked at the effects of meal skipping in 23,488 adults. The study found a link between skipping meals and eating more calories at the next meal. For instance, those that skipped lunch ate 783 more calories at dinnertime. Though the study found that the average daily intake of calories was lower with meal skipping, meal skipping was positively associated with choosing foods with lower diet quality at later meals. Foods with better diet quality were fruits, vegetables, protein, and dairy, while lower quality foods included solid fats, added sugars, and alcohol.
Eating normally on days you’ll be eating out can help you avoid overeating and choosing foods lacking in good nutrition.
3. Eat Mindfully and Consider Portion Sizes
In the last 30 years, entree portions have grown 13 grams each decade, while desserts have grown 24 grams per decade, significantly increasing calories and sodium. The average amount of calories in restaurant meals is 1200, give or take 500 calories, depending on the food served. Daily calorie recommendations can range from 2000 to 2500, so one meal could offer almost a full day’s worth of calories.
Some restaurants share nutrition information on the menu so you can make the best choice for your diet plan; however, others may leave you guessing what you’re getting. Follow your hunger and fullness cues by listening to your body. Though you may get lost in conversation, it may help to ask the people with you how they’re enjoying their meal as a reminder to check in with yourself and how you feel. Checking in lets you stay aware of your body’s hunger and fullness signals so you can eat what your body needs.
Remember that many restaurants offer pre-meal freebies like bread baskets, chips, and dip. Though there’s nothing wrong with enjoying these moderately, eat mindfully and remember you still have a meal coming. Never hesitate to tell your waiter if you want to opt-out of these freebie foods. Moreover, you can always ask your waiter for a to-go box so you can have leftovers.
4. Make Healthy Choices
Eating out while trying to lose weight relies on making healthy choices, which may seem like a no-brainer. Look for menu buzzwords that can clue you into items that would benefit your weight loss. Words to look for are steamed, fresh, roasted, baked, broiled, and poached.
One rule of thumb is to ensure your order comes with plant-based foods, and if it doesn’t, ask to add them or substitute them for high-calorie sides. This could include a side salad, lentil soup, or roasted brussels sprouts. Always talk to your server about making substitutions; many restaurants are willing to be flexible on orders, especially with rising dietary restrictions and limitations.
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5. Look Out for High-Calorie Foods
Menu terms to be careful of are described as creamy, smothered, fried, breaded, battered, stuffed, loaded, and crispy. Typically these menu item descriptions are red flags for extra calories and fat that aren’t necessary. You may feel like you’re being robbed of good eats, but the truth is you can still choose a tasty meal that’s filling and won’t leave you feeling sluggish or guilty. Better swaps could be steamed rice instead of fried rice or a side of roasted potatoes instead of a loaded potato. Your body will do better with nourishing foods that will inch you closer to your health goals.
6. Opt for an Appetizer for your Entree
You may be able to shave off some calories from your meal if you order an appetizer versus an entree. Appetizers are usually smaller portion sizes than entrees and give you fewer calories compared to ordering a full-on meal.
7. Be Choosy About your Beverage
Drinking calories can quickly add up, especially when your server is quick with giving refills. Consider steering clear of sugary beverages like soda, sweet tea, lemonade, or mixed cocktails to keep your drinking calories to a minimum. Choosing a low to no calorie beverage option is a great way to keep yourself on track to achieving your weight loss goals. Whether it’s water, unsweetened tea, or club soda with a splash of juice, there are ways to enjoy your beverage option while honoring your desire to lose weight.
8. Share Dessert
Some people believe that losing weight means dodging desserts, but depriving yourself of foods you derive pleasure from isn’t realistic. If you have a hankering for a sweet treat at the end of your meal, think about splitting dessert with the people around you. Savor every bite and know that you can dine out and lose weight, all while satisfying your sweet tooth.
How FORM Can Help You Reach your Weight Loss Goals
If you aren’t eating out often and mainly cooking healthy meals at home, you probably don’t have to worry too much about dining out from time to time. Losing weight shouldn’t hinder your social life or experiences; what matters is that you’re taking steps to make healthy choices most of the time. Following simple lifestyle changes, as suggested by FORM Registered Dietitians, can keep you on track with your weight loss goals. To learn more about how FORM helps patients lose weight schedule a call or send a message.