The Survival Guide to Eating Out

eating out image plate of food with cutlery in napkin

To successfully reach and maintain your fat loss goals, it is important to have a sound, science-backed approach. Here are some handy tips on how to make the best food choices when eating out with friends.

Eating Out is No Longer a ‘Treat’

Eating out at a restaurant used to be considered a treat. An uncommon indulgence. However, since the 1970s eating away from home has become more and more common with Americans, now eating upwards of  43% of their meals and 32% of their calories away from home (up from 25% and 18% in 1970).

When eating at a restaurant was an infrequent indulgence, you didn’t have to pay too much attention to what you were eating, but now that eating out is more and more becoming the norm, to lose or maintain your weight and improve your health, you need to be nutritionally savvy when on the go. Here are some steps to serve as your survival guide.

Avoid Empty Calories 

Eating out is a constant battle of controlling calories.  You can make a lot of headway by avoiding empty calories. This includes free bread or tortilla chips, and calorie-containing drinks. Ask your server to take away the bread/chips and opt for beverages that don’t contain calories (water, sparkling water, diet drinks, tea, etc).

Portion Sizes

One of the most important things to remember is that the portions you are served are not necessarily the portions that you should be eating. It is important to remember that chefs aren’t trained in nutrition. This is illustrated by the fact that 76% of chefs thought the portions of pasta and steak they were serving were regular but they were actually 2-4 times what would be considered a normal serving.

Other research shows that 73% of chefs think they could reduce the calorie content of their meals by 10-20% without customers ever knowing (but they aren’t doing this!).

Know what portion is appropriate for you. Use simple guides like:

Protein the size of 1-2 of your palm(s).

Rice or Pasta that fits in the palm of your cupped hand

Oil or dressing the size of a poker chip.

Do your own Nutrition Reconnaissance

The calorie content of meals is very often available on a restaurant’s website but it is not always easily accessible onsite. Online, some companies have nutrition calculators where you can create your ideal meal and see what the calorie, protein, carbohydrate, and fat breakdown would be. Use these tools whenever possible to empower your ordering decisions and make sure you know the macro calories

Vegetables, Vegetables, and More Vegetables

When eating out, vegetables are your friend. The research and consensus on eating behaviour are pretty clear and consistent, the more vegetables you eat (preferably green leafy ones) the fewer calories you are going to eat. Pile on the vegetables.

This means starting off your meal with a salad. Not a salad with bacon, cheese, eggs, avocado, walnuts, and salad dressing. A simple ‘house’ salad with lots of greens. Research further shows that having a salad before a meal can decrease the total amount of calories that you eat by 10-12%. If you aren’t big on salads, further research shows similar results with broth-based vegetable soups.

Decode the Menu

How a meal is described on a menu can provide you with a lot of information about the calorie content of that meal.

Avoid Foods described as:

  • Scalloped
  • Parmesan
  • Fried
  • Bisque
  • Breaded
  • Crisp
  • Au Gratin
  • Battered
  • Béarnaise

Meals described in this fashion are going to be higher in calories and prepared using more fat.

Pick Foods described as:

  • Steamed
  • Poached
  • Grilled
  • Broiled
  • Au Jus
  • Baked
  • Braised
  • Lean

Meals described in this fashion are going to be lower in calories. The amount of fat used in these preparation techniques is greatly reduced.

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