As portion sizes in restaurants and fast-food outlets continue to grow, how can anyone on a weight loss programme possibly enjoy dinner out and still lose weight? Well, it turns out that, by following a few clever tips, we can all still enjoy that meal out without feeling that we’re thwarting our efforts. In fact, enjoying a dinner out is a crucial part of weight loss – not only in terms of learning how to do all things in moderation (particularly important with regard to weight maintenance), but also in terms of preventing feelings of deprivation which can lead us down a cul-de-sac of self-pity and self-sabotage.
So we say, please do book that night out this week, and just follow our simple tips to navigate eating out while losing weight. The crucial first step, of course, is not to arrive to the restaurant ravenous – always eat some protein about half an hour before going. The rest you may already know, but it’s always worth a reminder of how to stay on track.
6 Tips for Eating Out While Losing Weight
1 Do Your Research
Go online and check out the menu before you arrive – decide on your options for lean protein, such as fresh fish, broiled chicken or grilled beef with lots of veg. This clever exercise prevents you lingering with the menu as the delicious wafting aromas deceive you into thinking you’re hungrier than you actually are! Starting your meal with a salad or broth-based soup will help you feel fuller by the time your main meal arrives. And, rather than getting the chips or garlic bread, always ask for extra veggies, just as you like them – remember you’re paying so you can be as demanding as you like!
2 Portion Control
We’ve mentioned it previously but it can’t be overstated – don’t trust the chef to know what is the right portion for you! The tendency these days, unfortunately, is to ‘go big’ so be warned (see more on ‘portion distortion’ here). Some restaurants serve portions that realistically could be divided into two or three meals. As soon as you get your food, cut the meal in half and push it to one side of the plate. Then, towards the end of the meal, ask your waiter or waitress to put it in a doggy-bag for lunch the following day. Alternatively consider ordering two starters instead of a starter or main, or share a starter with your dining partner – saving money is an added bonus!
3 Sauce on the Side
This is almost a no-brainer, but we have to mention it – and ask the question, ‘Why are Irish people so reluctant to ask for what they want?’ Speak up people. Order your food as you want it to come. Ask for vegetables without butter. When ordering salad, always ask for dressing on the side (some salads are practically ruined from lashings of dressing) or ask for béarnaise/hollandaise/tartare sauce on the side (a little dip here or there isn’t going to do too much damage and it’s important to enjoy your food too). Some dressing and sauces are surprisingly high in calories and so this move will save you more than you think. Alternatively ask for balsamic vinegar or a lemon wedge as a low calorie dressing.
4 Hold the Bread Please
Did you know that one seemingly harmless looking roll of garlic bread can add up to almost 500 calories? Resisting the bread will make all the difference. We know it may be hard to start with, as everyone else tucks in, but you’ll be grateful at the end of the meal that you declined. Eating bread before our meal is just a habit – that’s all. And, when you think about it, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to fill up before you’ve started eating the really good stuff! Asking for a bowl of olives (low in calories and a source of ‘good’ fats) is what helps me while my partner munches on the bread. Better still, if you’re partner is watching their weight too, ask for the bread basket to be taken away.
5 Just Three Mouthfuls of Dessert
In general, it’s best not to order dessert at all or to opt instead for a cheese board. However, we do realise this isn’t always possible – particularly if a birthday is being celebrated. If this is the case, aim to share a dessert or to have just thre mouthfuls, and then set it aside for a few minutes. You’re then less likely to come back to it. Fruit is also a good option – ask for strawberries with a dollop of cream, even it if isn’t on the menu. Another option is to order a low fat cappuccino and to enjoy two or three squares of 80% dark chocolate (hidden in the handbag – works for me!).
6 Watch the Booze
Drink moderately by limiting yourself to one or two drinks when you go out, and track what you do drink to keep yourself accountable. Many people find it helpful to order a bottle of sparkling water for the table, in order to slow down drinking (aim for every second drink to be water). Holding off on alcohol until later on in the meal seems to work for me (I always start with a glass of sparkling water with lots of ice and some lime cordial – a great thirst quencher). Also, ordering your wine by the glass, rather than the bottle (each bottle will add about 600-700 calories to your meal), can help minimise how much you consume. In fact, you’re better off spending more money on less booze – and to savour It – than to guzzle wine without a thought (your waistline and your head will know the difference).