In this article, I will share with you 12 strategies for eating clean when dining out in order to stay on track when you are dieting.
Dining out can really sabotage your effort in reaching your weight and fitness goals since you, literally, have no control over what you are going to eat or you have a limited selection of healthy foods.
The same strategies can be applied for people who:
- Travel a lot because of their job and need to eat out often,
- Eat out for social, business or personal reasons,
- Don’t know how to cook and prefer easier but unhealthy foods.
Let’s take a look at all the strategies that will allow you to minimize the damage and help you stay lean while still enjoying your meal out.
Table of Contents
- 1 Plan ahead
- 2 Educate yourself on the right combos of food
- 3 Customize your meal
- 4 Ask for an alternative method of cooking
- 5 Be prepared for Plan B when customizations fail
- 6 Keep it simple
- 7 Switch off your social radar and do not yield to peer pressure
- 8 Salads are your friend
- 9 When selecting food, always go for protein
- 10 Try to get something healthy that you can actually enjoy
- 11 Eat slowly and enjoy your meal
- 12 Stop eating when you feel full!
- 13 Closing thoughts:
Planning is the cornerstone of every operation in life and that also applies to dieting.
Since you know that you will be dining out, take a few minutes out of your day to plan where you will eat and what you will be eating.
- a. First of all, find out what food establishments you will have access to
Deciding on the type of restaurant is essential. Sometimes going for something plain and simple can be more positive than going to a fancy restaurant.
If your choices are limited to fast food joints, opt for the one that will cause the least damage. A simple burger joint can be a good choice if you like your meat.
Fast food places that allow you to put together your own sandwich are preferable than the corporate burger joints (McDonald’s).
So first, find out where you want to eat.
If choosing the restaurant is not up to you and has been already decided for you, skip to the second step below.
- b. Second step, find out what the menu is!
Once you know the restaurant, you can peruse their menu on their website. In that way, you can pre-decide what would be the best option.
Educate yourself on the right combos of food
This is a very common mistake that people make. Personally, I believe that this should be the first thing to do when you are trying to eat healthy.
Certain foods can be very heavy on digestion. For example combining dairy with meat is never a good idea as your stomach releases different enzymes to extract energy from these foods.
Also, since you are not cooking, bear in mind that there is a high chance your food will be full of butter and oils. Knowing which are the healthier choices of each macronutrient (example: healthy fats such as omega 3 from fish), and which ones are harmful (example: trans fats) will help you make healthier choices.
Learn more about the healthier side of fats in my previous article.
Customize your meal
This is the nightmare of waiters and chefs, but if you are really invested in your health, you need to be selfish about this and not give a crap. You are there to be served a meal to satisfy your hunger without destroying your health or body. So if people at the restaurant do not like your customizations, that’s their problem not yours.
So do not hesitate to ask for a customized meal. Replace French fries with a hard boiled potato or steamed veggies. If those are not available, just ask for extra salad as a side dish.
- If the meal has a sauce or dressing, ask them to skip it. If that is not possible, ask to have it on the side (and just don’t eat it).
- If you feel like you need to give them a reason to sympathize with you, you can just say that you are watching your diet. If push comes to shove, just say that you have intolerances or allergies to certain ingredients.
I may sound harsh about this, but you need to know what you want and you need to know how to ask for it. I have great respect for people who work in restaurants (as I have also done it when I was younger) but nice guys finish last, in this case.
Ask for an alternative method of cooking
If possible, ask if you can get your food cooked in a different way.
- So rather than eating something fried, ask for the grilled version.
- If you are going for an omelet, ask them to skip the yolks.
- If you are eating junk food like a burger, ask them for a minimal adjustment like not adding mayo and ketchup to your burger.
Don’t be afraid to speak up! Some waiters will be supportive and even suggest a different food or a customization!
Be prepared for Plan B when customizations fail
If you are faced with an uncooperative waiter or dine at a place where alterations are not possible or allowed, then you will have to customize it yourself.
Get your food (e.g. burger) and remove the commercial pickles (full of white salt and additives), wipe the mayo and ketchup off the burger with a napkin and enjoy your crap-free burger.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
Keep it simple
As you saw in the previous example, knowing what you should keep and what not in a burger, for example, will help you create a healthier meal. When in doubt, keep it simple!
Ask for brown bread (even though all breads are the same imho when you are dieting) and a double meat patty. Add some extra greens and onions and that’s it.
I remember a time in my 20s when I was living alone for the summer and I would be getting 5 burgers for lunch 3-4 times per week, only to eat the meat patties and discard the bread. Not only did I not get fat but I stayed lean as hell.
Which brings us to the next point:
Anyone who has ever gone on a diet has faced a situation where people would get on their case about their food choices. This is where most people fail and give up on their diet- lack of support and peer pressure.
Yes, if you do all of the above things, people will think you are crazy, stupid, not serious or all of the above. YOU SHOULD NOT CARE ABOUT THIS.
I have found myself in endless situations where people would look at what I am eating and comment or make fun of me. I am not phased or surprised in the least. Most of the time I do not even answer back, especially when it comes from people who are obese, out of shape or unhealthy.
Salads are your friend
As I mentioned in my article on the health benefits of salads, you should always start with a salad. It will create a layer of greens in your stomach to aid digestion.
Also, salads are always a healthy choice. Combine that with a lean protein source such as a grilled chicken and you have a perfect meal.
However, make sure it is not filled with sauces or dressing. When ordering for a salad ask for the dressing on the side. Or, you can ask to have a bit of olive oil and vinegar instead of the dressing.
If everything on the menu is unhealthy, eating a big salad will get you full so that you eat less of the main course.
When selecting food, always go for protein
A lean protein source should always be the base of your meals.
Same goes with dining out.
Look for a dish that has a lot of lean protein such as fish, chicken or a lean piece of meat.
Try to get something healthy that you can actually enjoy
This should be a no brainer but to some, a healthier choice means something boring and tasteless. That is not entirely true.
You can get something that you like and still enjoy a good and healthy lunch, provided that you stick to the above rules when it comes to way of cooking and added ingredient and sauces.
It takes time and experimentation, so if you don’t get it right the first time, try again!
Eat slowly and enjoy your meal
Eating slowly and chewing every piece multiple times before you swallow, will allow you to enjoy your food better and result in an even better digestion.
This practice will help you eat less and you’ll also be able to listen to your body when you have had enough and is time to stop.
Which brings me to the last point:
Stop eating when you feel full!
When eating, your goal is not to empty all of the plates in front of you. When you START feeling full, it is a signal that you must stop.
I am a strong believer in minimizing waste but trying to eat more than you can handle just because your meal was expensive is bad eating practice. Instead, ask to get the remaining of your food in a doggy bag so that you can enjoy it after 4-5 hours.
Last but not least, I need to mention 3 more things:
- Avoid sugary drinks and sodas. Empty calories and carbonated drinks are not part of a healthy diet in the first place.
- The same goes with light, sugar-free or 0% sodas. These are most likely loaded with artificial sweeteners who can cause other health problems (see my article on artificial sweeteners).
- Minimize the use of alcohol. 1-2 glasses of wine is fine but don’t over do it.
Eating out does not always have to be a struggle. Using these simple steps, you too can have a perfectly healthy meal that will help you stay on track with your goals even when you are not in control of the cooking.
Do you have a cool tip when you dine out? Share it with others by leaving a comment below.
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by Nick Sigma
CWC, EH, E-YRT200