Dining Out on a Diet

Stay Healthy at a Restaurant

Written by Brianna Panzica
Posted August 16, 2012

So you've been trying for a while to keep up with that diet. You're trying to go back a notch on that belt. Sometimes it seems easy, and you crave that healthy salad for lunch.

But then comes mid-week when everyone else in the office is going to grab one of those drool-inducing burgers at your favorite joint. By Saturday, your better-half insists on getting out of the house and going out on the town for dinner. There goes your "stellar" week of dieting.

We've all been there – and it might seem impossible to keep up with your diet and maintain any shred of a social life.

According to the National Restaurant Association, the average American eats out four times a week, and, as a nation, we spend $1 billion a day on dining out alone.

But that doesn't have to mean your diet is dead. In fact, if you plan it right, you don't have to let restaurants and temptation get the best of you.

Here are some tips, courtesy of MSNBC, for staying strong on a diet and still treating yourself to an enjoyable evening out when you want.

1. Plan Ahead of Time

If you know what the menu is like, plan out the healthy dish you're going to order. If you don't know, more often than not, you can get the menu online. This way, you can make a decision early and know you're sticking to your diet. You can also avoid temptation once you get to the restaurant – making a decision when you're hungry can cause you to throw out your diet altogether.

2. Sit Away from the Commotion

If you've ever sat in front of the TV with a bowl of popcorn and reached in to find it empty, you've probably noticed that enough distraction will prevent you from paying attention to how much you're eating. If you sit in a quiet part of the restaurant, you're more likely to pay attention to the meal and how much you're consuming rather than the rowdy conversation at the next table and that waiter that keeps pushing by your chair.

3. Order First

When you hear everyone else's order at the table before placing yours, you might be inclined to change it at the last minute. How often have you thrown away the idea of a salad once the waiter gets to you to say, “I'll have what he's having”? If you order first, you'll pick your first choice – and probably stick with it.

4. If You Want it Done Differently, Ask

Can the chicken come grilled instead of fried? Can the dressing come on the side? Make sure you're ordering the meal you want – and that fits your diet. More often than not, the restaurant will be willing to adjust the dish to satisfy you. So make sure you ask. Substitute the mashed potatoes with the mixed veggies. The waiter will make it work.

5. Don't Be Tempted by Adjectives

It's someone's job to make the meals sound as tempting as possible. The burger may boast “savory Angus beef” instead of the literal description – ground beef. Be aware that these adjectives are put there to make the meal sound awesome – and don't let the good salesmanship break your diet.

6. Avoid Appetizers

It's rare that the average American will receive an entrée with too small of a portion size. Let's be honest,  restaurant portions are huge. Avoid ordering all the pre-meal extras with this in mind. Stay away from the bread basket too. Your meal really will be enough food for you, so don't be inclined to snack before the meal comes and then stuff yourself later.

7. Or Get Only Appetizers

Of course, if you don't order an entrée, the appetizer situation is completely different. In fact, some appetizers can be meals in themselves. And they're usually smaller than regular entrées. So check out the appetizer menu and see if there's anything that appeals to you (and your diet, of course), and order that as your meal. The portion size will make you feel much less guilty.

8. Salad Doesn't Always Mean Healthy

Sure, salads are great, but some salads aren't much better than those chicken wings you were eying. If you get a salad with lots of fried chicken and cheese and smother it in bleu cheese dressing, you may as well have just ordered the wing basket. Be smart about your salads. Make sure you know what's on it and avoid the high-fat options as much as you can. Find out if the chicken is grilled or fried. And order the dressing on the side. This way, you can control how much you use. You can even try dipping your fork into the dressing so you get just a small amount with each bite.

9. Go Easy on the Drinks

You might not realize how many calories you consume through liquids, but it can make all the difference. Alcoholic drinks can be pretty sneaky, but even sodas and juices will do it. Ice water is your best bet. Order it with lemon if you prefer something flavored. Of course, this doesn't mean you have to avoid alcoholic drinks, but take it easy. And pick a lower calorie drink instead.

10. Watch Your Portions

This goes along with the appetizer rule – don't overeat. It takes the body twenty minutes to realize it's full, so go slowly. Don't feel the need to make a big dent in the meal or clear your plate. Leftovers are great – you can always take them home and have a nice lunch the next day. You don't have to fill yourself to the brim. If you feel a little full while you're still eating, chances are you'll notice you're very full a bit later.

11. Dessert in Moderation

Fruit can make a great dessert. It's sweet, light, and refreshing. Of course, that chocolate cake might sound really tempting. Afterall, you were so good about the rest of your meal... Well, go ahead and order it, but try what MSNBC calls the “three-bite rule.” Take three bites of the cake when it comes and then stop for a little. If you give it enough time, you might realize that you satisfied your craving, avoided breaking your diet, and still got the delicious dessert you craved.

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