Ah, the great dieting dilemma. You’re making phenomenal progress on your weight loss goals. You’re following your diet plan to the letter, you’re exercising regularly, and you’ve seen fairly rapid weight loss. But every now and then, you’re invited out to eat with friends or family, or you just have a hankering for some good Italian food. Then what about those times when you’re out and about and simply don’t have time for a diet-friendly home cooked meal?
Most folks assume that dining out only leaves one option: putting the diet on hold. But let’s be realistic here. If you’re dining out two or three times a week (fairly standard for most folks) – and dropping the diet every time – you’ll be doing some serious damage to your waistline.
But here’s the good news: dieting and dining out can go hand-in-hand. It might take a little planning and a lot of will power, but if you’re serious about losing weight, you can make it work. So let’s talk strategy.
Plan your meal before leaving the house
While this isn’t always possible, most restaurants these days have their menu posted online. Look at the various options you’ll have available, and pick out the ones that are diet-friendly. If you arrive at the restaurant prepared to order, you won’t be as tempted by what others are ordering.
Eat a little protein before heading out
If you arrive at the restaurant ravenous, all your self-control will likely fly out the window. You’ll end up eating too much of all the wrong things. Take the edge off your hunger before heading out by eating a small protein-packed snack like a handful of nuts, a boiled egg, or a slice of low-fat cheese.
Avoid the “extras”
Some places will put a complementary basket of bread or chips on the table before the meal. All those refined carbs and deep-fried chips are hazardous to any diet, so do all you can to avoid them. If you’re with family or close friends, see if you can have the basket removed altogether. If you can’t remove the temptation completely, at least sit as far away from it as you can so that you’re not nibbling before the meal.
Quench your thirst
Thirst is often confused for hunger, so before your food arrives, down a big glass of water. Whether or not your body needs fluids, you’ll feel less hungry with all that water in your stomach.
Be careful though, a sugary beverage can do just as much damage as an unhealthy food choice. In addition, alcohol fuels the appetite, making you feel hungrier than you really are. Stay away from sodas, alcohol, and even lemonade. Just stick to water with a little lemon while you’re eating. If you really want a beer or cocktail, have one after your meal is done.
Swap the appetizer for a soup or salad
Most appetizers on the menu are deep fried and loaded with fat, calories and sodium. Anything crispy or creamy is a bad idea, so skip over those options altogether. Instead, select a soup or salad.
Soups and salads are great diet foods. They will fill you up while you’re waiting for your entrée, so that by the time it arrives, your body is already feeling fairly satisfied. If your hunger is already sated, you’ll be less inclined to overindulge.
Just remember, when you order a soup or salad, avoid any creamy soups or dressings. Anything creamy is going to be loaded with fats. For your soup, order a rich vegetable soup or even a broth or consommé. For your dressing, choose an olive-oil vinaigrette if possible.
Get your sauces on the side
Restaurants are generally heavy-handed with sauces and dressings, and this can spell disaster for your diet plan. By asking for your dressings and sauces on the side, you can choose how much you consume, putting you back in control of your diet.
You can even take a clever tip from Tyra Banks: just dip the tip of your fork in sauce or dressing before each bite. That way, you get all the tasty goodness of the dressing without all the fat and calories.
Beware of sneaky fats
You may have wisely chosen a fish or chicken entrée. While these are good low-fat options, beware of sneaky fats. Fish is great, but fried fish, or fish slathered in tartar sauce isn’t. Chicken is low-fat, but not if it’s battered and fried or smothered in gravy or cheese. Ask your server how the meat is cooked, and leave off any fatty sauces or dressings – or pick something else if necessary.
Know the perils and pitfalls of pasta
Who doesn’t love a big bowl of Fettuccini Alfredo or a dish of creamy, bacony carbonara? While you might have a serious pasta craving, all those noodles pack a walloping calorie count – not to mention the creamy, buttery sauce.
If you must indulge – as we all should from time to time – select a tomato or pesto based sauce. You’ll bring the calorie and fat count down considerably while still satisfying your craving.
Ask your server about nutrition and substitutions
If you are unsure about the diet-friendliness of an item on the menu, don’t be afraid to ask your server about it. They can likely give you information on how an item is cooked as well as any sauces or sides that can be removed or swapped out. Even if the server doesn’t know off-hand, they will usually be happy to check with the chef (if you ask nicely, of course).
Most restaurants do allow food substitutions within reason. Rather than getting fries with your grilled chicken breast, ask if you can get a vegetable or baked potato instead.
Keep track of portion sizes
Finally, remember that a huge factor in effective dieting is moderation. A great food choice in excess is still a poor choice. A handy trick for preventing overeating is to get your to-go box before the meal. Then, portion out the food you plan to eat immediately and save the rest for later. If the entire meal is on the plate, you’ll likely eat most or all of it, whereas if some of it is put away, you’re more likely to stick to a diet-friendly portion.
Authored by: Jordan Pete
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