How to eat healthy when eating out

After years of being locked down, dining out is all the rage right now. People like making up for lost time; if they’re not holidaying in Majorca, they’re eating out. And it makes sense- we want to forget the troubles of the years gone by; we want to celebrate our freedom and party it up again like it's 2019.

No longer are we limited with UberEATS and regularly complaining to the customer services team for forgetting the dipping sauce for your fries or nuggets (we’ve all been there) - we’re free to explore cuisines beyond Deliveroo. And it seems we’re taking full advantage of it! However, the dark side of dining out is that when we do we tend to overeat and make bad food choices ( 12, 3, 4, 5).

The problem is, for some of us, we may have permitted ourselves to go a little too crazy, and regretting it the next day. Spoiling a week’s worth of hard work with one bad evening, and doing the walk of shame on Monday to one of your Prep Kitchen meals.

How can we prepare ourselves for the temptation of the Saturday night dinner out? Eating healthy when eating out can be a struggle but the following tips and strategies will help you take control of your eating when dining out.

How to eat healthy when eating out: Here are our 10 top tips on how to enjoy eating out without overindulging

1. Have a healthy high-protein snack before you arrive at the restaurant

It isn’t uncommon to skip meals before dining out so that you can enjoy every bite at dinner. However, arriving at a restaurant hungry is the last thing you want to happen when you’re trying to eat healthily - you’ll find this is a quick recipe for overeating ( 6).

You can avoid this by trying to ensure that your meals on the day are high in protein, and enjoying a healthy snack before you get to the restaurant. This will help you feel fuller and prevent over-eating ( 7). Read our blog for more information about how protein can help you manage your weight.

2. Check out the menu ahead of time

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of dining out; tempted by the smells wafting in from the kitchen, the sights of other people’s meals, even the colours of the restaurant and the fancy wine glasses can have us wanting to eat and spend lavishly! It’s enough to tempt you into ordering more than you intend, especially when you’re hungry ( 8).

To avoid mindless ordering- and over-ordering - don't look at the menu in the restaurant. Check out the menu online beforehand and make your meal selections ahead of time, away from the temptation, distraction and excitement of the restaurant environment. Write down your meals in your Notes app, or on paper, and stick to these choices this when the server comes around. Doing so also gives you an idea of the nutritional value of your meals beforehand, and helps you avoid add-ons in the moment. It gives you control over your eating.

3. Stay hydrated! Drink water with your meals.

Sometimes when we think we’re hungry we’re just thirsty. So try drinking a glass of water next time you think you’re hungry and see if that makes a difference.

When the stomach senses that it’s full, it sends signals to the brain to stop eating. Water can help to take up space in the stomach, leading to a feeling of fullness and reducing hunger ( 9). So drinking water with your meals will help you feel fuller, faster.

Drinking water an hour before a meal has been reported to also help with appetite suppression ( 10)

4. Limit your liquor

If you’re like me, you enjoy a nice alcoholic drink with your dinner- it completes the experience. But we have to be realistic- drinking alcohol can add a large number of calories to your meal.

You don’t need to cut out alcohol completely, but you can opt for lighter options so that you don’t blow out. If you want to enjoy a drink, you can cut back on the extra calories by ordering smaller measures of alcohol, such as a small glass of wine, and low-calorie mixers.

If you’re making mixed drinks with spirits such as gin, vodka or whiskey, try mixing the spirit with a diet drink instead of a sugar-sweetened drink or soda. It’s the difference between a Long Island iced tea cocktail (260 calories) and a single measure vodka soda lime (96 calories) ( 11).

5. Avoid soft drinks

It's no secret that most carbonated soft drinks are laden with sugar and calories. And high sugar diets are quite bad for us with strong links to obesity and type 2 diabetes ( 12, 13, 14).

To avoid overindulging and blowing out it's best to stick to water when dining out, or sugar-free zero-calorie soft drinks.

6. Eat mindfully

Mindful eating is about being in the moment with what you are eating. It can be as simple as saying to yourself: “I am eating a fillet steak. It is medium-rare and very tender. I am chewing on this steak and it’s juicy and full of flavour!”

Mindfulness with eating is about paying attention to your food, on purpose, and focusing on your sensual awareness, thoughts and feelings and your experience with your food ( 15, 16).

Eating attentively and mindfully can help you make healthier choices when dining out and also improve your self-control and prevent you from overeating ( 17)

7. Eat slowly

Eating slowly is part of eating mindfully as we can appreciate and savour the tastes, textures and flavours of our meals. But eating slowly also has its benefits.

Let’s get a little sciency, shall we? Now, our appetite is largely controlled by a hormone called ghrelin. After a meal, our gut suppresses ghrelin, which controls hunger, while also releasing fullness hormones ( 18). These hormones tell your brain that you’ve eaten, reducing the appetite, making you feel full, and helping you stop eating. This process takes about 20 minutes, so the reason we recommend eating slowly is so that we give our brain the time it needs to receive these ‘feel full’ signals (19, 20).

8. Chew your food!

It goes without saying that we chew our food, but the more chews we can get in per mouthful, the better! Increasing the number of chews before swallowing can help you eat less and feel fuller, quicker ( 21).So as much as you enjoy the food you’re devouring, there’s no need to rush! Slow down, chew your food thoroughly and enjoy each bite! Chewing your food more will help digestion, and help you eat less.

9. Ask for sauces and dressings on the side

Sauces and dressings can turn a healthy meal into a high-calorie meal. When ordering your meals, make sure to ask for all the sauces and dressings on the side so that you can avoid significant calories from your meal. Having them on the side also gives you control of your food choices- you can decide to add them or not.

10. Ask for healthy alternatives

The waiting staff are there to help, so use them and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Ask them for healthy alternatives and swaps. Ask them how the meals are cooked. Ask if some of your meals can be made with less oil. Ask if there is an off-menu selection of classic meals (for example, a grilled chicken with steamed veggies). Ask for healthy substitutions- most restaurants are happy to comply.

To sum up:

We all love a meal out! The combined experience of socialising with close friends and family, the life and buzz of a restaurant, the pampered table service, dressing up, sharing a bottle of wine, trying new menus at new places, and visiting favourite spots. This can easily make us drop our guards, and indulge more than we should.

But don’t dread Saturday night dining, embrace it with newfound confidence. Take control of eating out by applying these tips the next time you dine out.

Remember, the dinners are not in charge of you, you are in charge of the dinners! Embrace the new opportunities we have and have fun in the process. 

If you enjoyed this article, read some of these other related articles on our blog:

Are all calories the same?

28 quick ways to cut calories

How to lose, gain, or maintain with Prep Kitchen

Author - Paulo Vaa

Writer & Podcaster

Posted in Health on by Paulo Vaa