I love going out for Italian food, or Mexican food, or even just some good ol’ American food. It’s fun to be with a group of friends, have a nice meal, and not have to think about cleaning up the mess, right? But since I’ve lost weight, eating out has become not something I dread, but something I do not take lightly.
I mean, you can’t really take eating out lightly when portions are probably more than double what an actual serving size should be. And then add in all the fat and salt and not-good-for-me stuff that makes it taste so yummy… When I became more conscious about what I was eating and starting learning how to eat again, I became super aware of the amount of calories a restaurant meal was adding to my body. Yikes! One meal could almost give me all the calories I need for the day!
So for a long time, I made excuses to not eat out. Or I would go but just not order anything. I was petrified of gaining weight, and I didn’t know how to eat when I got away from the usual foods I ate at home. But sitting there watching your friends eat is just no fun. I didn’t want to be a slave to my weight and to be so weight conscious that I couldn’t have fun with my friends, especially if that fun involved eating out.
My approach to eating out goes back to being determined. I decide ahead of time what I will eat, and that’s what I have. So how do I do that?
Most restaurants have an online menu that provides nutrition information for their entrees. I usually just google the name of the restaurant and then add “nutrition information”. I can usually find a table that breaks down each entree into the amount of calories, fat, sodium, etc. Those are the main things I look for.
I look for calories, obviously, because weight loss is all about burning more calories than you consume. I don’t want to choose an entree that will give me more calories that, combined with my other meals for the day, will give me more calories than I can burn in a day.
I also look at fat content. Our bodies need fat. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are stored in fat, so without some fat, we would be deficient in those vitamins. Plus, fat is an energy source. But too much fat is not good for us either.
The other main component I look at is sodium content. Sodium doesn’t affect weight per se. Too much sodium can cause water retention so weight may increase just because the body’s holding onto water, but in terms of actual weight, fat or muscle gain, sodium is not a big factor. I look at sodium, though, for overall health. High levels of sodium long term can lead to high blood pressure, and high blood pressure down the road can lead to heart problems, stroke, and even kidney damage. I don’t know about you, but I kind of want to keep my heart and kidneys in working order. So I pay attention to how much sodium is in an entree. FYI, we probably only need about 1 teaspoon (2 grams) of sodium a day!
So when I know I will be going out to eat, here’s out it goes:
- Be even more diligent to eat lower calorie foods the rest of the day. I don’t want to eat all of my calories before I go out, so I try to be extra cautious about what I’m eating before I go out.
- Look at the online menu and choose an option. I usually pick 2 or 3 possible options in case the restaurant is not serving the option I chose.
- Do not browse the menu at the restaurant. Stick with the choice you chose ahead of time. Browsing only increases the temptation to choose something less healthy. The one time I will browse the menu is if I could not find it available online. For those times, I choose meats that are typically leaner like chicken and options that are baked, broiled, or grilled. I avoid options with lots of cheese and things that are fried or creamed. For sides, I typically choose fruit cups or steamed vegetables. I stay away from things like mashed potatoes, coleslaw, etc. because all the additives (butter, mayonnaise) can really pack on the calories.
- Ask for the salad dressing on the side. When I started reading labels and nutrition information, I was really surprised to find that some of the worst meals, in terms of calories and sodium, were salads! When I choose a salad, I choose one that is mostly greens and veggies, and ask for dressing on the side. That way I can control how much dressing I actually eat.
- Leave half your meal for the take home box. Most restaurants provide huge portions of food, so when I know the best option for me is still more calories than I need to consume, I eat part of it and take the rest of it with me for another day.
- Drink water. Drinking water makes me feel fuller so I’m tempted to eat less. And water is calorie-free!
- Enjoy yourself! At the end of the day, going over your calorie limit for one day is not going to cause significant weight gain. Weight gain is a process of continually eating more than you need. So while I am careful to choose the most healthy option and to control portion size and calorie intake as much as possible, I’m learning not to stress if I go over for one meal. Hey, I like chips and salsa as much as the next guy!
And I leave you with this, just because. I like to laugh! Here’s to hoping your experience at eating out will be infinitely more enjoyable than Mr. Bean’s!