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Top Tips for Eating at a Restaurant

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Eating out at a restaurant can be scary when you are trying to watch what you eat because you don’t have control over the ingredients, the menu, etc.  However there are some strategies you can use to still enjoy the social aspect of eating out while still making progress toward your goals.  Here are my top tips for eating at a restaurant.

  • Monitor your portion sizes. Restaurants will often serve way more food than you actually need to be satisfied.  This usually leads to over eating.  To prevent this, use your hand to determine the portion sizes of your food.  A portion of protein is equal to the size of the palm of your hand.  A portion of fruits or vegetables is equal to the size of your fist.  A portion of starch carbs, (like potatoes or pasta) is equal to the size of half of your fist.  And a source of fat (like dressing, oil, seeds, avocado) is equal to the size of your thumb.
  • After you have determined your portion sizes of your meal, save the left overs for later. Have your server bring you a to-go box and eat the left overs tomorrow.  It is helpful to remember that you don’t have to eat the entire meal in one sitting, especially when the restaurant’s portions are so large.  If you have a tendency to eat everything on the plate, even if you are stuffed afterward, have the server bring you half of the meal and leave the other half in a to-go box that you can take with you when you leave.
  • Drink lots of water. Add lemon for flavor.  Avoid excessive liquid calories that come from soda, alcohol, sweetened teas, etc.  If you do drink something other than water, use a glass that is 16 oz. or less.
  • Look up the menu and plan ahead. See if the nutrition facts for each menu item are posted on the restaurant’s website or try plugging it into the My Fitness Pal app.  This will help you get an idea of how many calories and grams of protein, carbs and fats are included with each item on the menu.
  • Ask your server to have the cook make small changes to how he normally cooks the meal. Have your meat grilled, rather than fried, cook with olive oil instead of vegetable oil or butter, replace starchy sides like fries for a side salad, have your dressing, butter or sauce served on the side, remove the bun from your burger, etc.
  • Remove the bread/chip basket from the table.
  • If you are eating at a buffet, use a smaller plate that is no larger than 9-10 inches in diameter.
  • Base your meal around a high quality source of protein and vegetables. This is usually your safest bet.  Limit your intake of high calorie/carb/fat options like pizza, pasta, nachos, etc.
  • My final tip is probably the most important. You can’t always control what is served to you at a restaurant and you have to live a little every now and then.  After all, a life without pizza is not a life well lived.  However, you can still enjoy the “not so clean” foods and prevent yourself from doing too much damage to your body composition goals by eating slowly and stopping when you are 80% full.  To help yourself eat slowly, put your fork down between bites.  Relax and breathe.  Take a few moments before picking your fork up again.  Try to make the meal last at least 15 minutes, while eventually working your way up to 20 or 30 minutes.  Chew your food a few more times than you think you need to.  Enjoy and savor each bite.  Eat mindfully without distractions like your phone or TV.

Slow eating will help you become more in tune with your body’s hunger and fullness signals, how you feel when you over eat and how much better you feel when you eat the right amount of food for you.  You are also giving your body time to react to the food and signal that you are full.  Chewing, smelling, swallowing and tasting all provide information to the body and signal the release of hormones that tell the body that we are full.  It can take around 20 minutes for our brain to receive the signal from our stomachs that we are full.  If we eat too quickly, we are much more likely to over eat.  Finally, it helps with digestion.  Your body digests food better when it receives a slow stream of food, a little bit at a time rather than a large amount all at once.  Eating slowly may solve any heartburn or indigestion problems you may have.

In addition to eating slowly, you want to stop eating when you are 80% full.  The goal is to eat until you are just satisfied or no longer hungry.  This may be hard to quantify at first, but take the time to get in tune with your body and listen for your hunger and fullness signals.  This will prevent you from over eating and feeling stuffed, bloated, etc. after a meal.

That wraps up my top tips for eating at restaurant while doing minimal damage to your diet.  Use these strategies the next time you eat out and you can have a guilt free meal with friends and family, while still progressing toward your goals.

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