How to Eat Out at Restaurants Without Breaking Your Diet

Posted October 19, 2010 by

One of the most difficult aspects of going on a stricter nutrition plan is that most people eat out frequently. Most simply accept this as meaning they’ll be forced to eat unhealthy, processed foods that are high in fat, sodium, sugars, etc and will have no way of tracking how many calories are being consumed. They accept that they will either have to forfeit eating out altogether (and consequently burn out on their diets quickly) or they’ll have free reign to eat whatever they want and chalk it up as a necessity since they were “eating out” and couldn’t help it. I’m here to tell you that it IS possible to both eat healthily and to track your consumption while at a restaurant, and with some willpower and forethought, can work fairly well in even a strict diet.

The first thing I will say is that you should NOT make eating out a regular occurrence. Even if you’re following the rules of this article, the bottom line is you need to learn to cook for yourself and to get into the habit of doing it on a regular basis if you want to get serious about fitness. Most people eat out because either they:

  1. do not know how to cook and would otherwise starve if they didn’t eat out, or
  2. are too disorganized to prepare meals for themselves ahead of time to take to work.

Fitness is a real commitment and in order to see results you have to learn to manage your time. With that being said, when you DO find yourself needing to eat out, the best option is to look for an unbreaded chicken breast, pork chop, fish fillet or lean beef-based dish (or salad) and make the necessary alterations from there to ensure that your food is healthy. This means, if present in the dish, asking for no cheese, no cream-based sauces (can be substituted with marinara for Italian food, or pico de gallo for Mexican food, etc), no processed carb side dishes (ask if they can substitute brown rice for white rice, roasted potatoes for mashed potatoes, or even do away with the starch altogether and ask for steamed veggies instead) and no added butter/margarine on things like steamed vegetables.

Ask the waiter if they have nutritional information for the dish you’re about to consume. Not all but many restaurants are beginning to include this as the masses become more health-concious and it can’t hurt to ask. If the item surprises you as looking healthy but has an enormous amount of calories (commonplace at The Cheesecake Factory, for instance), pick another dish or further tweak the selection to reduce the calories. Drink water only and avoid desserts, and you should be pretty well-off. Eating at a restaurant is NOT an excuse to drink a bunch of wine, beer or liquor so be responsible!

If you track your calories with a tool like FatSecret, you can write down what you are eating on a piece of paper while at the restaurant and log it when you get home, or you can use the phone application to log it at the restaurant itself.

Comments on How to Eat Out at Restaurants Without Breaking Your Diet »

  1. Ruby

    This situation has come with me before. I always take my own calorie free salad dressing (Walden Farms-Bacon Ranch), which is delicious, in a tiny Tupperware container. I’ve had no problem with asking for my salad without dressing, it’s a very simple and common request. Also if I have a baked potato I take my own seasonings such as Molly McButter (fat free) or ask for salsa for a topping. My steak, potato and salad look just as good as everyone else’s plate and my friends are impressed that I come prepared because they know I’ve worked hard to reach my weight loss goals and they cheer me on.

  2. Steve Ballinger

    Okay I get the general gist of this: My question is: Is human spit mostly carbs (polysaccharide) or protein (mucoprotein)? Fat secret draws a blank when I put in “loogie,” 3 servings, so how do I input the human expectoration I will have in my food after I subject my waitress, being paid minimum wage plus whatever gratuity I offer, and the cook staff, being paid less than they are worth, (probably,) plus whomever else wants to spew his or her laryngeal contents into my meal, to 10-15 minutes of inane questions and neurotic demands? Does having the people I’m eating with HATING me burn calories? If so, how many? If someone takes a dump on my food, can I subtract the caloric loss that the ensuing dysentery creates from my daily total? If so, how much? You can see, I have a lot of questions. Oh, if I’m eating in a mexican restaurant…could you post a list of questions I can ask the waitress in espanol? “por favor, hage usted un moco muy grande en mi enchilada.”

  3. Ruby, that is AWESOME, way to go! See, by taking the initiative, even with small things like bringing you own dressings with you, you can make large changes in your health and fitness.

    By the way, how is the weight loss journey going for you these days?