“How can I possibly stay on track when I eat out?!”

By: Loretta Musholt, RN, BSN, CDE

This is one of the most common questions I hear in my weight management sessions, and for my own weight management, this seems to be one of my toughest challenges. Eating out has become so common. It is fast, easy, yummy, and is often seen as a fun activity to do with friends or family. Here are a few tips that I find helpful. I hope you find a couple that are helpful to you as well! And remember, weight management is a journey, so if something doesn’t go well, try try again. Failure is not the opposite of success, it is part of it.

Tip #1

Look at the menu ahead of time. This is my personal favorite. Either go online, or even pick up a copy of the menus from your favorites and take them home. While you are relaxed, and not starving, think through the three main food groups, and what will fit into each group (protein, grain/starch, and something of color) as you look at the menu choices.

Tip #2

When you get to the restaurant, don’t even look at the menu. You know what you want. You have a plan! You don’t want to be tempted. Then be the first one in your group to order, so you don’t hear something that makes you change your mind last minute, and then later regret it.

Tip #3

Don’t be shy to ask how something is prepared. And then don’t be shy to ask for changes, such as please prepare without the sauce, or without extra salt. Once, I ordered green beans, and when they arrived they were swimming in butter! Not what I had envisioned! And I am sometimes surprised at how very accommodating the chef will be when asked. Pleasantly surprised.

Tip #4

Order salad, and to be brought first. Be careful of high calorie toppings like bacon, cheese, croutons. Leave them off, or go easy. Ask for the dressing on the side, so you can do the “fork dip” and eat less of it by just dipping your fork into the dressing for a just a smidge, before you spear a bite of lettuce! The salad will start the process of filling you up.

Tip #5

Don’t eat until you are full, eat until you are just short of being full. You are going to fill on up for several minutes after you stop eating, so make allowance for that.

Tip #6

Pat yourself on the back when you stay on track! Positive reinforcement helps! Once I was eating out with several friends who were all ordering delicious sounding high calorie meals. It was hard for me to go ahead as planned and order from the lighter menu. But I reminded myself of my goals, and stuck to my plan. Even as we were leaving the restaurant, my friends were already moaning about how stuffed they were, and how they wished they hadn’t eaten so much! I felt full but not stuffed, and happy that I had stayed on track! I remind myself of that experience often when I am tempted to change my plan based on what my dining companions are ordering.

Tip #7

Just eat half. Often times, I just go ahead and order what I want, but only eat half. How to keep from eating the other half? One way is to ask the server to just bring half on the plate and the other half already boxed up. Or, ask for the box and split it yourself. If I forget to ask for the box initially, I will take my knife and cut everything right down the middle, so I have a visual boundary. My favorite though, is planning ahead and taking my own divided container with me. That way when I get home, I pop it in the fridge, all ready to go into my lunch box for another yummy lunch either for the next day at work, or later that week. Easy peezy!