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10 Tips for Eating Out on a Diet

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Updated May 29, 2014

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Focus on your friends, not the food, and you'll enjoy eating out on a diet even more.

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Eating out on a diet doesn't have to be cause for panic. Sure, you hear about oversize restaurant portions and the plethora of fattening menu choices available all the time, but that doesn't mean dining out will doom your dieting efforts! Just use these 10 simple tips for eating out on a diet:

 

  1. Cram for tonight's dinner. Many eateries post their entire menu online so you can print it out for reference. If you often eat at "mom and pop" type restaurants that aren't online, call and ask for the menu to be faxed to you, or pick up a takeout menu on your next visit. Highlight the healthiest options for each menu and store them all in a central location. Then, when you are planning your next night out, take the time to decide on your dishes at home before you've been tempted by the sight of other choices.
  2. Order your main dish from the appetizer menu. Not only are appetizers more reasonably-portioned, they will save you some money as well. (This is a great way to save enough calories and cash to split dessert with someone!) Too peckish to be satisfied with just a starter? Order a side salad, too -- the fiber-rich veggies will round out your meal. Soup is super-filling, so it's an awesome appetizer add-on, too (just steer clear of cream-based ones).
  3. Beware these high-fat menu buzz words: Cream sauce, butter, oil, au gratin, breaded, Alfredo, battered or batter-dipped, "with gravy," or smothered. Unless you've spared yourself treats for several days and snacked on salad greens all day, these little "extras" aren't worth the extra calories.
  4. Modify the menu. In my neck of the woods, anything and everything can be batter-dipped and fried, so I make special requests all the time. Many restaurants will take your dietary needs into account so you'll be a happy customer and return. Don't hesitate to request anything on the menu to be prepared in a more diet-friendly and for sauces or dressings to be served on the side. It's not likely that you will be denied.
  5. The meat is on. As tempting as that bucket of fried chicken looked on the commercial before you left home, order poultry steamed, poached, roasted, broiled, boiled, grilled or baked. Ask for skinless chicken whenever possible or remove it yourself. If you do treat yourself to fried chicken, choose white meat as it has fewer calories than dark. Of course, chicken, chicken and more chicken gets old after a while, so if you're asking, "Where's the beef?" allow yourself red meat a few times a week -- just be sure to choose leaner cuts of meat like loin or flank.
  6. Keep tabs on that tubini. Endless pasta at your favorite Italian restaurant may be carb-lovers' heaven (Darn near nirvana for yours truly!), but it's a waist-widening trap for those of us who tend to overeat (How are you supposed to know when to say "when" if they keep bringing more?). As tempting as the great "value" for your money that infinitely-refilling pasta bowl seems, it's certainly not a bargain for your calorie budget. Order a portion-controlled main dish instead. "Ixnay" on the endless breadsticks, too!
  7. "Wrap it up, I'll take it!" You know you're at a nice restaurant when the server takes your plate away and wraps up your leftover food for you at the end of the meal. (And if you're in a really nice restaurant, you'll get the eating out equivalent of a balloon animal -- the tin foil swan!) To ensure you don't leave sans swan, keep temptation at bay and ask the server to wrap up half of your as soon as it is served.
  8. Take control of takeout. You don't have to swear off takeout when you're dieting -- there are many healthy options at ethnic restaurants. Portion control is key, though: Take out half of your takeout before dishing up your dinner, put the food in microwave containers and tuck it away in the fridge before you even start eating. (Instant will power and instant next-day lunch!)
  9. Banish buffets. Portion control can become a foreign concept for even the most determined dieter at an all-you-can-eat buffet. (Who can practice moderation when there are new, clean plates just beckoning to be filled?) The sheer variety of foods available at buffets is also daunting -- studies have shown that when we're given more choices, we tend to eat more without realizing it. Simply avoid buffet restaurants and you won't have to face this temptation.
  10. Mini meals are a must. It's smart to eat smaller meals during the day when you're planning to dine out. Just don't eat too sparingly, though -- you don't want to be so famished by the evening that you overeat. (It was a dark day when I ate too-mini mini meals and -- clearly ignoring my own tip number 9! -- visited a buffet in a ravenous state with a fellow waist-watcher ... the look of sheer horror on her face as I went for round number four is not something I will soon forget!) If mini meals don't tide you over, have a small, healthful snack in the afternoon to curb your appetite and you'll be much more in control come dinner time.

 

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