Nearly half of U.S. adults are trying to lose weight at any point. Popular ways to lose weight tend to include eating less, exercising more, and cooking at home more often instead of eating out. You’ll likely assume that eating out could hurt your weight loss endeavors, but – although it’s normal to feel this way – turning down invites for a night at your favorite restaurant or skipping takeout or delivery may not always be realistic or sustainable.
Eating at home can certainly be beneficial, but it doesn’t have to be your way of life for each and every meal. Going out to eat is not something that most people want to give up; after all, eating out is about a lot more than just food. It gives us a chance to be a part of our surrounding environment and is a great way to spend quality time with friends and family.
On the other hand, we can’t ignore that eating out has a reputation for plates piled with high-calorie foods in excessive quantities. But it is possible to lose weight eating out without derailing your weight-loss efforts.
If you want to be able to eat out without endangering your weight loss routine, take a look at our strategies that will allow you to head to the restaurant while still losing weight with confidence.
1. Study the Menu Online Before Leaving Home
Before you get to the restaurant, take a sneak peek at the menu online. This will better prepare you to know what you’re going to order before you get distracted by catching up with friends around the table, or before you get too hungry. Just like the saying about never going grocery shopping while you’re hungry, it’s best to plan what you’ll order ahead of time to avoid ordering high-calorie foods out of impulse.
2. Eat Mindfully and Consider Portion Sizes
In the last three decades, entree portions have grown 13 grams and dessert portions have grown 24 grams every 10 years. This has drastically increased the number of calories you’re served at a restaurant, in addition to increasing the amount of sodium and other ingredients in each meal.
The average amount of calories in restaurant meals is roughly 1200, depending on the food served. Daily calorie recommendations for an individual typically range from 2000 to 2500, so one meal could easily offer over half a day’s worth of calories.
Some restaurants share nutritional information on the menu so that you can make the best choice for your diet plan; however, many restaurants do not divulge this information. Even if you order an item with the calories listed beside it on the menu if the restaurant offers complimentary apps before the meal – such as bread or chips – that won’t be included in the calorie number shown on your menu beside your entree.
Though there’s nothing wrong with partaking in these snacks moderately, eat slowly and keep in mind that you still have a meal coming. Don’t hesitate to tell your waiter if you want to opt out of the complimentary pre-meal dishes. It’s also a great idea to ask your waiter for a to-go box so you can bring home leftovers. Some people prefer to get a to-go box at the beginning of the meal and portion out their food into two servings – one to eat now and one to take home for later. This helps with pre-planning how much you will consume.
As you eat, pay attention to your body – when you no longer feel hungry, it’s time to stop eating.
3. Stick to your Regular Eating Schedule
It’s common to want to “save up” your daily calorie allotment for when you go out to eat, but that strategy can actually do more harm than good. If you skip meals to be able to indulge at the restaurant, you risk overeating and ordering less nutritious choices due to excess hunger and low blood sugar.
According to a 2020 NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) study, those who skip meals often eat more at the next meal than they typically would. The study looked at the effects of meal skipping in 23,488 adults and found that people who skipped lunch ate 783 more calories at dinnertime.
Though the study found that the average daily intake of calories was lower with meal skipping, meal skipping was associated with choosing foods with poorer diet quality for the days when meals were skipped. Eating your typical meals on days you’ll be eating out before or after the restaurant can help you avoid overeating foods that don’t offer good nutritional value.
4. Make Healthy Choices
Eating out while trying to lose weight relies on making healthy choices when you sit in front of the menu. Look for menu buzzwords that can clue you into items that would benefit your weight loss, such as “steamed,” “fresh,” “roasted,” “baked,” “broiled,” and “poached.”
It’s a great idea to order something that includes plant-based foods, or ask your server if plant-based items could be added or substituted for high-calorie sides. This could include a side salad (with a dressing that’s not overly high in calories) or roasted vegetables. Always talk to your server about making substitutions, especially since nowadays, many restaurants are willing to be more flexible on orders.
Menu terms that you might want to avoid include “creamy,” “smothered,” “fried,” “breaded,” “battered,” “stuffed,” “loaded,” and “crispy.” Menu adjectives like this are often clear signs that the dish contains extra calories and fat that aren’t necessary. Better swaps could be a side of roasted potatoes instead of a loaded potato or steamed rice instead of fried rice. Your body will thank you for these more nourishing foods that will keep you on track to your health goals!
5. Be Choosy about your Beverage
Calories from drinks can quickly add up, especially when the restaurant offers free refills. Consider steering clear of sugary beverages like sweet tea, lemonade, soda, or mixed cocktails to keep your beverage calories under control. Choosing a low-to-no-calorie beverage option – like unsweetened ice tea, water, or club soda with a splash of juice – is a great way to keep yourself on track.
6. Share Dessert
While it’s often thought that losing weight means avoiding desserts completely, avoiding foods you love 100% of the time isn’t realistic. If you have a craving for a sweet treat at the end of your meal, think about splitting the dessert with your table. Take a couple of spoonfuls and enjoy every bite, know that you can dine out and lose weight when you’re in control of your portions.
With these ideas in practice, you can enjoy a night of dining out with friends or family without sacrificing your weight loss goals.
Fallon Chan is a food and lifestyle photographer and blogger.